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RE: Two Broad Questions About Paleo-Education

> From: owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu [mailto:owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu] 
> On Behalf Of Raptorial Talon
> So, to get on with it:
> 1. What is or are the best graduate school(s) for 
> paleontology in North America today? By "best" I mean one of 
> two things:
> a. The best faculty and facilities, i.e. the best program(s) 
> overall b. The best education for what you pay, the "best on 
> a budget" so to speak. (I'm willing to pay more for higher 
> quality, but I'd like to understand my options as thoroughly 
> as possible.)
> 2. What areas of dinosaur research are the most neglected, 
> the most in need of attention/revision/etc? I've always heard 
> of derived theropods as being "over-studied" in some sense, 
> so I'm wondering if there are areas where I might more 
> fruitfully apply my abilities. (I know my own interests, but 
> if there's some commonality, why not run with it?)

Number 1 is the wrong question, actually, but understandable. It is
incorrect on two points:
I. The cost isn't an issue, generally, in grad school in the sciences. Grad
students typically do NOT pay tuition to their universities: in fact, the
university pays you. Not much, grant you! But in general you apply to a
program, and if they accept you they cover the tuition cost and pay you a
stipend contingent on your being a TA or research assistant for a certain
number of hours or courses per year. (It may be that your summer salary has
to be covered by grant money rather than institutional money).

II. At the level of specificity of a graduate program, there is no one
metric by which to judge the different programs. There is no one axis of

For example, if you are interested in pure anatomy modern and ancient, Larry
Witmer's program at Ohio University is a real standout. But if you had a
biomechanical bent (especially for biting), Erickson's Florida State
University program would be better. Want to be doing field work, though, and
neither of these programs are primarily oriented to that. And if you had a
systematics orientation, than being closer to major museum collections (or
at least sufficient funds to get to said collections) becomes highly
significant. And so on...

Traditionally strong programs (in particular, programs where there are an
abundance of paleontologists of different expertise and associated
biological and geological faculty) include (but are by no means limited
Yale, Harvard, U Penn, U Chicago, U Cal Berkeley, UT Austin, U Michigan, and
the list goes on.

Instead, the best thing to do is to search for the program into which you
fit best. How to go about that? Read, read, read: see who is publishing what
in the journals. Also, go to the conferences and talk to current graduate
students about their experiences.

And remember: not everyone's experiences will be the same, because not
everyone is equally well suited to a given program and vice versa.

Number 2 is trickier, particularly as there are some apparently neglected
areas are actually the subject of current graduate studies (basal
ornithopods, for instance). Again, take a look at what is being published in
the technical journals and (even more importantly) the abstracts at various
conferences to find out what IS being done. It is YOUR job as a graduate
student to figure out what isn't. :-)

And no, an unasked 3rd question:
What will I do with a paleontology focused PhD?

Here is the ugly truth: you are more likely than not NOT going to be doing
paleontology with it. The current crop of recent and ongoing graduate
students is far greater than the current number of jobs in the field. There
is a high degree of saturation, and most universities are not actively
recruiting paleontologists in either geology or biology departments (it is
global change research and molecular/developmental biology, respectively,
that have much higher recruitment rates). So you have to make sure that you
build up expertise in things beyond paleontology as such.

If you go into a biological program, consider the possibility that you might
wind up primarily teaching anatomy or primarily researching zoology, but
getting some paleo work done when you can. If in geology, consider that you
will likely wind up primarily teaching or researching things beyond the life
and death of giant monsters.

By no means do I mean to use this to discourage people, but only to get them

I hope this helps,

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Email: tholtz@umd.edu   Phone: 301-405-4084
Office: Centreville 1216                        
Senior Lecturer, Vertebrate Paleontology
Dept. of Geology, University of Maryland
Fax: 301-314-9661               

Faculty Director, Earth, Life & Time Program, College Park Scholars
Faculty Director, Science & Global Change Program, College Park Scholars
Fax: 301-314-9843

Mailing Address:        Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                        Department of Geology
                        Building 237, Room 1117
                        University of Maryland
                        College Park, MD 20742 USA