Ph.D. Profile: Stephanie Loria
by AMNH on
On October 24, the fifth cohort of graduates from the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School—the first Ph.D.-degree-granting program for any museum in the Western Hemisphere—will receive Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Comparative Biology at a commencement ceremony in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. We're profiling the soon-to-be minted Ph.D.s.
Growing up in Queens, New York, Stephanie Loria was always interested in animals, particularly insects.
“I’d wanted to be an entomologist since I was 10 years old,” she says.
To make that dream come true, Loria gravitated to the American Museum of Natural History early on. By high school, she was spending afternoons in the Museum’s Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP), where she assisted in the work of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC).
In college at Sewanee in rural Tennessee, she studied cave-dwelling millipedes—many-legged arthropods related to, but distinct from, the insects she was fascinated by as a child. As her studies broadened, so did her invertebrate interests. Soon, it was arachnids, a group that includes spiders and scorpions, which were dominating her attention.
Following a research fellowship at Chicago’s Field Museum, Loria returned home to New York—and to the Museum. As a Ph.D. student in the Richard Gilder Graduate School, she focused on the study of scorpions alongside Curator Lorenzo Prendini, and received numerous awards including a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) three-year graduate research fellowship, a major NSF doctoral dissertation improvement grant, and an Explorers Club award for expeditionary work. In the course of her Ph.D. studies, she spent about four months in the field, mainly in Southeast Asia, collecting specimens to bring back to the Museum for additional study and permanent archiving.
“At a cave in Laos, we had to swim hundreds of meters through an underground river, in our caving gear,” Prendini recalls. “Within minutes of our arrival on land, Stephanie had found a blind, depigmented millipede and a pale, sightless scorpion—two of many new species she discovered in her travels!”
Analyzing morphology and DNA characteristics, Loria indeed described those and a number of other new species within the scorpion group Chaerilidae. Her doctoral dissertation also focused on novel analyses of the eye diversity among all scorpions; most species have one pair of dorsal eyes, along with up to seven additional pairs found along the animals’ sides.
During her Ph.D., Loria’s journey came full circle when she served as a mentor to a high school student in the SRMP program, the same place where she got her own start in science.
Soon, she heads to the California Academy of Sciences as a Postdoctoral Fellow, to continue studying scorpions, her early dreams of becoming an entomologist realized—more or less. Technically, she’s now a skilled arachnologist, studying eight legged-arthropods, rather than their six-legged insect relatives. Still, it’s closer than most folks get to their life plan at 10 year old. As Loria likes to say, “I was only off by two legs.”