Maria Pawlowska

thanks for all your questions in the chat sessions and others you've sent!

Favourite Thing: discovering new things and coming up with crazy ideas to test



Copernicus High School in Warsaw 2000-2004


University of Bristol 2004-2007, University of Cambridge 2007-present

Work History:

I’ve taught classes – no ‘real world’ jobs yet


University of Cambridge

Current Job:

PhD Student

Me and my work

I work on reconstructing how the shallow marine environemnts looked literally 1 billion years ago.

I’m a third year PhD student at the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge. In my day “job” I look at the microfossils and chemistry of some of the oldest rocks still present on the Earth’s surface and I use them to try to decipher how life evolved on Earth. I study the remains of organisms and use chemical proxies to get as full a picture of ancient life on Earth as possible. If we can understand the environment in which complex (and in my lingo complex means more than a few cells) organisms evolved and how they interacted with their surroundings we can come that much closer to finding out, where biologically speaking we ultimately came from. Outside of my department I’m a fan of musicals, books, baking and traveling. I’m also very passionate about women’s rights and the environment and I volunteer with the Global Poverty Project to help raise awareness of means of tackling extreme poverty and improving maternal health.

My Typical Day

I read, analyze new data, spend time in the lab producing new data and try to write it up.

My days always start with me reading the news and checking my emails and sometime this lasts just a bit longer than it should… I then read the tables of contents of all the major scientific journals and those specific to my field to make sure I’m up to speed on the latest developments. If it’s a lab day I will spend most of it boiling nasty acids to try to get sulphur compounds out of billion year old rocks; or looking at tiny, less than half a millimeter long fossils trying to get them to tell me what life form they’re most related to. If it’s an office day I will be sat in front of my computer writing articles and writing-up my thesis. On bad days when I can’t seem to get anything right all I’ll do after work is cook food, read or watch a Woody Allen movie. When my lab chemistry goes wrong I bake – I feel it’s chemistry I tend to get right so I find it comforting. But there are a lot of good days when I love science and feel like I’m doing my bit so that we can learn more about the Earth. On good days like those I don’t just want to go home so after 6pm you’re most likely to find me out with friends, in the movies, cafes or at a college bar.

What I'd do with the money

I’d like to print a little booklet on the Precambrian – show young people what the Earth looked like when it was much younger.

I’ve been thinking about publishing a popular science booklet about the Precambrian and this money would allow funding it. We all know at least something about dinosaurs and ‘cave-man’ but they were only around during the last 300mln! There’s a whole 3 BILLION years of the planet’s evolution most people know very little about and it’s an exciting time period worth exploring. Learning about the Precambrian is learning about the very early evolution of life on Earth as well as the planet itself. It’s a fascinating period during which the interactions of early organisms and the atmosphere, oceans etc led to creating the green, oxygen- and life-rich Earth we call home. And it’s really worth knowing where we ultimately came from!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

curious, talkative, friendly

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Ok…recently it will have to be the Glee Cast

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I used to do it every year before grad school – I’d go sailing for 2 weeks each summer in the Polish lakelands

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

a happy family, inspiring job, no loans to payback

What did you want to be after you left school?

a palaeontologist

Were you ever in trouble at school? class and music actually…

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I’m working on a model that will allow us to look at ancient biomarker data in a completely new way

Tell us a joke.

sorry but it will have to be a Darwin joke. Why did the chicken cross the road? Darwin: It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees.