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Re: Howdy peoples!



Suz:

Sounds like you're trying to get a head start on becoming a
paleontologist.  Good.  Let me try to answer some of your questions
first, and then let me give you the "standard" warnings later.

You asked:
"3) I'm in grade 9 and am 14 yrs old: is there anything I can do
right now?"

I'll start with this question first because it is the one you can do
right now.  First, I'm sure you've heard your parents and teachers
tell you this, but it's very important that you earn good grades in
school for two important reasons: it makes it easier to get into many
different colleges that you may wish to attend after high school, but
more importantly the better you understand science, math, and english
(after all, writing is very important in science; another language is
good to know too) the easier it will be for you later to pick up more
and more difficult science and math concepts and write better research
reports.

But, don't just do school work.  I don't know what the situation is
like in Australia, but here in America you have to wait to till your
16 to hold a part time job or do serious volunteer work.  It might be
different where you are.  If you are close to any museums, don't be
afraid to try and write or call the people and scientists at that
museum.  Sometimes they have volunteer programs for young people who
are interested in science.  It may not always be a paleontology sort
of volunteer program, but I would say any chance you get to do a
science-type volunteer program at a museum you should consider doing
it.

Closer to home, are there after school activities at your school?  Is
there a science or math club you might want to join?  Does your high
school offer any courses in earth science?  Are there any local
interest clubs or groups for geology or paleontology?  Again, I don't
know too much about Australia, but you could check this out on the
internet, or maybe somebody on this dinosaur list would know.

Read as much as you can, and not just about dinosaurs.  Read about
anything that interests you: insects, model building, volcanoes,
anatomy, whatever.  Paleontology is a science that mixes in a whole
lot of other sciences and activities.  Almost anything you learn in
school, read about, or do in your spare time might help you later as a
paleontologist.  You never know what may or may not help you, so be as
open as you can to learning new things.  Computers and programming are
a good topic to understand as well.

Write to scientists whose books or articles you liked or maybe
disagreed with.  When I was 13, I didn't like what Dougal Dixon (a
paleontologist from the United Kingdom) wrote in one of his books on
T. rex being a scavenger, so I wrote him a letter with my arguments. 
And you know what?  He wrote me back!  Don't be afraid to write to
scientists.  The worst that can happen is that they will not write
back.

You said:
"1) What uni do I go to to get where I wanna go?"

This will depend on what part of paleontology you're intersted in,
where you or your parents can afford to go, etc.  Some of this would
be hard to give advice on now, because in another four years the
situation might change.  Instead, I will tell you that most
paleontologists focus on two sciences: geology and biology.

There are many types of paleontologists and we usually divide them
into invertebrate paleontologists and vertebrate paleontologists,
although many paleontologists study both invertebrates and
vertebrates.  There are hundreds of organisms to study, including
dinosaurs, and to list them all here would be way too long.  And keep
in mind that to understand a fossil site completely, you have to know
about the geology, the invertebrate fossils, the fossil fish,
amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, and so on.  So the wider
your interests, the better chance you have at understanding a
paleontology dig site, museum collection, etc.

When you go to college, you have to pick what's called a "major." 
This is the area that you focus on.  You can also take another major,
or something called a "minor" which is another focus area, but not as
intense as your major.  When I went to college, my major was geology
and my minor was biology.  In geology, I learned about all the earth
sciences (mineralogy, plate tectonics, sedimentology, paleontology,
etc.) and for my minor in biology, I learned about general biology and
I took some anatomy classes, both on humans and on animals, because I
have always been interested in how dinosaurs worked as living
animals.

You also have to take a lot other classes in college (some of which
you may not like very much) and here in America it takes about four or
five years to get what's called your bachelors degree.  But in order
to be a paleontologist, you have to get what's called a Ph.D., or
doctorate.  That is when you really start to do your own research, but
you're far from that now, and most of the advice I could give you now
would be outdated by the time you got to graduate school.  Just keep
in mind that from the time you graduate high school, it could be as
long as 10 years or more before you graduate with your Ph.D.  That is
why you really have to love this science -- if not, it will be very
hard to go that long without getting bored or discouraged.

You said:
"2) What courses do I take?"

The courses you wil probably take will be: a year of basic geology, a
year of basic biology, a year of chemistry, a year of physics, a year
of calculus, invertebrate paleontology, vertebrate paleontology, human
anatomy, comparative vertebrate anatmoy, sedimentology, mineraology,
and other geology-related courses, and statistics.

This is not to scare you -- by the time you get to college you'll be
able to handle these courses, although now they may seem like a lot! 
But again, this is something that won't happen for four years, so keep
thinking about paleontology but don't be afraid to consider other
careers if something about them appeals to you.

Now I have to warn you about a few things.  One, science is difficult
and the classes you have to take can be very tough.  Another thing to
remember is that jobs for just doing paleontology are hard to come by,
and when they open up sometimes 100s of people apply for a single job!
 That makes getting a job as just a paleontologist very hard indeed. 
Money isn't something you should be worried about now, but most
paleontologists earn a modest salary, but you probably figured that
there weren't rich paleontologist by now.  Paleontologists, like all
scientists, do their jobs because they love them not because they love
the money.

Notice that I say "just a paleontologist" a lot.  Make sure you study
many topics and subjects and be open to different options for jobs. 
For instance, if you really like anatomy, you could be hired as an
anatomy instructor at a college and do paleontology as your research. 
Or, maybe you're interested in oil or mineral resources.  You could
get a job with an oil company or mineral company and use fossils to
find what they're looking for.  Or, maybe you're interested in the
environment and want to use paleontology as a way to understand what
the past environment was like and how humans are affecting it today. 
Or, maybe you're interested in computer science and can teach it at a
college while developing computer programs to model dinosaurs or other
fossils.  The biggest warning I can give you is don't just study
dinosaurs: study everything that interests you!

Well, good luck with your studies.  If you have any more questions,
feel free to ask me or anyone else on this list.  Sometimes we can't
respond right away, but don't get discouraged.  At the very least,
explore your library and the world outside your school there in
Brisbane.  I'm envious -- I like snakes and I know you guys have lots
of 'em.  Maybe that's another choice for you that wouldn't be open to
me -- study living snakes and compare them to fossil snakes.

Good luck and best wishes.

Matt Bonnan (I'm a graduate student studying sauropod locomotion)
Dept. Biological Sciences
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

P.S.  You said: "4) How much wood would a carnosaur demoloish if a
carnosaur could demolish wood?"
Answer: More than a lot, less than too much.=)