Real Talk with Myria Perez
Myria Perez is a fossil preparator and educator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C. She spoke with TFK Kid Reporter Elisha Lee.
What exactly do you do for your job?
I work with fossils, so this means I remove rocks from fossils, I’m gluing fossils together, I’m making sure they’re not crumbling. Sometimes, we have dinosaur bones that need to be cataloged and put back into place.
What do you love most about your work?
I like that it’s a combination of art and science. I love science, I love art, I get to use my hands. When we do jackets—these are things that store the fossils—we have to figure out how to make them for specific bones or fossils, which can be different shapes. Getting to do a bunch of different things in the lab is really fun.
How did you get interested in paleontology?
Since I was a kid, it’s been my dream to be a paleontologist. When I was 12, I went to this event at the Houston Museum of Natural Science called Dino Days. I got a chance to meet paleontologists. At the end, I asked, “Hey, can I volunteer?” And somehow, they let me, as long as a parent came with me. At 12 years old, I got to go on fossil excavations, and I got to work with dinosaur bones and fossils in the lab.
When you were growing up, how did you find other kids, especially girls, who shared your interests?
In my friend group, I was the only dinosaur kid. My friends were interested in other things, but they were all super supportive of my love for fossils.
What’s the hardest thing about doing your job?
Each fossil kind of has its own personality. It needs glue here, or it needs to be fixed, or there’s a material on it that we need to take off. Trying to figure out what each fossil needs is a challenge. But it’s fun, because you never get the same thing.
Are there times when you can’t put fossils back together? What do you do then?
Fossils are very old. You don’t always get all the pieces to the puzzle. Fossils erode and pieces go missing. You’re working with something that’s incomplete, sometimes. You do your best to fit the pieces you know back together. And the pieces you don’t know—you don’t try to make anything up. But sometimes, you have a gap in a specimen and it needs support. We’ll put some sort of putty in there that’s clearly not fossil, so when people go to study it, they know not to study that part.
Why is studying fossils important to us today?
The past is the key to the present. And if we learn more about how ancient ecosystems worked, we can prepare for what’s going to happen to them in the future.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to share with kids?
Be brave and ask questions. Always be curious. It can be hard to ask questions. But if you’re genuinely curious, chase after your passion and find out more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It was originally published in the March 10, 2023, issue of TIME for Kids.