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Meet a Paleontologist
Me holding a cast of the Giant Short Faced Bear, Arctodus simus. I have always been especially interested in fossil bears.
Here I am in the field mapping the bone of a sauropod dinosaur. We are using a very precise instrument (not seen) to measure points with a laser. I am holding the reflector that returns the laser to the instrument so it can record the bone's location.
Looking through museum collections is like opening gifts on Christmas—always something new to discover.
Montana State Office Paleontologist
Bureau of Land Management
NFD Kid's Page Interview...
What is your job, and what do you study?
I work to manage fossils on BLM managed lands in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. We have extensive areas where fossils are exposed, and I work with researchers from around the country to collect the important fossils and save them for future research and education. Our fossils are stored in about 30 museums around the country. For my job I get to learn all about the fossils of this region, the dinosaurs, marine reptiles, and mammals that once called Montana home.
What are you working on now?
In the early part of the year there are reports from last field season to review, and applications for the coming season to process. The researchers who work on public lands need to get a permit so we can show that qualified people are collecting public fossils. This helps protect against fossils being unnecessarily damaged and lost.
Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?
For my paleontology and geology training I went to Fort Hays State University, in Hays, Kansas. I really like to learn all kinds of things, so I had many classes that I enjoyed, many non- science classes. I loved my biology and geology classes, especially classes like systematics and historical geology. But I also loved the history, philosophy, and music classes I took. .
Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?
I did not grow up knowing that I wanted to go into paleontology like some kids. In fact, I did not even know it was something one could do! I loved nature, animals, and science, that much was always very clear, but when I thought about "what do you want to do when you grow up," I had very little idea. The big event for me was when I decided to try volunteering at the natural history museum. I instantly loved it! We were working on new exhibits at the time, and I got to help with the mounting skeletons of some Ice Age animals, and I was hooked. It was a very clear moment for me when I realized that with paleontology I could combine all of my interests into one field.
What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?
It is hard to say there is just one memorable experience that stands out above the rest. I love going into the field and working on a dig site with a group of eager, fun people. I also love working through secluded museum collections, looking at bones that were collected long ago and are just waiting to be studied! Museums are marvelous places.
Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?
The first thing I would say is study everything! Of course, you will need a lot of science and math, so take as much as you can in high school, and if you can take Latin, do it. Being a paleontologist will require you to go to a university, and that is getting more challenging all the time. Work hard in your high school years to get good grades so that when you do go to university you can get scholarships to help pay for it. It is a career that requires you to put in a lot of effort to be successful. But if you really want it, the hard work does not seem as hard as it is doing something you love.