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PhD Candidate Paige Madison Embraces Science Communication and Outreach Amidst the Pandemic

Paige Madison photo, book image and group photo

During a seemingly uncertain year with the spread of COVID cases around the world, PhD Candidate at the Center for Biology and Society Paige Madison has been making the best of 2020 by turning her attention toward writing. After a few years of intensive research, including a Fulbright fellowship in Indonesia that she finished last November, Madison has immersed herself in summarizing and synthesizing up her research on the history of paleoanthropology, or the science of human origins.

At the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, Madison published a series of articles for online magazines that chronicled one aspect of her work: her examination of the human relative known as “hobbit,” Homo floresiensis. Those pieces include an update on the controversy surrounding bones, fifteen years on, as well as the tale of an ancient legend of the wild grandmother of the forest that reemerged from the discovery. Furthermore, Madison published another story about how eating stew made from giant rats can in turn shed light on the extinct species Homo flouresiensis. In addition to her publications, Madison gave a series of lectures across South and eastern Africa, including at University of Cape Town’s Human Evolution Research Institute, as well as at a series of public venues.

When Madison’s research trips, conferences, and other plans as a visiting researcher abroad were put on hold for the year, she instead turned her attention toward finishing her dissertation and completing manuscripts for submission to academic journals across a wide range of disciplines. This fall semester, Madison began a generous Dissertation Completion fellowship from ASU’s Graduate College and School of Life Sciences, allowing for her to write her dissertation and wrap up other projects.

In early October, Madison successfully defended her dissertation, titled “Discovering Human Origins: Fossils and Controversies,” with the help of her committee members led by the Center for Biology and Society director Jane Maienschein and Institute of Human Origins director William Kimbel. The virtual format of Madison’s defense allowed people from many different countries and disciplines to attend. As she finishes revising the final details of her dissertation, as well as a number of other manuscripts currently in review or in the final stages of preparation, she looks forward to this work seeing the light of day. In the next couple of weeks, one of Madison’s articles, titled “Characterized by Darkness: Reconsidering the Origins of the Brutish Neanderthal,” will be published in the Journal of the History of Biology.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020, Madison has already begun revisiting archival materials collected during her PhD and utilizing them for future projects. She continues to work closely with the research team who discovered Homo floresiensis by catching up with the team through weekly virtual lab meetings and reading groups. She also continues practicing science outreach, including through her twitter account Fossil History, which has grown to a community of over 12,000 followers. Most excitingly, Madison states that she is eagerly preparing her first book, which examines the fascinating history of the science that addresses big questions of how we became human.

Author: Paige Madison

  1. Paige Madison
  2. A sample of the archival materials that Madison is continuing to examine.
  3. From the 2019 field season, Madison (red jacket, third from left) is pictured with some of the Liang Bua research team on Flores.