What Is It Like To Be A Paleontologist?

Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
I am a Ph.D. student at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, majoring in vertebrate paleontology, with a minor in science education. I completed my bachelor’s degree in marine biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. I am interested in studying how the distribution of sharks has changed over time as ocean temperatures fluctuated. Using my research, we could provide strategies to better manage fish stocks and safeguard shark populations. Education is an important component to my research. I believe that the only way to effect change is by encouraging others to care about a topic.

Please tell our readers a little bit about what you do.
I am a part of The FOSSIL Project at FLMNH, a National Science Foundation- funded online paleontological community (myfossil.org). Through FOSSIL, I can provide paleontological content to members, showcase upcoming opportunities and initiate conversations between amateurs and professional paleontologists as well as connect K-12 teachers with resources in their area. I organize professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers that increase their knowledge of paleontology, evolution, fossils and related content. In the past year, I have taken over 20 teachers from across the United States out to an active fossil site in central Florida. While there, our participants learned how to dig for and identify fossils as well as safely remove and prepare fossils back at our prep lab. I am also involved with iDigFossils (paleoteach. org), an NSF-funded program in collaboration with FLMNH and the College of Education at the University of Florida. IDigFossils helps K-12 teachers integrate science technology engineering and mathematics with the use of 3D scanners and printers. We collaborate with our participating teachers to provide science content in lessons that incorporate the scanning and printing of fossils. In this manner, we can bring fossils into the classrooms and make lessons more interesting while teaching technological skills to students.

What is the coolest fossil you’ve ever seen?
The coolest fossil I have ever seen is every single one I have had the opportunity to explore within FLMNH’s collections! I have the great privilege of having access to over 4 million specimens ranging from vertebrate and invertebrate paleontology, paleobotany, and micropaleontology. My favorite are,
of course, shark teeth, but some of the specimens coming out of our active fossil site, Montbrook, are also quite interesting. We have found teleoceras (rhinoceros), gomphothere (elephant-like proboscideans), as well as many turtle specimens, including trachemys inflata. While at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama last summer, I had the distinct opportunity to hold a vertebra of titanoboa, a 40-foot-long extinct snake. I cannot help but be amazed by every fossil that I get to see because I am astounded that I am holding something that lived millions of years ago!

What kind of training does it take to be a fossil hunter?
Anyone can be a paleontologist! You do not need a college degree to go out and search for fossils, only a fossil collecting permit, an understanding of the laws around collecting, and a plastic bag to bring back your finds. What I love most about paleontology is that, once you find your first fossil, you are hooked!

Why is this work important?
My work is important, not just to increase paleontological knowledge, but to inspire future generations to care about science.

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