Published: March 31, 2021

Working in Paleontology: Inspiration and Advice

Want to work with dinosaurs and other fossils? Here’s what four paleontologists say to consider.

Akiko Shinya

I’m inspired by the sense of discovery I get with preparing fossils and finding fossils. The most fascinating part of paleontology is in uncovering the evolutionary secrets. In well-preserved fossils, we can study bone growth and regrowth that might tell us how old the animal was when it died or that the bone was once broken and healed like it is seen in SUE the T. rex. Bite marks or scars can indicate predator and prey behavior, and even microabrasions on teeth can help us identify which direction the jaw moved or its diet. Speaking of diet, I've found a crocodile coprolite containing a few gar fish scales in Wyoming and a dinosaur coprolite with seeds and twigs with bite marks in Argentina. Even poops can be fascinating to find in our field of paleontology!

Preparing fossils is like giving life back to the animals that died, but somehow survived through time in the form of fossils. We are unlocking the wonder of their past life.

Akiko Shinya

Know your strengths and find a mentor

I have been VERY fortunate to work with people who have no bias towards me as a woman or an Asian and to have wonderful mentors. I also think that I was lucky to find a good match with my interests and my skills. I love paleontology, but I'm not good at writing papers. However, I am great at preparing, finding, and excavating fossils, so it is a perfect match for me to be a fossil preparator and contribute to science. Perhaps it will be helpful for you to find what sparks your interests, target your skills, and find a good mentor. I hope your path to science, and perhaps paleontology, will be a wonderful experience as it has been for me.


Pia Viglietti

What inspires me? Just staying curious, honestly. I will always want to know more about the history of our planet and the natural world. For example, the city of Cape Town in South Africa, where I grew up, sits among one of the most floristically diverse places in the world. More endemic plants live on Table Mountain than in the United States of America, and the entire Cape Floristic Region is home to a staggering 9,000 species of plants! Growing up among all of this biodiversity really fascinated me, and it made me wonder about the diversity of life in the world and in deep time.

Listen to diverse perspectives

For women and people of diverse genders who want to get into science, I would start by following the growing number of scientists on social media platforms like Twitter. You can find these scientists using hashtags like:

Many are speaking out about social issues in science and creating a support network for those interested in entering a science field. They have shown me the importance of finding support in networking and hearing the lived experiences of a diverse group of people in science. I would strongly encourage young people to do this if they are considering a science career. 

Then, once you know what you’d like to work on and where, don’t be afraid to ask prospective workplaces or advisors difficult questions. You need to know you will be supported in the space. Talking to previous students or staff about an institution or advisor is another way to find out whether the workplace or lab’s culture is the right fit for you.


Az Klymiuk

Being present is activism

The advice that I find myself giving most often these days is this: imposter syndrome is very rarely a real thing. It is a toxic way of personalizing a systemic problem. You feel like you don't belong because you lack role models, you lack representation, you lack equitable pay, you are excluded from informal networks, you experience gendered microaggressions, you are talked over in meetings, you “lean in” and are penalized for being aggressive, forward, or too confident, et cetera. The problem isn't that you have imposter syndrome. The problem is that academia and science are still not equitable spaces.

We're making progress, but the reality is that nationwide, in biological sciences only 36% of assistant professors and 18% of full professors are women, despite accounting for half the doctoral degrees awarded and 40% of postdoctoral positions. So my advice is this: be aware of the system. Don't personalize systemic issues, diagnose them. And: just being present in these spaces is activism.

Adrienne Stroup

Nature inspires me. There is so much to see and learn, even in the most unexpected places. Just walking around outside in a park or my backyard is always a new and interesting experience if you take the time to really observe.

Seek out community

Science and paleontology are historically male-dominated. It can seem frustrating and daunting to make a name for oneself in these fields as a woman, but don't give up. Finding a mentor at school or even in an online community can make a huge difference. There are some great Facebook groups for women and people of diverse genders that are very welcoming and inspiring. Women in Vertebrate Paleontology is a Facebook group I belong to, and it's a positive community. It was founded by a male paleontologist, but I think it’s encouraging that there are feminist men out there actively helping make a positive impact on their non-male students and colleagues.


This is the third post in a series featuring these paleontologists. Read about their areas of research in part one and about their favorite specimens in part two.



Sheltzer, Jason M., and Joan C. Smith. “Elite Male Faculty in the Life Sciences Employ Fewer Women.” PNAS. National Academy of Sciences, July 15, 2014.  

Winerman, Lea. 2017. “By the numbers: Women in science.” Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, April 2017.