Giuliana Panieri reaches career goal, years after unconventional entrance into the field
Humanity strives to piece together as much of the past as possible, but it is difficult to get a clear picture of what our Earth and its oceans were like in geological history. Such information can help us to predict possible environmental changes of the future, a topic that has always held a certain fascination for Giuliana Panieri of the Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment, and Climate (CAGE) at UiT – The Arctic University of Norway.
Giuliana has recently been promoted to full professor at UiT, a position that has always been a dream in her academic career. Growing up with entrepreneurs as parents, she was inspired to pursue such dreams through hard work and determination. Despite choosing a male-dominated field, she forged ahead to lift the veil on the past by studying micropaleontology as it applies to climate, environment and methane release from the Arctic Ocean.
Microfossils help researchers reconstruct geological history
One way that scientists peer into the past is by examining foraminifera, a certain class of microorganism found in almost all marine environments. Foraminifera are special, as they exist in very large quantities and have been around since the earliest Cambrian (beginning approximately 540 million years ago). Their remains make up the majority of marine sediment deposits on the ocean floor, and by examining these fossils we can paint a picture of how the Earth may have looked at various points in geological history, especially in terms of climate changes and ocean acidification. They are also important for locating hydrocarbons in oil exploration. It is through such studies that Giuliana has made a name for herself in the scientific community – although her interest in the field started with a misunderstanding.
A false impression leads to a career
It all began when she took a course on methane release in marine environments while studying geology at the master level at the University of Bologna in Italy. Despite much searching, it seemed that no one else was using micropaleontology in methane hydrate research. Little was known about methane hydrate at the time as it was still an emerging field, so such a scenario was entirely plausible. Complicating matters further, this was before mass access to the internet, which made thorough information-gathering that much more challenging. She poured through scientific journals at her university library, searching for evidence that the topic was being explored. Despite much effort, she initially found none. This knowledge kindled her interest, and she decided to investigate further.
Eventually she discovered that she had been mistaken – there was, in fact, a research group involved in methane/micropaleontology studies at that very moment, as well as a 1994 paper published on the topic. Despite this unconventional introduction, her destiny had been determined. She continued to dig into this line of research, making her way through PhD and Post Doc positions in micropaleontology with a focus on gas hydrate. She later spent time at multiple universities as a visiting scientist, worked as a consultant to oil companies in oil exploration, was hired by the Institute for Marine Science at the Italian National Research Council, and had an adjunct position at the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), USA. Finally, she ran into Jürgen Mienert, a professor for Arctic Marine Geology and Applied Geophysics at UiT.
A professional acquaintance recognizes talent
Jürgen, founding director of CAGE, was putting together a dream-team to run a Norwegian Research Council-funded Centre of Excellence (CoE) based at UiT. He had already included several top scientists with whom he had previously collaborated on the well-respected Continental Slope Stability (COSTA) project. Giuliana and Jürgen were acquainted from PERGAMON, an EU project with a focus on understanding methane emissions in the Arctic. He knew that she would be the perfect choice to lead the establishment of both the mass spectrometry laboratory and the scanning electric microscope (SEM) laboratory at CAGE, with a research focus on reconstructing methane emissions in geological history. Later, she was also asked to lead UiT’s Trainee School in Arctic Marine Geology and Geophysics (AMGG).
In 2013, Giuliana came to live in Tromsø with her husband and the two children, having never before set foot in the Arctic. Despite a period of adjustment in terms of climate, UiT was like a dream university; a place where they put emphasis on scientific research, hired like-minded individuals to share the journey, and supported their employees in achieving their goals. In fact, the OPRIK project at UiT was a big help when it came to achieving hers.
University program assists female employees in reaching career goals
Organized by the Resource Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology (RESULT), OPRIK is a program specifically designed to assist female scientists in reaching the next step in their careers. For Giuliana, that was becoming a full professor. The organization provides pedagogic courses, supervising courses, and a network of useful contacts for guidance. Every two years, a handful of participants from the project are selected to move forward in their careers, and in 2019 Giuliana was one of them.
It has not been an easy journey for Giuliana and her family, and it is surely far from over. But she has managed to achieve very much in a short period of time by working hard, working smart, and being determined. Giuliana would like to thank UiT The Arctic University of Norway and the Faculty of Science and Technology, her colleagues at the Department of Geology, her PhD and Post Doc mentees at CAGE, and her external collaborators for helping to contribute to her success. We look forward to seeing what such an inspiring woman can achieve in the future!
Text: Jessica Green
Photo: Torger Grytå