What do you do?
I’m an aspiring paleontologist. I take trips by myself or with fellow fossil hunters to various sites and collect ancient remains. The best of these fossils are always made available to the Calvert Marine Museum where they can be stored and studied in perpetuity. I also spend a lot of time communicating paleontology both online and in person. I manage a page of Facebook called “Pedantic Palaeontology” where I talk about what I’m following in the world of paleontology. I frequent Facebook groups and The Fossil Forum, offering identification of fossils and answers to paleontological questions whenever they arise. I attend many paleontological clubs and meetings in my area, where I interact with both those new to the field and those who have been in it far longer than I. I’m lucky to be located in Maryland, which has an astonishingly rich paleontological record, so I have the opportunity to introduce people to a wide range of spectacular fossils. Recently, I had the opportunity to give a presentation to the Natural History Society of Maryland on the topic of Giant Threshers and their evolutionary significance.
What methods do you use to engage your community and audiences? What have you found to be the best way to communicate science?
All sciences face a constant struggle to communicate their importance and their findings to a general audience. The emergence of social media provides an invaluable platform for the dissemination of all sciences, including paleontology. Everyday hundreds of people go to a Facebook group to ask a question about paleontology or to get something they have found identified. Giving them a concise but informative answer can be all it takes to get them excited about the subject. Likewise, taking the time to have a conversation with a child, with an interested adult, or with a group of people can make all the difference. The more people who understand the relevance and the wonders of our natural world, the better humanity can progress as a whole.
What is your favorite part of being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
I cannot remember a time when science failed to captivate me. Fortunately, my parents were keen enough to realize this and fed my passion from a young age. While other small children were begging their parents to put on another cartoon, mine were slipping another documentary into the DVD player. However, it wasn’t until middle school when I figured out what science I wanted to pursue. An earth science teacher decided to take interested students on a fossil hunting trip. After that, I was hooked. That summer, I took an online course in paleoanthropology, and I knew that was what I wanted to do. There are few feelings in this world that compare to being the first person to lay eyes on an organism which hasn’t seen daylight for millions upon millions of years. It’s like reading ancient drama. The players may have perished long ago, but the stories persist in stone.
What advice do you have for other aspiring paleontologists?
Being an aspiring scientist myself, I have realized the true importance of cooperation in science. In order to progress in this field, I have had to build the confidence necessary to ask for help from those already in the field. Every expert was once an aspiring scientist, and the vast majority are happy to help budding scientists, interested amateurs, or anyone with a curious mind. So go ask that question, strike up that conversation, and feed your curiosity.
Check out Mason’s Facebook page ‘Pedantic Palaeontology‘ here!
Great article! On the first sentence of the answer to the last question, please edit and change “he” to “the” (small typo, but otherwise superb!)