By Judy Jamal
The Staff Spotlight series features Earth Institute staff members from across the Morningside, Lamont and the Irving Medical Center campuses. The series is intended to highlight the important work our staff members do to keep the Earth Institute running smoothly and to support our mission of guiding the world onto more sustainable paths. These interviews discuss staff members’ careers, their interest in our institute, and insights that might be relatable and useful for the rest of us.
This month’s Staff Spotlight features Nichole A. Anest, curator and staff associate up at our Lamont campus. She curates the vast collection of deep sea sediments in the Core Repository, and is an avid fan of science fiction, hiking, reading and video games.
As a curator, what do you find most unique in your job?
People hear the word “curator” and immediately assume I work in an art museum. Being the caretaker of hundreds of kilometers of deep-sea mud is fairly unique. The fact that these are invaluable samples for researchers all over the world is inspiring. I have gotten to go on two research cruises, which were wonderful! Very relaxing being focused on only one thing for three weeks.
There is a gathering of “The Curators of Marine and Lacustrine Geologic Samples” every two years. (It will be virtual for 2021.) About 20 to 30 people attend, all working in sample repositories similar to ours. It is so wonderful to be able to talk to people who have the same woes as well as to be able to learn new and better techniques from one another.
Has your background helped, what do you find useful?
Well, I was a landscaper while I was in college — mowing, weed-whacking, clean-ups — so I have always liked playing with dirt. I have always been physically active, scientifically curious and mechanically inclined, so it’s a natural fit, really. The fact that Lamont is such a wonderful place is icing on the proverbial cake!
Any landmarks in your career so far?
Being named curator in 2012 was certainly a highlight! I have been working in the repository since 1998 and the changes we have gone through — physical space renovations, personnel, equipment — have all made the Lamont-Doherty Core Repository the fantastic facility it is today.
Most recently, winning the Excellence in Mentoring Award in 2020 was amazing and humbling! It was a great reminder of what the work is for.
What inspires you as strong motivations in your work?
Knowledge. Even though I do not do any research directly, knowing that the sub-samples we provide are the foundation of so much research is awesome. I love being part of a community that is, ultimately, striving to make the world a better place.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Reading, hiking, video games. I am a big fan of science fiction and currently halfway through the original Dune. My all-time favorite book is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I used to hike a lot until Lyme disease wrecked my knee, but it is finally better and I will be hiking again soon. But, in the meantime, too many video games!
Has 2020 changed your perspectives in any way?
I never realized how much people do not cook! So many people I know were complaining they would have to learn to cook for themselves at the beginning of the pandemic.
Any New Year resolutions? How do you plan to keep them up?
Well, 2021 has not been great for my family so far — three COVID cases, one death — so I am just trying to find ways of being proactive and positive.
Judy Jamal is a coordinator in the Director’s Office at the Earth Institute, Columbia University.