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Dutch palaeontologist shares about her life and love for the study of earth’s ancient past

Born and raised in the Netherlands, Dr. Femke Holwerda is a Paleontologist at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.

Dr. Holwerda got her master’s in bio-geology in university back home as a stepping stone into the science world and worked in research for a couple of years after that.

“I’ve always wanted to be a paleontologist, ever since she was 3 years old,” she said.

Before moving to Canada, she was accepted to get her Ph.D. in Germany, specializing in long-necked dinosaurs. Now, Dr. Holwerda studies all different types of fossils, such as bones, footprints, imprints from feathers and skin, and soft tissue.

She explains that it’s not just about finding the fossils but that a lot goes into preparing and conserving them.

“You find the fossil on the cool field, you take it home with you to the collection and then the real work starts,” she added.

Dr. Holwerda is now studying mosasaurs from the Bearpaw formation in southern Alberta as part of her research projects. She was already familiar with the topic as the Netherlands is famously known as the first country ever to find one of their fossils.

A mosasaur on display at the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre
Photo provided by the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre

“Mosasaurs are marine animals and they’re actually more closely related to lizards and snakes, than they are to dinosaurs,” she explains.

According to her, you can find them in Canada because, during the Cretaceous Era, a huge part of North America was covered by a big inland sea.

Dr. Holwerda specifically studies mosasaur’s teeth and their morphology and microdamage from different diets. In addition to that, she also runs the Women in Palaeontology group for the European Association of Palaeontology, now online due to the pandemic.

She says coming from a different country as a woman paleontologist is challenging, especially because there is still a huge difference between men and women with postgraduate degrees or doctorates in the area.

“A lot of women will leave the field, mostly because they feel like they’re not supported,” said Dr. Holwerda.

If you are interested in the area, she suggests connecting with your local museum and specialists and never stop trying if it’s what you are most passionate about.

– Juliana Vannucci, U Multicultural

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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