Danijela Dimitrijevic received the Student Ally Award 2020 for the class of 2018-2020 for her support and engagement for our student community. You can find her on Twitter as @dani_leja and read her publications on Google Scholar or Research Gate.
What is the topic of your research and makes you excited about it?
I am currently doing research on fossil scleractinian corals for my master thesis. I am looking at some of their traits and how they change through time – namely before and after major reef crises. I think it is very exciting to work on these fantastic creatures and to reveal the story behind the coral evolution that happened millions of years ago. There is also something incredibly breath-taking in anticipating the results and coming up with the so-far unanswered questions.
How did you decide to become a palaeobiologist? What sparked your interest?
My interest in natural sciences has always been levitating between the earth sciences and biology, and eventually, I have studied both. At some point, palaeobiology as a perfect fusion of the two came out as an intuitive, and I believe the very right choice for me.
What would you like to do next?
I would very much like to continue the research I am doing on coral traits and coral reefs through time after I finish Master’s, so a PhD research is my next stop on this ride.
What in your perception are the main struggles faced by students in Palaeobiology? Are there any difficulties that are specific to this field?
The real struggle is having to explain what palaeontology is, every single time someone asks us what is it that we study. 😊 Joking aside, I guess finding a job is not that easy, but that depends a lot on where you are in the world. If you are (like me) coming from a developing country, finding even a Master’s program in palaeobiology can be a challenge. In that case, you just have to be ready for the personal sacrifices and the challenges of stepping out of the comfort zone all the time.
How do you see the situation of international students in the programme? E.g. is it easy to find a support group and learn how to function in the German system?
Learning how to function in the German system is not easy nor short process. To be honest, after almost two years in Germany I am still not sure I have grasped it fully. It is always a good idea to look for support. I was lucky enough to live in the international dorm where I met and got help from other foreign students that have already went through the painful process that was ahead of me.
What can academic staff do to support good relationships among students and between students and the staff? Do you have ideas how to inspire teamwork and collaboration?
I think our international program needs an integration week (or at least an extended weekend) which is entirely socially oriented before the start of any courses. That could be a few days of different activities or even a field trip. I think this would help establish bonds among the students, especially between German and international students, but also with other people in the department. For example, my first encounter with other students and professors was the Introduction to Statistics and R course to which I stumbled into straight from the train station on Monday morning with a huge suitcase because that was also the day I was supposed to move into my room. I mean the big, red suitcase can be a good ice breaker, but it would have been much nicer to meet people in a more comfortable setting.
Also, a good idea would be to assign buddies from the department to each international student to help them integrate better socially. And organizing more social activities involving the whole department throughout the semester would be nice, too.
What would you do if you could teach a Palaeobiology course for a day?
Only one day would not be enough to explain everything that Palaeobiology encompasses. But I would definitely take the students somewhere into the field where they can find fossils and see some amazing rocks, and I would try to blow their minds out by telling them the beautiful story of Earth’s history written in the rocks. 😊