But then Shapiro’s career path abruptly changed, thanks to a four-week field course in geology, biology, and anthropology. The students drove across the country, camped in national parks, and marveled at the rich scientific resources in the majestic mountains and forests. “I was in awe,” Shapiro recalls.
She plunged into geology and molecular biology, worked at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and “started to think about how I could combine my interests in biology and communication,” she says. Her plan was to apply for a Marshall Scholarship for graduate work in Edinburgh, Scotland, exploring the evolution of sex.
That’s when her journey took another unexpected twist. Shapiro didn’t get a Marshall and instead ended up at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. “Wandering the halls of Oxford, wondering what to do,” she recalls, she bumped into New Zealand scientist Alan Cooper, PhD, who offered her both a spot working in the brand-new field of analyzing ancient DNA and a chance to go to Siberia to dig for prehistoric genes.