Episode 15: Degrees of Doctoral Dissertation Domination

It’s been a long time coming, but both Matt and I have completed our doctoral degrees at Stony Brook University. This is the end of a journey he and I began over six years ago, when we first moved to Long Island with dreams of becoming paleontologists. Since that time, we have learned a LOT about what exactly it means to be a paleontologist and the many paths that can be taken to reach that goal.

Matt Borths (dressed as Edward Drinker Cope) and Adam Pritchard (dressed as Othniel Charles Marsh). Halloween 2009.
Matt Borths (dressed as Edward Drinker Cope) and Adam Pritchard (dressed as Othniel Charles Marsh). Halloween 2009.

In this long-form episode, we do not feature a new discovery in paleontology or a natural history researcher. Instead, we tell a bit of our own stories: specifically, how we came to be at Stony Brook and what we were up to (other than Past Time) while we were there. We hope to give people a bit of guidance in making a decision to follow a career in paleontology.

I completed my dissertation research on the evolution of Triassic reptiles and presented it to the Department of Anatomical Sciences in June of 2015. Cathartic does not begin to describe the experience after my adviser told me that I had passed…there were so many times over the preceding years when I was certain it would never end. The dissertation project is so large that it can seem insurmountable at times…but it did come to an end. It comes to an end through persistence, but it also comes to an end because of collaboration.

Adam Pritchard wears his doctoral sweater vest, as knitted by fellow graduate student Kate Corbin.
Adam Pritchard wears his doctoral sweater vest, as knitted by fellow graduate student Kate Corbin.

I think collaboration is the primary theme of this episode, which we recorded just an hour and a half after Matt completed his dissertation defense. The goal of a dissertation is to address a scientific question from many different angles. However, addressing a scientific question is not something one can do alone. A student needs to be trained. A researcher needs access to specimens and technology. A person needs support and love from friends and family. Completing a project on this scale requires some combination of all of these factors.

Matthew Borths defends his dissertation to the Department of Anatomical Sciences. Don't worry! He passed.
Matthew Borths defends his dissertation to the Department of Anatomical Sciences. Don’t worry! He passed.

Matt was still a bit discombobulated (and overjoyed!) when we recorded this episode, but I think it’s best. At Past Time, we try to capture both the science and the feeling behind that science, and if we give off a bit of relief and exilhiration then we did our job well.

We sincerely hope that this episode provides a little bit of advice and help to any would-be paleontologist. A Ph.D. is certainly not a necessity to study paleontology, participate in field projects, or engage in natural history research. However, it is an important step towards doing scientific research and teaching at many museums and universities. Feel free to drop us a comment here or on Facebook or tweet us on Twitter if we can be of any more help!

Filed under: Fossils, Paleontology, dinosaur, dissertation, education, graduate school, science

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