Winter is for Research and Writing

For many, what draws us to paleontology is the field work. You see it on TV and in the movies. The intrepid paleontologist, in his traditional khaki cargo pants and multi-pocketed vest, standing over the quarry, looking on while vast numbers of minions slowly carve away the rock to expose the virtually complete dinosaur. He wipes the sweat and dust from is grizzled face with a dirty handkerchief that he quickly ties back around his neck. It’s a glorious sight to behold.
And it’s also almost entirely fiction, but that’s another story.
While most paleontologists do a lot of field work, and relish every moment of it, most of us only manage a few weeks - maybe a month - each year, and then spend the rest of the year in our offices, teaching courses, advising students, and when we have time studying what we’ve collected. Some of our study is preparation, removing the fossils from the rocks that encase them. It’s a fine art that really very few are very good at. Some of it is various analyses we might run on the fossils or rocks searching for particular molecules or atoms to tell us about what the world was like for the ancient creatures. Or we make thin-sections and examine and measure growth lines in bones to devise hypotheses about how the animals grew up. We might be using 3-D scanners and modeling software to study the shapes of the fossils and how the various bones fit together. This part can be as much fun as field work (and always involves substantially fewer rattlesnakes).
We also spend much of our time in the winter writing papers to tell other scientists about our findings. Or, better yet, we go to professional conferences and talk about our research there. We can blog about our research or go give public talks to share what we’ve learned with everyone. This is one of my favorite things.
One of the things a lot of us pour a lot of winter effort into is writing grant proposals in the hopes that we can secure funding for future research and field seasons. Field work isn’t cheap. And while field work isn’t all that paleontology is, it’s what brought most of us to the science in the first place. And it’s a necessary part of being a paleontologist.
Which reminds me. I have a book chapter to write and there’s that grant proposal I need to look at again. Gotta go!
Posted: 12/3/2015 12:00:00 AM by host | with 0 comments
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