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Re: Two Broad Questions About Paleo-Education

First of all, may I just say "what the hell" at both of my versions of
this e-mail suddenly appearing out of nowhere. I sent this ^ one
*yesterday,* and saw it nowhere in my inbox today. I send a second
one, and now both are present. It's like messages sent from my account
only appear to me if they're responded to, which is just silly if

Anyway, I think I'll be favoring this orginal one, although I've
already responded to the other once.

What I said in the other one is that, yes, actually I know about
getting payed by the school instead of paying it, but a) it'd be nice
to know if some schools have better reputations about funding, and b)
it's my understanding that there can be some outside costs not covered
by a given program, e.g. some pay for the research and a stipend but
nothing else, while a few actually cover one's housing costs, etc.
That's the other sort of thing I wanted to figure out.

Moving on . . .

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

Hey, reality is what it is. A realistic assessment is always
constructive and is just good intellectual honesty. You are to be
commended for deciding to avoid sugar-coating it, not derided.

> 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).

Yeah, see above. I know there's typically some kind of deal, but I
wasn't specific enough about the other costs (and negotiations) I had
in mind.

> 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
> "betterness."

Well, admittedly - and that's why I'm interested in hearing from
practicing scientists, instead of trusting to those rankings that get
published by groups who are looking at overall
funding/equipment/campus/etc instead of at particular needs or
interests. I suppose I'm mainly wondering if there are any schools
I've overlooked, and which of those are best-known for solid paleo-ish

> 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...

This, *this,* is the kind of information people in my position want
and need to hear. So thank you, because this is quite revealing. If
anyone else has specific recommendations for "niche" programs like
these, please, post them here for myself and other folks keen on
getting the same sort of details.

(Incidentally, I'm leaning toward the latter option you mentioned, if
I can get into a suitable department . . .)

> 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
> to!!):
> Yale, Harvard, U Penn, U Chicago, U Cal Berkeley, UT Austin, U Michigan, and
> the list goes on.

And Alberta, no? For dinosaurs, anyway. There are plenty of others,
especially if one's looking into invertebrate or micropaleontology.
Kansas and Nebraska have substantially mammal-oriented programs, I
know, and Montana of course has a small but justifiably well-respected
dinosaur program too.

But I hadn't heard of Pennsylvania in this context, so I'll have to
look there. Thanks.

> 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.

Conferences I haven't had an opportunity to get to yet, sadly, but
I've definitely been looking for faculty with broadly similar
interests (and learning about more of these people was another motive
of my e-mail here). So far, I've found a couple who seem pretty close,
and a fair number more that have rather tangential connections. Hence
the pressure to ask for further elucidation on these matters.

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

A good point, I'll try to take reviews with a grain of salt and be
sure to cross-reference before coming to any conclusions. (Sounds like
a good scientific mindset to me.)

> 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. :-)

Checking conference abstracts is a good recommendation; I hadn't
thought of that in that way. I've been looking at (recent) journal
articles, but I still wasn't sure what areas might have been covered
in the past, or which *have* been covered but need review, etc. And of
course I'd be looking for questions/areas that haven't been done yet -
but hey, I figured I might as well ask as long as I'm on the general
subject. Can't hurt to streamline the process. ; )

> 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.

I've been bracing for this eventuality since middle school. But I have to try.

> 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.

I have no compunctions about teaching biology (in fact I've always
wanted to do paleontology at a university where I can teach instead of
a museum where I could curate), so that's not so bad. Hypothetically.

> I hope this helps,

Indeed it has. Thanks for your input - this is the kind of advice
people like me need.