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What's the best unexpected thing about being a professional paleontologist?
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As I kid I always dreamed of becoming one, like most kids probably. Most careers have their downsides once we get past the childhood fantasies. What though hadn't you expected before entering into an academic career, that turned out to be a good surprise?

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When a was about 5 years old, i saw for the first time dinosaur models with a friend from kindergarten. This got me interested in Paleontology and kept me going until i was at the end of secondary school. Afterwards i started studying geology with the aim of becoming a paleontologist. During my studies i kinda switched camp from vertebrates (dinosaurs) to invertebrates (ammonoids, an extinct group of cephalopods with an external buoyant shell). I got particularly interested in cephalopods after a documentary about the intelligence of octopods (e.g., one was crawling over the floor at night to eat fish from aquarium across the lab). My interest in ammonoids, took me to Switzerland (Zürich) to do a PhD on the origin of ammonoids after doing a Master on Middle Jurassic ammonoids from France. In Switzerland i first met my future wife, which was the first unexpected and positive thing. While make sections through ammonoid specimens to study intraspecific variation in their morphology, i discovered strange structures which i could positively link with parasites which infested these. We could track the coevolutionary history of ammonoid hosts and their parasites for several million years. This got me interested in the paleobiology and evolutionary history of parasites which i am currently working on and took me to the United Kingdom (Bristol) and Germany (Erlangen).

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Perhaps the best surprise is not the scientific side, but the social side of paleontology. As a kid, I had envisioned a lot of paleo as toiling away alone on a fossil in a lab, surrounded by dusty bones and books. I figured there was a little teamwork involved in the fieldwork, but assumed that was about it. Now that I am a few years into my career, it has been fun to build research collaborations and get to know other paleontologists. For instance, I don't know the first thing about dinosaur bone microstructure, so Sarah Werning took that part of the baby dinosaur project (and did a bang-up job!). As another example, I first met the folks from University of Utah (Mark Loewen, Mike Getty, Scott Sampson--now at Denver, Joe Sertich, etc.) on an expedition over 10 years ago--and now they count as research collaborators as well as close friends!

This may sound a little nerdy (and I guess it is), but many of my best friends are paleontologists. There are some fantastic people in our field whose talents run far beyond science (music, running, and barbecuing, to name a few)--and it is awesome to know them!

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Andy and Sarah - have you ever had an "Indiana Jones" moment? What has been your greatest moment of 'derring do' when hunting fossils?

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Hmm....helicopter work can be exciting (we removed the skeleton block for "Joe" out using a helicopter)!

I rather like a quote that paleontologist/adventurer Roy Chapman Andrews used (he borrowed it from someone else): "Adventure is a mark of incompetence." Those are words I try to live by! I absolutely hate 'derring do' and 'adventure', mainly because I like to come back home in one piece! That said, we all have our moments...

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I had a scary moment about twelve years ago. Someone thought we were trespassing on their neighbors' land (We weren't - we had permits and permission!!!) and fired some warning shots that came too close for my comfort. Thankfully, that's the only time that happened! Also, unlike Indiana Jones, I have a fondness for living reptiles, so my fieldwork often involves intentional encounters with rattlesnakes.

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For me, it's about how integrative the field has become. In fact, both Andy and Sarah from above write for the Integrative Palaeontologists blog network with PLoS!

Back in the old days, palaeontology would be about finding new fossils, and describing them. Now, we use methods from medical technologies, ecology, molecular systematics, geochemistry, physics, developmental biology, and macroevolution. Oh, and geology. I mean, John Ostrom, when he described Deinonychus back in 1969, and revolutionised the hypothesis that birds are dinosaurs, could only have dreamed that we'd be able to fire particles at fossilised feathered dinosaurs and work out what colour they used to be!

In my own research, I have to use phylogenetics, biodiversity, ecology, and a whole host of what would perhaps biological approaches, to solve questions about palaeontology. For me, it's this which is firstly unexpected, coming from a geological background, and awesome about palaeontology.

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One of the most interesting things about "dinosaur hunting", is that our assumptions about them have had to change constantly. This too is the history of science, last years "facts" can become this years fiction. The history of our knowledge about dinosaurs illustrates this: some were warm blooded, some flew, some had feathers, some were colored, and some were parents and lived in groups. We have come a long way from the 19th and early 20th century views of dinosaurs. The same is also true of the evolutionary history of the hominids, homosapiens wherein we are learning that there were many hominids and many homosapiens many of which were contemporary with each other. We, humans, were not a special creation.

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Ask me anything journal club

- with Andy Farke and Sarah Werning

On November 13th Andy Farke and Sarah Werning will be here live to answer your questions. They recently published the now famous 'baby dinosaur' paper. We welcome anyone to ask them a question regarding this paper, paleontology in general or any other topic before, during, and after the event.

When: November 13, 2013 08:00 am PST

Where: Ask me anything - with Andy Farke and Sarah Werning