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Lisa D. White, PH.D.

Micropaleontologist and Director of Education and


University of California Museum of Paleontology ​



She wanted to share her view of the naatural world through her camera lens, but switched to research. Now she uses a different lens: a museum. Her audience? The next generation of people who have a science identity -- maybe you. 

Growing UpLisa White
00:00 / 03:23
Diverse Opportunities 2Lisa White
00:00 / 05:48


But it was my junior year, so it would take me three additional years for a total of six years to graduate. Lisa was grateful that, at the time, the California State University system was relatively affordable. That took away some of the pain of making such a major change.  "It was a combination of being shy and laid back and not a super planner that put me in this position," she says, "but I had a quiet confidence about my abilities. I was supermotivated and willing to spend the extra time I needed, even if it meant an 18-unit semester."


Internships! Lisa credits them for giving her the experience she needed to see her new field clearly. "My professor in the first geology major's course I took at San Francisco State recommended an internship at the U.S. Geological Survey. I got hired for three summers. I traveled to Alaska on one field project, to New Mexico on another. What can be typical as an undergraduate is you like everything. Volcanoes are cool. Alaska is great. I liked carbonate rocks. With every new class or internship I thought, ah, let me study that!" For current USGS youth internship opportunities; click here. ​


At first, Lisa didn't aim very high. "Initially I would have been happy being a lab technician. I’m not sure why I set the bar so low. But my mentors kept saying here are some things you could achieve with an advanced degree."


It's great to fall in love with a field, but at some point you have to specialize. "The first female advisers and mentors that I had in the geosciences were paleontologists," Lisa says.  "I started leaning toward sedimentary geology — rocks that form in the ocean or water environments. My internship experience helped me narrow the topic to marine (ocean) rocks that had fossils in them — micropaleontology."



Lisa changed her mind in a big way, but she never looked back. Her advice: "Don’t be afraid if you realize you don’t like something anymore, even if everyone assumed you were always going to pursue that. Realize that many professionals didn’t know what they wanted to do until they were older. Be openminded. If you see your friends experience something fun, try it. It’s okay to change your mind, even later in your career."



Major change

Try      This!


Low expectations

Late Bloomer 


Lisa recalls, "I didn’t have much science identity pre-college. Paleontologists tell you ‘I knew all the dinosaur names when I was five and I knew what I wanted to do.’ Well that wasn’t me. She loved growing up in a beautiful natural area (San Francisco Bay) but saw it primarily as a subject for her camera -- until she took a geology class and fell in love. 

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