Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tap Talk Tuesday with Dr. Phillip Manning!

It's a rainy day out in the field, so while I wait for things to dry up around here, I thought I'd post an an interview.  This interview however was from way back in 2011. The questions I asked pretty much set the standard for the questions I still ask today when interviewing.  I have tweaked them over the years, but I came up with the following series of questions because it was what I wanted to know as a kid.  The interviews I've given over the years have been wonderful. I appreciate the time that everyone has set aside to do them for me and I'm always thankful for the opportunity.  OK, let's see what it's doing outside.  I will report more soon from the field, but in the meantime, enjoy one of my first interviews below.  Until later later everyone!
For those of you who may not know, Dr. Phillip Manning is an internationally renowned paleontologist, fossil hunter and writer.  He has taught vertebrate paleontology and evolution at the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester and currently heads the Paleontology Research Group in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (SEAES) at the University of Manchester.  Dr. Manning has published papers on many diverse subjects, including dinosaur tracks, theropod biomechanics, arthropod paleontology, vertebrate locomotion, and the evolution of flight in birds.  Along with his long list of many accomplishments that continues to grow, Dr. Manning has also worked with National Geographic on an amazing series called Jurassic CSI.  
Dr. Manning has always been a hero of mine.  On May 17, 2011, I finally got a chance to meet the good doctor in person at a lecture being given by Dr. Jack R. Horner at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, PA.  It was an absolute honor to meet such an educated gentleman in the field of paleontology.  I only wish that I had my copy of Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs by Dr. Manning for him to autograph.  I have fond memories of picking up this book when it first came out and never putting it down.  I highly recommend picking it up.  
Upon meeting Dr. Manning, I was a nervous wreck, but his humbleness will quickly calm you down.  He is a brilliant man, but also very down to earth.  Passionate about his work and someone I admire greatly. I appreciate him taking the time to hangout and talk with me that night.  I learned a lot.  Not long after that awesome night of meeting Dr. Manning, we exchanged e-mails.  I asked if he would be interested in doing an interview for my website and he graciously said yes!  So, without further ado ladies and gentlemen, I give you our interview.  Special thanks Dr. Phillip Manning. 

You are one of my heroes in the field of paleontology.  Who did you admire growing up?

I watched Sir David Attenborough on TV whenever I could. The series 'Life on Earth' was quite life-changing for me...I realised we lived in a big world. I have to point out, I was about 7 years old, living in a village in rural Somerset...quite the middle of no-where, but beautiful! I have been lucky enough to meet and work with Sir David on a BBC series a few years ago and he was 'the real deal', a splendid gentlemen and a scholar.

At what age did you get inspired to pursue a career in paleontology? 

When I first moved to Somerset aged about 6 or 7, I discovered I had Lower Jurassic (Lias) fossil in my own garden. That's when it started proper. However when I was aged 5, i visited the British Museum of Natural History in London, now called the Natural History Museum. Stood before me was the mount of Andrew Carnegie's Diplodocus...wow...that also had a major 96 feet impact on a very small child.

What was your favorite dinosaur growing up?  What dinosaur is your favorite now?

I had two favourites as a child, and yes...you can probably guess them both...Triceratops and T. rex. I am sooooooo grateful to have been able to find both these dinosaurs in the Hell Creek Formation now. In recent years I have grown very fond of Archaeopteryx....and hope to publish another paper on this beastie soon!

Paleontology is such a diverse field these days involving many disciplines.  What advice would you give to an aspiring paleontologist today?

My advice is simple, choose the subjects which you most enjoy, as it will be these in which you have most chance to excel. There is no single route into palaeontology, which I know is some folks chosen career path. Many of my palaeo colleagues come from both arts and science background...like myself, others are pure science and some are pure art. The key here, is I took a path that was dictated by no one. If there is a 1+1=2 path to palaeo, I'm afraid i do not know it, as thankfully we are all very different. Darwin made a point of celebrating variation within a single species :-) and we are no exception to this rule. To put it another way, there is no 'one size fits all' route for me to advise any budding bone-hunters out there. This is probably a good thing. 
However, If a person has a specific university course in mind, then I urge them to look at the entry requirements now...as this will be an affective gatekeeper after High School. If you have your heart set on being a palaeontologist, you have already taken the most important step. There are few places you can learn passion for a subject, as that is something only a few are gifted with at an early age. It seems that many such folks are also 'one' of the lucky ones.

Going to college these days and then on to grad school has become a daunting task.  Many people are unaware of how long it takes to make it to the finish line.  The rewards are great, but what would you say to someone pursuing professional studies after college?

