Unique Scientist: Mikayla Savage

A new #UniqueScientists is here! Time to meet Mikayla Savage (She/her)! Mikayla studies zoology, specifically animal behavior, and writes books!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am currently in school for zoology, so my friends and I refer to ourselves as “almost-zoologists”. Specifically, my concentration is animal behavior and neurology so if you wanted to be really specific I would be an animal behaviorist.

What made you want to become a scientist?
I struggled a lot with who I wanted to be and where I wanted my life to end up. In high school I had no intention of going to college and was set on joining the US Marines. A few months before I graduated I found out I was disqualified from the military due to a medical condition, so was thrust into college without thought. I switched my major a few times, from nursing to English to Mass Communications before eventually dropping out for a few years. I always knew that I loved animals and I always loved to research and learn, so that’s what I did. I found a whole world of scientists who focus on a lot of different aspects of animal life, behavior, and evolution. I had always believed that the only career I could have with animals was veterinary medicine. I re-enrolled in college with a major in Zoology and started interning at zoos and I just knew that’s where I was meant to be.

“I’m expected to be uneducated or have a “worthless arts degree” because of the way I look or present myself. But I think those things that throw people off are the things that make me interesting and unique and maybe a little odd.”

Mikayla Savage

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I think I have it luckier than others because the zoo world is dominated by women and so I feel very comfortable there, but outside of that there are still people who believe that I don’t have what it takes, be it because I am a woman or because I look a certain way. A lot of people still make assumptions about my past and my future because I have a lot of tattoos or dyed hair. I’m expected to be uneducated or have a “worthless arts degree” because of the way I look or present myself. But I think those things that throw people off are the things that make me interesting and unique and maybe a little odd.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
Outside of zoology, I write books! I am currently in the process of writing a story based on some memories of mine (a fictionalized memoir, if you will), and have written several novels in the past, though this is the first one that I am looking at getting published! I’ve tried my hand in carpentry, painting, and piano. I also study, for fun! Outside of Zoology I enjoy philosophy, philology, linguistics, psychology, and anthropology.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
That more people would do it! Science is in everything, and it’s so wonderful and mysterious and fun. I encounter a lot of people who think that you need to be some sort of prodigy or super genius in order to participate in science and that just isn’t true. I’m certainly not either of those things but here I am, getting a PhD. I want science to be widely accepted, studied, and enjoyed. You don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to be a scientist.

“I want science to be widely accepted, studied, and enjoyed.”

Mikayla Savage

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
Someone who, early on, inspired me to follow my passions no matter what they were was my Uncle Beau. I remember struggling with what I wanted to do after high school and fighting with my dad about what was the right path for me, and my uncle always told me that it was my life I was living and that those choices were up to me and no one else. Later in life, during my first zoo internship, I met a couple of individuals who helped me along the way. One was a keeper I worked with, Matt Stierhof, who inspired me to become a keeper myself by watching his passion and enthusiasm for what he did. The other was a security guard, Donald Delano, who fueled my flame for getting my PhD and inspired me with his wisdom and education.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
Nothing science related, as I am on summer break and have just finished my spring internship, but I have been working on my manuscript for my novel and I am very excited about that! Not anything super profound, just a small personal victory for me.


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