Society News Paleoprofiles Past PaleoProfiles Patricia Vickers-Rich
Who are the people of SVP?
Members of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology come from many different backgrounds and live and work all around the world. Here we highlight the life and work of one of our members so that you can get to know them better. Paleontologists that have been profiled in the past are also listed so that you can go back and get to know them as well: Past PaleoProfiles
Undergraduate education: A.B., University of California, Berkeley
Postgraduate education: M.A, Ph.D., Columbia University
Current position: Personal Chair, Palaeontology, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; founding director of the Monash Science Centre, Monash University
Pat grew up in California. Her dad was from Tennessee and Mom from California — they met when Dad was the milk delivery man to Mom’s house (she was a beautiful teenager) and he was so impressed with her that he tripped over the tongue of the milk wagon with two bottles of milk, fell flat on his face but managed to not break the milk bottles. Dad had a 6th grade education, Mum went through 12. The family had no background of higher education but were absolutely encouraging to Pat when she wanted to go to University — sold most of their belongings and moved away to university with her. They all worked so she could get her college education. Pat is part Cherokee (Dad’s side) and part Irish — which has produced a determined and laterally thinking person — most everything can be worked out is an attitude worth pursuing and this has been a great help in her pursuing the life she has.
Currently, my main field intersts lie in the Early Cretaceous of Gondwana (work in SE Victoria and Patagonia) and polar Mesozoic faunas of Alaska. In addition a new area of interest is the late Precambrian working with a group of palaeontologists (Dr. Mikhail Fedonkin from the Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and Dr. Jim Gehling from the South Australian Museum, Adeliade). This work centres around the White Sea in northern Russia and the Flinders Range in South Australia as well as a variety of site in Namibia and South America — in search of the world’s oldest animals — some the ancestors of the vertebrates. Pat is also involved in writing a number of both technical and popular books on dinosaurs and their environments, the origin of life and the first animals and on how artists and scientists come up with their detailed reconstructions of past environments and biotas. These books are to serve as catalogues for four major travelling exhibitions that she has organized or is organizing with others: Dinosaurs of Darkness, Wildlife of Gondwana, The Dream Weavers and In the Beginning … Life in the Precambrian. This leaves little time for sleep.
Q & A with Patricia Vickers-Rich
Pat in the field with her crew looking for dinosaur fossils. Photo courtesy of Patricia Vickers-Rich.
How do you spend a typical day when you are not doing fieldwork?
My days on the Monash campus are usually spent in my office at the computer preparing a manuscript for publication, or in class teaching. I also spend time with local school kids, give radio interviews and work on TV documentaries. I also spend time raising funds for research and the Monash Science Centre, and try to make time to walk my dog.
What do you like best about your job? What excites you most about your work?
I love being able to do what I want. I love to discover new things and find out about new things. I like to meet new people and get people together who share research interests. I like being able to get people together with all kinds of common interests. This is why I am so excited about developing the Monash Science Centre at my university.
What is the most difficult part of your job? What bugs you most about your work?
I never have enough hours in the day to get everything completed that I set out for myself. What bugs me most is anything that keeps me from doing my job — such as too much bureaucracy.
Pat and Tom Rich in the museum. Photo courtesy of Patricia Vickers-Rich.
What has been your most exciting discovery? What are the other important discoveries yet to be made that are of interest to you?
I find that each discovery is exciting and I don’t find one more exciting than another. My discoveries occur every day — and are not only about fossils. When I go to an area, I am just as interested in the people, the trees, the animals, the politics, the languages spoken or the jokes told, as I am about the fossils. Because I am a fossil hunter I go to many remote places: the steppes of Tartarstan, the deserts of Patagonia, the rainforests of Sri Lanka, the dinosaur-bearing beds of Zigong, China and the plateaus of Wyoming. I love going to such places for they are wild, wonderful, and hold many secrets that I hope I will unlock for the first time.
What is your favorite fossil and why?
I have two favorites, Leaellynasaura and Timimus. They were named after my children and a well-known writer and paleobiologist Tim Flannery. These dinosaurs were discovered in Australia and lived near the ancient South Pole. Thus, they were some of the toughest little dinosaurs that ever lived. They had to brave the snows of winter and 24 hours of dark for three months of the year. Leaellynasaura could probably see in the dark and may have been warm-blooded, while Timimus may have hibernated during the polar winter.
Who do you admire most in science or the world at large?
People that follow their dreams — there are a number of them that I admire so it is hard to pick just one. I had a raft of good teachers over the years. My high school biology teacher, Mr. Carstensen, really stands out.
What message would you send to “future paleontologists,” regardless of their ages?
If you want to be a paleontologist, don’t let people discourage you — but don’t think you are going to make a lot of money doing it. Follow your dreams.
To learn more about this research, follow these links to the Monash University School of Geosciences and to Patricia’s Monash University page.
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