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Re: 2 questions

    You are on the right track.  Approach ALL of the curators at AMNH and
share your enthusiasm.  Someone (or all) will respond.  Accept their guidance
-- you have some of the best mentors possible at your disposal.  You can
probably pursue either the extracurricular approach, or the scholarly approach
with success.
    I am making a transition in the opposite direction, from scientist to
writer, and it is my guess that you are hesitant because you have heard that
rejection is a way of life for writers.  Don't let this color your thinking
about paleontology.  While money and jobs are tight in all areas of science,
never fear, doors will open if you are willing to work hard (in writing, you
must work hard AND know a celebrity or commit a crime to get in the door -- I
haven't decided yet which of these avenues I will pursue).
    But your ambition is a good one -- go for it.
Tom Hopp