|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [Hangout-NYLXS] Time for a career change?
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So I've accumulated some of these ;)
Leading paleontologists share advice for breaking into the dinosaur business
Paleontology may be one of the coolest careers to break into, but it's
far from the easiest.
As Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic writer Brian Switek
laments, while some people develop other interests, quite a few
"would-be" paleontologists simply didn't know where to start.
Luckily, Robert T. Bakker, author of "The Dinosaur Heresies," "Raptor
Red," and "The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs," and curator of
paleontology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Matthew T.
Mossbrucker, director and curator of the Morrison Natural History
Museum, and discoverer of the first baby Stegosaurus fossils, shed some
light on how to get your start as a paleontologist during a recent
First, there are a few myths and misconceptions that need dispelling.
The first is that paleontologists spend all their time digging for
According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology
website, "Paleontology is a rich field, imbued with a long and
interesting past and an even more intriguing and hopeful future. Many
people think paleontology is the study of fossils. In fact, paleontology
is much more."
Paleontology is divided into various sub-disciplines including the study
of microscopic fossils, fossil plants, invertebrate animal fossils,
vertebrate fossils, and prehistoric human and proto-human fossils.
And as Bakker and Mossbrucker explain, there are many jobs you can hold
within the paleontology field.
Bakker says most vertebrate paleontologists make a living teaching
geology or anatomy. "A few lucky ones" get full time jobs working in a
museum. Fossils are also a hot commodity right now, since scientists can
use them to teach basic science literacy, so fossil-sleuth could be a
Generally, though, the pay isn't as much as you might hope.
"Doc [Bakker] always told me to 'marry money,'" Mossbrucker jokes.
"Seriously though, this is a calling. Most of us live a monastic
lifestyle, while some took his sage advice."
After all this, if pursuing a career in paleontology is still your
calling, Bakker and Mossbrucker have a couple tips before you pursue the
required higher education:
1. The best way to begin a career in dinosaurology is to start young.
Bakker suggests studying living animals at a zoo or in your own
backyard, filming them, and then using photo prints to sketch in the bones.
"Find the nearest display of fossils - whether at the natural history
museum, science center, or state/national park - and visit," Mossbrucker
suggests. "While visiting, take a guided tour. Ask questions. Then, slow
down, put the phone away and bask in the glory of the old dead things.
Read the labels. (Seriously, nobody reads the labels...) and soak it all
2. The next step is to volunteer, preferably in a program at your
nearest natural history museum with a paleontology department. This will
provide a chance to experience various aspects of what paleontology is
all about and explore undergraduate programs.
"Get involved with your local museum and get your hands dirty,"
"In museums where I work - one huge, two small - volunteers are
essential," Bakker says. "They find most of the specimens and do most of
the tour-guide duties. In exceptional cases, volunteers are so good that
we move heaven and earth to get a salary for them. And succeed."
"This life is a calling and I'm grateful for every moment of it,"
Mossbrucker says of his job as a paleontologist. "I'm surrounded by
interesting objects, curious people, and a constant stream of weirdness."
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