One of the questions I’m most frequently asked by visitors is “What does a paleontologist do from day-to-day?” or some variation that suggests that the questioner doesn’t really know what I do (“It must be great to have a job where all you have to do is dig up bones.”) Meanwhile, on the vertebrate paleontology listserv, there is a current discussion among paleontologists about how connected (or disconnected) we are with the “real world” – whatever that is.
My blog entries tend to emphasize the more showy parts of my work, because, frankly, they’re by far the most interesting parts. Even so, I thought it might be instructive to review my work for the last week, as a reality check if nothing else. Besides, it might help explain why I’ve been slow on getting my new posts up!
A little background is also in order; in addition to my museum job, I also frequently teach night classes in geology for various universities. I’m currently teaching an Oceanography class for Radford University.
So, I’ll start one week ago, on Sunday, November 30 (I rarely have a day where I don’t do some work):
Sunday, November 30: I prepared the slides for my elephant lecture, which took about half the day. Afterwards I spent several more hours preparing lectures for classes scheduled for Monday and Wednesday, and writing the final exam for the course. (I didn’t actually complete Wednesday’s lecture that day).
Monday, December 1: I coordinated visits for next week to the Smithsonian, Virginia Living Museum, and William and Mary (I’ll blog about these next week), then reviewed a press release for the elephant lecture. Much of the rest of the day was spent writing and revising text for an exhibit on evolution that opens next February, except for an hour or so to write a blog entry. At 4:30 I left VMNH for the New College Institute where my Oceanography class meets, and gave a lecture on open ocean organisms. I arrived home around 6:30, then spent another two hours reviewing my elephant lecture.
Tuesday, December 2: I met with my supervisor in the morning to go over schedule planning for the holidays. I found out that the state payroll office was mad at me because I was still receiving paper pay stubs; it took a half-hour of phone calls and emails to opt out of receiving them. Spent an hour in a planning meeting for next month’s Dino Day event. After lunch I spent a little time working with a graduate student in an email exchange, and most of the rest of the afternoon was spent working on a manuscript about one of the Carmel Church whales. Late in the afternoon I spent some time with Tim looking at sharks teeth in the collection; he’s going to spend some time volunteering for me to help get the shark tooth collection better organized. I got home around 7:30; Brett teaches a night class on Tuesdays, but I didn’t get dinner made because I had to complete my slides for Wednesday’s lecture. Brett was stuck with it after she got home (sorry!).
Wednesday, December 3: Most of the morning was spent on the evolution exhibit, including meeting with Curator of Mammalogy Nancy Moncrief to look at possible specimens for the exhibit, and scheduling a conference call for next week between several people working on the project. There was a staff meeting at lunch, and after lunch I spent most of the afternoon working on the exhibit. At 4:30 I left the museum to go to class, and gave a lecture on life in the deep ocean basins (below the photic zone), arriving home around 7:00.
Thursday, December 4: Most of the morning was spent making final arrangements for next week’s trip (meeting people in four different places in five days takes some planning). After lunch I spent some time on collections organization, then made the final changes to my elephant lecture. I gave that lecture at 6:00, and arrived home around 7:30. I took the evening off.
Friday, December 5: The morning was spent looking into various grant possibilities, and working on the Carmel Church manuscript. After lunch I spent 5 straight hours in a planning meeting for the evolution exhibit, and got home around 7:00.
Saturday, December 6: I didn’t work the whole day, but I did spend several hours revising evolution text, working on the text for an upcoming stromatolite exhibit, and I responded to an information request from a former student.
Sunday, December 7: I spent a couple of hours working on evolution and stromatolite text. The museum Christmas party was at 5:00, and after that I returned home and wrote this blog entry.
So, that’s a REAL working week in the life of a paleontologist, and most any other person in my field would give a similar account of their typical week, with only the details changed for their particular circumstances. But the other times – eating lunch in the sun while gazing at the Bighorn Mountains, trying to figure out how to get yet another whale vertebra out of the ground, seeing a line of kids faces pressed up against my lab window, or having a student come up after class and saying, “I’ve always wondered about that, but I never understood it until tonight’s lecture” – those are the rewards.
Later this week I’ll be returning to more exciting events, as I head out on my trip next Thursday. As soon as I return, I’m taking a vacation road trip, which (being who I am) will include a number of paleontology-related stops, so I’ll be blogging about that as well.