This is a very tough question, as here I should put-on my 'professor hat' and spout the virtues University and grad school...however, like I said before...we are all very different. Some folks are terrible scientists and do not enjoy the rigours of academia, this is fine...it would be a strange world if we all ended up as 'Dr'. Some of the best field palaeontologists and great thinkers of the field did not have a formal college education. This is fine, many 'trained' academics have a tough time keeping up with 'amateur' enthusiasts. The 9 or 10 years it takes to scratch your way through 1st degree, masters and PhD can and usually is, very tough. I did it, but many do not complete their studies. I have to admit, that doing my MSc and PhD was certainly the hardest things I have done in my life.

What was or is your favorite research project?  What are some of your current projects?

Some of my favourite projects have involved digging-up dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight. I was lucky enough to help excavate the then un-named, Neovenator from the Lower Cretaceous back in 1989. It was more of a mud-bath than an excavation, as the Wessex Formation from whence it came is a tad sticky. This reminds me of my favourite joke! 'What's brown and sticky?.................a stick :-).....sorry!! My most recent projects have been involved with working on the Stanford Synchrotron, a particle accelerator than can generate super-intense x-rays that allows us to analyse the chemistry of fossils. We have mapped 120 million year old pigment patterns in Chinese fossil birds and even gotten a whiff of pigment in the famous Archaeopteryx....this work continues.

Jurassic Park was the movie I remember as a kid that fueled my passion for dinosaurs.  What was your most memorable movie?

I have to admit, Jurassic Park was quite a fun romp. I watched the UK premiere, as was studying for my Masters at the University of Manchester at the time. However, my favourite film...is not a palaeo-one, but Lord of the Rings....which I am sure will be overtaken by The Hobbit when that is released.

I remember meeting my first professional paleontologist.  Do you remember the first paleontologist you ever met?  Were you a nervous wreck?  

That's another tough question, as I was lucky enough to be taught Geology at school, so had an early intro to the field. However, when I was about about 11 years old I visited the local Museum in the ancient city of Wells (Somerset). I had some fossils that I needed identifying, as I was sure I had found a Lower Jurassic vertebra from a marine reptile....which it turned-out I had! Well's Museum is a strange little place (seemed huge to me then) and the Curator had an apartment in the Museum (strange, funny, odd, but what a great job!). I remember knocking on his door and then sitting down at a small table with my fossils finds. I honestly can't remember if I was worried or not...I think that happens when your much older. Most kids are fearless...I could do with some of that 'fearless' every now and then in my field of work.

Dinosaurs and the animals that lived at the same time as them were amazing creatures.  Why do you feel dinosaurs continue to fascinate us?

Dinosaurs are the ultimate 'safe' monsters. They are well and truly extinct, but 'monsters they be'...The sheer size and weirdness of these beasties never ceases to gob-smack me every time I see a new specimen.

What is your favorite time period?

The years from 1800 to 1860. This was an age of discovery. Here the world changed forever, from an Earth that was perceived to be 6000 years old and created by the hand of God, to an Earth of immense age inhabited by species that have evolved through the natural selective processes of 'decent with modification; into the 'endless forms most beautiful' to paraphrase good old Darwin. The foundations of 'modern geology' and the underpinning of palaeontology was also achieved in this period of time...it must have been a very exciting intellectual landscape in which to romp.

The time span in which the dinosaurs lived in was huge.  How do paleontologists remember all that information from such a vast era?  Do paleontologist focus on one particular subject?

We do not remember, those who say they do....are being economic. We use books, like anyone else, to brush-up on our knowledge as and when required. With the advent of the internet, we can now fact-check things and publish papers ever faster than before...which can be a pain in the rear sometimes, as many papers that should not be published...are!

Project Dryptosaurus has been my passion for as long as I could remember.  Why do you feel Dryptosaurus is such an important dinosaur?  

Dryptosaurus is a curious beastie in many ways. I have to be honest, I prefer Cope's name Laelaps, but this is sadly no longer valid :-( We have the lovely Tom Holtz to blame for that...thanks Tom ;-) However, we can thank Tom for bringing your beastie into the hallowed realm of the tyrannosaurs...woof! Any late Cretaceous large theropod excites folks...especially if they are the kin of T. rex. Here we have one of the worlds oldest discovered big predators from the Late Cretaceous, slap bang near some of the biggest human population centres in North America...we should know more about Dryptosaurus than T. rex!

Works Cited:

No comments:

Post a Comment