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Re: Two Broad Questions About Paleo-Education
I'm a little late to the party on this one (I've been in the field),
but I thought I would add in my own two cents and refer you to some
posts at my blog, The Open Source Paleontologist.
These posts touch on many of the issues raised by others in this
thread, with a few additional things to think about.
On a pragmatic note, three issues I would encourage you (and others)
to think about:
1) How long does it take students to finish, or do they even finish?
There are some big-name programs out there that have a long history of
students taking ages to finish a simple master's degree. . .other
programs have a history of accepting more students than can be
financially supported, or accepting students who have no earthly
business being in graduate school (this may sound harsh, but it's a
reality of life), or any other number of unpleasant scenarios. Nobody
wins in these kinds of situations. On the other hand, most programs
have a good track record in this regard. . .it's up to you to do some
research. Talk to current or recent graduate students. . .if you run
across multiple instances of 6 year master's degrees, or multiple
students who are hanging on without funding, be wary.
2) What kinds of jobs do alumni/ae of the program get, or do they even
get jobs? Again, some programs have a history of churning out
graduates who immediately drop off the radar screen. Everyone has his
or her own life goals, and sometimes these change (i.e., it's ok for
some folks to decide they don't want to go into paleo in the
long-run), but I would definitely be worried if a significant
percentage of folks float away from the field. After all, isn't one
goal of the education to get the ability to continue on as a
3) A "big name" has little correlation with the adequacy of the
advisor. Some famous paleontologists are quite good, and others are
quite rotten as advisors. Again, this is something where you need to
just ask around. By talking to graduate students at the programs where
I wanted to apply, I learned a great deal! In one case, I had a
student specifically warn me against applying to work with a
particular advisor. Granted, one should always take this with a grain
of salt. . .some students are self-made martyrs. Things also depend on
the student's personality. . .if you're a "needy" person, a hands-off
advisor is a recipe for disaster. And by the same token, if you're a
real self-starter, a hovering advisor could be pretty annoying. You
can learn a lot by talking one-on-one with a potential advisor (a
great reason to attend professional meetings, BTW!). . .
Hope this helps!