Monday, 25 January 2016

What do I do all day? (Monday)

At my parent's recently, I was asked a lot of intense questions about my work. I realised during this grilling that what my folks were trying to understand is exactly what it is I spend my days doing. Yes, you're studying Mesozoic mammals, but what do you do to study them?
What do palaeobiologists do?

So this week I thought you might like to get a snapshot into the life of a PhD researcher.

After an hours flight from Edinburgh, I find myself in a cheap and moderately cheerful room near the University of Bristol, watching TV and pigging-out on tortillas and salsa. Today is just about getting here, but over the past weeks I've been preparing for this trip south to examine the collections held at the University.

Flying out from Edinburgh - I'll miss you!

In my first year of studying Mesozoic mammals - British Jurassic ones specifically - the important thing is to become familiar with the specimens. To do this, I'll be visiting collections across the UK that hold material of the right age and genera. In order to decide where to go, I've spent time reading published papers and books that list specimen numbers and locations, and picked the brains of experts in the field to get recommendations and guidance. I now have a master list that will dominate my next six months of scientific enquiry.

Bristol was always going to be the first stop. The specimens that form the core of my PhD are housed in Edinburgh (National Museum of Scotland), but they were collected by the respected palaeontologist, Robert J. G. Savage (1927-1998). Born and educated in Ireland, "Bob" Savage held a double degree in Zoology and Geology from Queen's University in Belfast, and a PhD from University College, London. He had a long prolific career and was a world-leading expert in fossil mammals. He was Curator of the collections in the Department of Geology at the University of Bristol, being promoted to a Readership in 1966, and a Personal Chair in Vertebrate Palaeontology, in 1982.
Bob Savage Image: UoB
Savage and colleagues discovered several new Mesozoic mammal species through fieldwork on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, including the material I'm now studying. Some of this material is at the National Museum of Scotland - the rest is in the University of Bristol collection.

So here I am: laptop, camera and notebook at the ready. Let's look at some fossils....
More tomorrow.

The Isle of Skye (Image: Wikipedia). This is where the material I study
comes from.

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