With the general reduction in the number of biostratigraphy graduates over the last decade (Bailey & Jones 2012) and the ever-increasing importance of stratigraphy (and other specialist geoscience subjects) in unravelling earth history for business purposes, such as exploration for hydrocarbons, we wanted to reflect on our respective but independent journeys into biostratigraphy.
We both began with a child’s enthusiasm for fossils, after all, how many pre-schoolers don’t love dinosaurs? In our case neither of us quite grew out of it, amassing collections of ‘maybe fossils’ from walks along the beaches in southern England or the Jurassic Cotswold Hills. An interest in the physical sciences through school led us to select geography and geology and both of us were fortunate to have teachers who were hugely passionate about geology and that engaged, encouraged, and expanded our interests in and beyond school.
We diverged in our university degree choices, one selecting natural sciences at Cambridge University with an aim of specializing in astrophysics, with interest in geology being outweighed, at that time, by enthusiasm for the night sky. The other steered towards pure geology at Anglia Ruskin University with a hope that it would lead to a job in the great outdoors. At university, the first year for both of us comprised impenetrable subjects such as crystallography, but also our first real fieldwork in the Lake District and the Alps — a revelation. Rocks really do fold; there is the outcrop to prove it! Suddenly geology became tangible; you could explain what you could see around you. Fieldwork really helped build a sense of community and that helped in making later choices, such as specializing in geology rather than astrophysics! In the remaining undergraduate years at our respective universities, we deepened our interests in sedimentary geology and palaeontology and with the support of influential and enthusiastic supervisors, colleagues, and more fieldwork, we became attracted to microfossils, quantitative data, and biostratigraphy concepts.
This grounding helped us make the choice to pursue higher degrees in biostratigraphy, one taking the direct approach with palynology at Sheffield, and the other a more roundabout route via palaeoclimate at Cardiff University. The authors ultimately met over a poster during Palaeontology 2007, where we discussed that it was more than OK to be a specialist, that jobs do exist in industry, and that having a solid geological foundation such as biostratigraphy at your core will hold you in good stead. For both of us further study felt like a natural step, thanks to those people who had inspired and supported our curiosity over the years. One of those supporters was Francis Witts, a Harvey family friend, who gave me (Craig) the chance to undertake PhD fieldwork in Venezuela when all other avenues failed. I funded myself by working part-time until I got a scholarship from Sheffield University. Francis also alerted me to an antique book sale in Bath at which Anglia Ruskin was selling all the old books from the geology department which had closed. We bought a load, keeping some and donating the rest to Sheffield palynology department where I was studying at the time. Francis showed me to think beyond myself and connect to the bigger picture or a higher purpose.
One tremendous characteristic that appears common among the people that have influenced us is their ability to communicate a subject simply and passionately enough for listeners to ‘get the concept’, which provides a basis from which to further deepen one's understanding. Overall, we have found it rewarding to be as open, constructive, and flexible as possible on our journey as you never know in what direction you may go, neither of us expected our early interest in fossils to take us where it has. Indeed, we may have wandered a bit but because of influential people we were never lost. For this we would like to say a profound thank you to all of those who took time to encourage us — you were role models and we aspire to be the same.
One final thought, for those of you that recognize similar influential people in your life, have you told them the positive impact they have had on you? If not please go and tell them; it will make their day.
Bailey, H and R Jones (2012). Threat of extinction. Geoscientist 22 (4), 6.