Brenda Hunda is an invertebrate paleontologist at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science. She grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, where there are a lot of dinosaur fossils. During her StoryCorps interview, Brenda told her friend and museum volunteer, Bob Bergstein, that she knew what she wanted to be from a young age.
My mother would tell you that I wanted to be a paleontologist since I was three, even though at the age of three I didn’t know what it was called, but I certainly knew what dinosaurs were. I never grew out of the phase of knowing all the dinosaur names and having all the dinosaur books.
After studying at the University of Alberta, Brenda came to the United States to work on her Ph.D. at the University of California – Riverside. While at UC Riverside, Brenda started coming to Cincinnati over the summers to do research. After finishing her Ph.D., Brenda moved to Cincinnati and got a job at the museum.
Because her work focuses on invertebrates, Brenda works with fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old. She talked about what it’s like to touch something that old.
The first thing I think about is the awe of holding something that no one has ever seen before. Every specimen has so much potential to shed light on something we didn’t know before or solve part of a mystery. We’re like detectives that go back in Earth’s time and try to uncover the mysteries of life. It’s like a time machine every time we go out and that still gets me.
Brenda loves the hands-on work and told Bob that she worries that “we’re forgetting to see and touch things. So much of the science that we do now is genetic. You don’t have to see an actual organism to work with DNA.” Because of this, Brenda said that the Geier Collections and Research Center at the Cincinnati Museum Center is important, especially to get young people interested in natural sciences.
Reflecting on her passion for paleontology, Brenda told Bob, “My job is not work. I get paid and I get to travel around the world to play in mud and look at the history of life. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the absolute best job in the world.”