Alumna named elected Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science

Joanna Lambert always loved science and animals, but she hadn’t considered working in the sciences until she took her first anthropology course, Anthropology 101: Human Origins, at NIU.

“I was hooked,” Lambert said. “Anthropology provided me with the ability to study all aspects of our world and allowed me to integrate my passion for the natural world and our cultural heritage as a species.”

Lambert was recently named an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society. She was one of only 702 individuals worldwide selected for this prestigious honor in 2012. AAAS cited her outstanding contributions to the field of primate feeding biology in honoring her as a Fellow.

Joanna Lambert
Joanna Lambert

“It was my very great honor to be elected into the American Association for the Advancement of Science,” Lambert said.

The AAAS is the largest scientific society in the world and has been in  existence since 1848. Fellows are elected by scientific peers and colleagues, which is a wonderful acknowledgement of one’s impact on an area of science. “I love what I do, and would do it regardless of affirmation by others, but it is especially rewarding to be recognized by one’s peers,” Lambert added.

Before coming to NIU, Lambert studied art at a community college and made a living as a freelance artist. “I found that being an illustrator didn’t meet my intellectual curiosity about the world around me, so I enrolled at NIU in the early 80’s. In short, I grew up at NIU and figured out who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.”

Lambert received both her bachelor’s degree in anthropology and biology, and her master’s degree in biological anthropology from NIU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She later earned her Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

apeSince then, her work has taken her across the globe, from Central America to the Horn of Africa, focusing on the evolutionary and community ecology of primates, with the bulk of her research conducted in Kibale National Park and other areas in Africa.

“There have been many, many challenges, both emotional and physical, along the way,” Lambert said while reflecting on some of the complexities of her career, such as being away from her husband for months at a time while completing field work. “But these are minor compared to the rich tapestry of experience that I have been able to weave from my journeys. Nothing worth doing is easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.”

Lambert’s expertise and tenacity are reflected in the more than 100 publications she has authored and the numerous accolades she has received over the years. NIU anthropology professor Dan Gebo, an internationally renowned comparative anatomist and paleontologist, says that Lambert stands out among her peers.

“If you were to ask me who are among those top five students throughout my career, I’d say Joanna Lambert is one of the five. The work she’s doing in primatology is amazing.”

To read more about Joanna Lambert’s research, check out her article on Nature Education’s website.

By Natalie Santiago

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