Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a palaeontologist? Have you ever thought about pursuing a career in the Earth Sciences? Not sure where to begin? A new book written by an eminent American palaeontologist entitled “Explorers of Deep Time” is a great place to start.

Author Roy Plotnick (University of Illinois, Chicago), provides a behind the scenes guide to being a palaeontologist, the trials, triumphs and tribulations and as a self-confessed OWM (old, white male), he champions inclusiveness and diversity amongst the scientific community.

Explorers of Deep Time front cover
The front cover of “Explorers of Deep Time” by eminent American palaeontologist Roy Plotnick. Picture credit: Columbia University Press.

Candid and Comprehensive

Roy has spent decades working as a palaeontologist. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA) and a Fellow of the Paleontological Society of America too. As such, he is exceedingly well-qualified to comment on how the study of ancient life has been revolutionised with the development of new research techniques.

The book is divided into four main chapters looking at various aspects of exploring deep, geological time. Starting with an overview in which the author addresses common misconceptions about palaeontologists, for instance, he is not Ross from “Friends” or Indiana Jones. Roy Plotnick guides the reader through the various and diverse routes to a job in the Earth sciences and explains what it is actually like to study palaeontology. If you have ever wondered about toilet facilities at dig sites, or how the increasing number of female scientists’ juggle starting a family with work commitments – then this book provides a practical and uncomplicated explanation.

Although the book has been written with an emphasis on the American education system and American academia, it outlines how palaeontology has developed and changed over the last forty years or so, explores new study techniques and places the science clearly in the context of helping to better understand how our world is changing today.

The author of "Explorers of Deep Time" Roy Plotnick
The author of “Explorers of Deep Time” Roy Plotnick (member of the Geological Society of America and the Paleontological Society of America). Picture credit: Columbia University Press.

An “Old White Male” Encourages Diversity

One of the key themes of “Explorers of Deep Time”, is the author’s wish that more women and ethnic minorities are represented in Earth science disciplines. Roy Plotnick examines some of the barriers that existed in his early career leading to a preponderance of “old, white males” within palaeontology. Many of these obstacles restricting participation have been removed, but the author skilfully argues for greater participation and draws on the experience of other scientists to help support his views.

He introduces readers to the diverse group of people of all genders, races, and international backgrounds who make up the twenty-first-century palaeontology community. The book provides a sounding board for their views and a platform for their perspectives, helping readers to obtain a better understanding of career paths and opportunities.

There is even a chapter dedicated to outlining the importance of published research and the struggles scientists can face getting their work into print, or more often than not these days, on-line.

This behind the scenes guide to palaeontology, is not crammed with stunning photographs and illustrations, but it does outline the varied challenges facing this discipline and provides a rare insight on the profession to aspiring scientists of all ages.

Candid and at times frank, this is an excellent guide to the pros and cons of choosing palaeontology as a career.

Roy Plotnick and "Old White Male" challenging stereotypes.
The author describing himself as an OWM (old, white male) writes about the need to encourage greater diversity in the Earth Sciences with increased access and appropriate support for women, minorities, the disabled and other groups that may feel excluded. Picture credit: Roy Plotnick (University of Illinois).

Palaeontology SWOT Analysis

Not sure if a job in the Earth sciences is for you? Roy Plotnick concludes by providing a SWOT analysis. He outlines the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with working in the palaeontology profession. This analysis acts as a fitting summary to “Explorers of Deep Time”.

Published by Columbia University Press the hardcover book is priced at the time of writing at £28.00 GBP/$35.00 USD with the downloadable E-book priced at £28.00 GBP/$34.99 USD.

To purchase the book visit: Columbia University Press and search on the author surname “Plotnick” to find the web page for “Explorers of Deep Time”.

Highly recommended.

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