Paleontological Society – Paleo-Profiles – Jen Bauer
Happy 2020, and welcome to a brand new year of Paleo-Profiles!
Today we’re excited to share Jen Bauer’s path to paleontology. Jen is currently a Research Museum Collections Manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology, co-leader of the excellent Time Scavengers online resource in science education, and one of our hard-working social media coordinators for the Society. We’re so glad to chat with you, Jen!
Tell us a bit about yourself. When did you first become interested in paleontology?
I found paleontology a bit later in my life, the last semester of my undergraduate career. I was always interested in biology and was a biological sciences major. I was looking for some fun upper level courses to fill my graduation requirements and Introduction to Paleontology was cross listed between biology and geology programs. I was so enamored with the content I went and spoke to the professor (fellow PS member, Roy Plotnick) and asked what steps I could take to pursue paleontology as a career. He offered me a job working in his lab and completely changed my life. He gave me the freedom to create experimental set ups, learn photography, play with his flow tank and other materials he had in the lab. It was so fun and rewarding! He helped me find graduate programs and is ultimately how I was able to jump start my career as a paleontologist.
What do you enjoy about paleontology?
I am most excited about all of the mysteries hidden within the rock record. There are so many questions to be addressed or reassessed that the work is really endless and you can be excited about many different things – all at once!
I have also been very fortunate to meet so many wonderful people along my journey that my network of friends, peers, and colleagues is vast. These connections keep my mind filled with lots of new ideas and working with them is such a joy. My other favorite aspect about paleontology is that nearly everyone finds it fascinating. I love talking with students, regular folks, my family, and anyone who will listen about the wonders of ancient life.
What’s your favorite fossil and why?
My favorite fossil is Dunkleosteus. I may be betraying my invertebrate roots with a prehistoric fish but this creature is absolutely remarkable. The huge boney armor, large body, and scissor like lower jaw— I always get so excited when I see these fossils on display. I can not imagine swimming in the ancient seas with such a large terrifying fish but I sure can stare at them all day!!! At the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History we have a replica from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History – I haven’t yet seen the original.
Any special projects you’ve got going on?
At any given time I have way too many projects going on (or maybe never enough??). I’ve recently started a new position as a Research Museum Collection Manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology (UMMP) where I care for millions of invertebrate and microfossil specimens. I have two undergraduate students who are helping me inventory the type specimens (to start!). This winter and spring we are hoping to move forward with photography and photogrammetry so stay tuned by following @UMichPaleo on Twitter!
I’m also still actively involved in research. I recently submitted a paper on understanding the distribution, diversity, and ecology of eublastoids – a group of echinoderms that lived in the Paleozoic. This clade is a really great model system to ask detailed questions of morphology, phylogeny, and more! We have an extensive collection of eublastoids at the UMMP and I cannot wait to start asking more questions with the specimens. I am also fascinated with big data: how it’s curated, collected, assessed, and evaluated. I’ve been working on a project with Sam Ocon (fellow PS social media team member) and James Lamsdell to determine if we can remove some of the biases with these databases by analyzing a specific clade— arthropods. So, I’ve been spending some time entering in ostracod data (from specimens from UMMP publications) into the Paleobiology Database. It may be tedious but I am very excited to see how the data I enter will alter the resulting visualizations of ostracod & arthropod diversity through the Paleozoic.
I also participate in more qualitative paleontological and social research. The FOSSIL Project education team allowed me to help with several really excellent projects thinking about how social communities — such as a network on Twitter — interact. What are folks talking about? Who are folks talking to? What are the topics driving conversation? It is really interesting work and operates a different aspect of my mind. These experiences have opened my mind to a whole new array of questions!
In my spare time, I curate a science education website with my colleague and friend, Adriane Lam, called Time Scavengers. Here, we explore climate change and evolution through the lens of deep time and produce blogs to bring regular folks into the lives of scientists. It’s been such an adventure creating content and managing our team of collaborators. We collect user data through Google Analytics and social media to explore questions about what content performs better, what pages are most visited, are we reaching a diverse audience, and so much more!
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I would like to end with: let’s collaborate! My favorite part about being a scientist is starting new projects with friends and colleagues. The holdings at the UMMP are immense and amazing, please contact me and we can chat about projects! If you are wanting to expand your voice outside of your normal circles and reach a broader audience with your science — we are always looking for guest contributors on Time Scavengers.
You can reach Jen on Twitter @PaleoJB or via email. What do you, our readers, want to see in order to help expand your voice to a broader audience? You can also contact the Paleontological Society social media coordination team at: [email protected]