FAQ: Ryan.

First and foremost, what’s your favourite dinosaur?

What a horrific question. It’s like asking a proud parent to choose their favourite child. In my younger days, it was all about the big theropods, tyrannosaurs and the like. But now, I can’t resist the enormous (heh…) charm of sauropods (I prefer the macronarians, Brachiosaurus and the other ‘tall’ sauropods).

Secondly, what’s you favourite (preferably extinct) animal?

A much nicer question question. Pakasuchus kapilimai. As the name suggests it’s a cat-like crocodile. What more could you want? However, honorary mention to Quetzacoatlus (the ‘evil, pin-headed, toothy nightmare monster that wants to eat your soul’, a quote from Darren Naish), because what other flying reptile with a 11m wingspan has a rap about it? Exactly.

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Cute and scaly? Best combo ever. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

What’s your area of ‘expertise’?

I’m not huge expert in anything yet, but I have a passion for biomechanics in the archosaurs (birds, dinosaurs, crocodiles and their ancestors). I’m currently using a lot of computer software to digitally model fossils, so I guess some of my ‘expertise’ lie in digital palaeontology (the shiny-new future, more on that in a future post, probably).

How did you get into palaeontology?

Like most children of the 1990s, I grew up loving Jurassic Park. The scene where Dr. Grant (a personal hero of mine, even as I enter my twenties) first meets the Brachiosaurus is still up there as my favourite movie-moment ever. Even before that, I was an absolute dinosaur-nut. So much so, by the age of 5 I could spell palaeontologist. Since then I’ve never lost that desire to become a palaeontologist. So, after spending primary and secondary school, then college work my behind off I went to the University of Bristol to study on the Palaeontology and Evolution course. I’m now a masters student at the University of Bristol, currently looking for PhD positions to continue my career in ‘dinosaurs’.

theymoveinherds

To reiterate: this is the best film ever. Period.

What do you do in your spare time?

To be honest, I’m pretty much always reading about palaeontology. Here’s a tip for free: if you want to be an academic you have to be almost obsessed with your subject, if not, you’ll just learn to hate it. In the small amount of time I’m not holed up reading about palaeo (more likely: looking at awesome palaeo art), I’m usually performing/hanging out with Bristol Improv, reading other books, playing video games, or on Twitter (desperately attempting to get #notosuchia trending).

Favourite palaeontological paper?

Ah, I remember it well. It was the first paper I read (all the way back in the first year of my undergraduate degree) that I actually enjoyed reading. It was Rayfield (2004), and I only read it simply because it had Tyrannosaurus rex in the title. But it began my interest in biomechanics (even though I was scared by the maths behind FEA). It was one of the first papers (along with Rayfield et al. 2001) to show the importance of new computational methods in palaeontology. Essentially, I like papers with shiny pictures of fossils (and models of fossils). More recent favourites of mine include:

Allosaurus_PE_WitmerLab_still_01

The future of how palaeontologists assess om-nom-nomming in dinosaurs.

You’re a palaeontologist, so you’re like Ross from ‘F.R.I.E.N.D.S’?

If I had a penny for every time someone asks me this, I’d have paid my student loan off years ago. For simplicity, yes, I’m like Ross from Friends.

And yes Jenniston, I am still awaiting your marriage proposal.

Any tips for any budding palaeontologists out there?

If you’re still in school/college/pre-university, work hard! If you’re in university, work even harder! But seriously, if you want to go into an academic career (not just palaeontology) you’re going to have to get used to hard graft. Also, if there’s any dig sites near you (I’m looking at you American readers), then volunteer! Not only is it great fun, but it looks great when you’re applying for uni/palaeo jobs. If you can’t visit dig sites, read around the subject a lot! We know accessing the primary literature is hard (both in terms of paywalls and understanding), but don’t fear! There’s plenty of really accessible blogs (like us!) giving you news and views on all things palaeo. Also, National Geographic magazine occasionally has some nice articles (palaeo related) inside.

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FAQ: Richard.

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!

Richard

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.

bakker deino

The awkward, naked sprint from shower to bedroom was a problem even in the Cretaceous.

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.

iguano robot2

The model T-8Ig Terminator was swiftly scrapped by Skynet, after proving to be even less successful at blending into human society than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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.

SansomPhyloOrig

Bask in the clarity of this figure! Green is for dorsal fins, red is for paired fins and blue is for anal fins. Adapted from Sansom et al, 2013

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).