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Re: vert. paleo paths
I do not have much to add to Andy's excellent post, but as a PhD
student that reached paleo via a rather different (and unusual route),
I thought I might serve as an example of the diversity of backgrounds
that can lead to paleo work.
My BA and MS both came from UVA, and they were both essentially focused
in conservation biology (though the BS was rather general). There is
no focused paleontology program at UVA, nor any real paleo faculty. I
worked under an advisor whose expertise is in applying
macroevolutionary analyses to broad-scale conservation issues, and I
found ways to merge that sort of work with my growing paleo interests.
I took (and taught, during my MS years) whatever organismal courses
were available, but I picked up a lot of useful information from
courses that would not seem to be applicable to a paleontology
background at first glance.
The punch line is that, as has already been suggested, there are many
potential paths to a career in paleontology (and some of them may seem
unlikely at first).