To give people an idea of who we actually are before we start dinosauring at you, we thought we’d introduce ourselves via a series of ‘FAQs’. Here’s mine!
First and foremost, what’s your favourite dinosaur?
At the age of 6 I’d immediately have answered Deinonychus, but the naked kind (eg. picture below) without any feathers. I would then have proceeded to bore you with my standard soliloquy on how the raptors in Jurassic Park were actually more like Deinonychus, thus justifying my obscure dinosaur choice.
Since then my dinosaur tastes have progressed a bit, but I think I’ll still pick Deinonychus. As well as being nicely symbolic of the paradigm shift towards viewing dinosaurs as active animals, it has also become feathered fairly recently, representing another change in dino-views. It also had HUGE CLAWS.
Secondly, what’s your favourite (preferably extinct) animal?
While lots of things are awesome I think I probably ought to choose the Devonian placoderm, Dunkleosteus. While (obviously) all Palaeozoic fish are exciting, a 10m long one with shearing jaw bones is particularly so. Also comes highly recommended as a fancy dress costume.
What’s your area of ‘expertise’?
I think ‘expertise’, as opposed to actual expertise, is definitely the right word to use. I enjoy systematics and evolution-based themes, in pretty much any group. My project this year is on a group of armoured, jawless fish called heterostracans, so I’m looking forward to learning about them as the year progresses. My undergrad degree is in Zoology, so I like to flatter myself that I bring a critical zoological eye to palaeobiology. This is probably not actually the case.
How did you get into palaeontology?
Playground conversations about Jurassic Park and the fact that Walking With Dinosaurs came out when I was small and impressionable both contributed to a love of palaeontology from a young age. My grandfather is a zoologist who has done work on dinosaurs, and so he fanned the flames by doing things like introducing me to a robotic Iguanodon (see picture). I then wanted to be a military historian for a bit, before doing a degree in natural sciences, which eventually became zoology as I tried to get as far away from cellular biology as possible. This zoology degree heavily featured palaeo, which reignited my love of it and led me to this master’s degree.
What do you do in your spare time?
Mainly musical things. I play the ukulele and the clarinet, and dabble in a number of other instruments. I also enjoy singing; previously this has been in Chapel Choirs and things, but has more recently been barbershop. I also enjoy reading and baking bread.
Favourite palaeontological paper?
I really like this paper describing paired anal fins (weird!) in the jawless fish Euphanerops because the fossil is quite pretty and it has a really nicely structured, clear diagram portraying the evolution of paired fins in vertebrates. It also provides a tantalising glimpse into the evolution of key characters in gnathostomes (jawed fish), which (as with so much in evolution) seems to form an evolutionary mosaic rather than a straightforward progression from one character state to another.
You’re a palaeontologist, so you’re like Ross from ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S’?
Ross never actually seemed like a very good palaeontologist, so I hope not. I’ve also only been married twice.
Any tips for any budding palaeontologists out there?
I suspect that I still count as a ‘budding palaeontologist’, but disregarding that my tips would probably centre around a general theme of ‘get keen’. There’s an enormous number of blogs and things on palaeobiology on the internet, and through the medium of Twitter you can get information on opportunities and palaeo news directly from palaeontological luminaries (or at least those luminaries who have Twitter).