The path that brought me to my current PhD project hasn’t been a straight one. When I was in secondary school I didn’t know I would become involved in archaeological science later in life. When I was a kid I wanted to become a police investigator or a journalist, and somehow research does involve both. I can say I am doing what I always wanted to do.
I didn’t particularly enjoy maths and physics and that was the reason why I attended what in Italy is called as “High School for Classical Studies”. Then a very inspirational chemistry and biology teacher walked into the classroom and her lessons sparkled a brand new interest in me. I realised how much science was linked to reality and that ions, molecules, and reactions were able to tell stories about ourselves as much as poetry and literature.
When the time arrived to leave high school I decided to embark on multidisciplinary degree “Science for Cultural Heritage” at the University of Florence. My BSc and MSc dissertations both focused on the study of waterlogged archaeological wood from a Neolithic site near Naples and the design of dedicated preservatives made from sugars.
It wasn’t an easy road, as I had to work to pay for my studies, but the good side of it was that I had the chance to work on a science outreach project (OpenLAB) for about 7 years. That experience made up my mind. I wanted to work in a lab, ideally developing ideas into experiments and writing up the results in forms of papers so that other scientists in the world could use it.
For years I tried my best to find a position in academia in Italy, even working as a lab cleaner or assistant would have been enough for me!
In 2012 I was exasperated and moved to UK, where I worked as a nanny, teaching assistant, school science technician, and ultimately I successfully applied for the position of “Teaching and Research Technician” for the School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Reading, where I worked for about three years. My old dreams and hopes were re-ignited and I started gathering information and experiences in order to achieve them.
One of the areas I was supporting was the stable isotopes analytical facilities, maintaining and running the mass spectrometer, undertaking basic lab chores and preparing samples from ancient bones and teeth to understand diet and migration in the past. The ratio of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in biological tissues is a signature of the food an individual has eaten during life and reflects the environment in which that particular person lived.
Since last October I have been a PhD student at the University of York, working as part of the collaborative project “Sicily in Transition” (SicTransit). (http://www.sicilyintransition.org/)
The aim of my research project is to clarify and better describe social, economic, and demographic changes happened through successive changes in regime (Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabian) in Sicily between the sixth to thirteenth century AD using stable isotopes analyses on human, animal and plant remains.
I wrote this as this year (Saturday the 9th of June from 12 pm in Kings Square York) together with other 11 fantastic researchers I will have the honour and pleasure to speak for Soapbox Science, an event that I discovered when I moved to UK, worked for as a volunteer last year in Brighton, and like to export to the country where I have born.
What I would like to say to any woman or person that feels not represented in science, or in any part of society in general, is that even though it can be difficult (and a real struggle sometimes), determination, passion and drive can get you where you want to be. Let the values of honesty, care and respect, transparency, being open minded and curious led you, even when you think your going against everyone else.
These are tools that can break chains and barriers, and you can make a real difference, creating a more equal and diverse society, which is something everyone will benefit from.
For the list of speakers next Saturday visit:
You can find out more about my research at: https://www.york.ac.uk/archaeology/research/research-students/ughi