So you want to be a paleontologist?

The “Careers” section of Science is running a profile of two young scientists working in field paleontology, Faysal Bibi and Jean-Renaud Boisserie. It’s a long article with lots of nice details about starting a career in the field.

Earlier [in 2002], while visiting family in the United Arab Emirates, Bibi saw an opportunity to have his own excavation team when he found himself standing at the top of a fossil-rich hill in the island of Shuweihat in the Abu Dhabi emirate. "There were fossils everywhere, and I remember I pretty much lost my head in the excitement," Bibi says. He read a 1999 monograph written by Peter Whybrow and Andrew Hill on the Abu Dhabi fossil site White had loaned him for the journey. The paleontologists who had worked on the site previously had abandoned it, so Bibi then applied for funding from the Abu Dhabi government to start his own dig. As soon as his first field season with White in Ethiopia ended, "I was back in Abu Dhabi with two friends from UC Berkeley to find some fossils from the Abu Dhabi Baynunah sites," he says. "That experience really taught me the value of just taking opportunities, as and when they come, and not self-doubting too much."

The two are connected through their history of work in the Middle Awash collections; the article is a good illustration of the dependence of so many field projects on young scientists, training while working to build our understanding of the sites. Not everyone who does valuable work gets recognized, even with authorship, so it’s good to see some attention paid to those not at the top of the marquee.

The long delay before the publication of the Ardi work was not a problem for Boisserie. "When you want to [present] something with a lot of details, with [a] general analysis of the environment, it takes a lot of time," he says. "When you are part of a project like that, you have your own research you conduct and you can publish other things ... that are faster." Today, his CV lists 36 publications, including descriptions of large mammals in the Ardi sites and of another important hominid called Touma Sahelanthropus tchadensis, which was found in Chad. His work also reports the discovery of new hippo species in Chad, the Middle Awash, and other places, and the study of the origins and relationships of Hippopotamidae. "I'm not just relying on these major papers with hominid description to be able to build my CV," he says.

Two important lessons for those wanting to break into field paleontology: Don’t expect to work on the hominins, and do spread yourself around, at your own expense if necessary, to work on multiple sites with different teams.