My name is Benjamin and I will be beginning my PhD studies at the University of Bristol, UK on Monday, 3 October 2011.
I have decided to try writing a blog as a document of this, to begin spreading some of my findings as soon as possible and to help keep my sanity, although I may fail in the last of these.
About myself: I am 21, originally from Marksbury, England, although I completed my undergraduate degree, in Palaeobiology and Evolution, at the University of Portsmouth. Being a child of the nineties, I grew up in the time of Jurassic Park, although I will admit to not being able to watch it all the way through until I was about seven years old. Soon after that came the wondrous, and innovative, BBC documentary ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ which used state-of-the-art computer graphics, coupled with real-world environments, to bring dinosaurs back to life.
I’ve always been interested in dinosaurs, since getting my ‘My First Dinosaur Book’ at the age of three. While having lost this somewhat in primary school, after discovering music from starting to play keyboard and baritone, I regained my love following ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ and haven’t lost it since. This series also introduced me to the large vertebrates that shared the Mesozoic (248–65.5 Ma [million years ago]) world, particularly the marine reptiles: plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs, which, up to then, I hadn’t wholly considered. I knew I wanted to study prehistoric life, and so started looking at which universities offered the course from the age of 14-ish (compared to some who haven’t decided on A-level results day!).
I truly enjoyed university very much, making many friends who were interested in talking about rocks and fossils; these had been few and far between before. The course also introduced me to the beauties and complexities of palaeontology:
- Most fossils are of shelled animals, not bones, and are too small to see with the naked eye, but are the basis for reconstructing the environment many millions of years ago.
- The fossils are usually crushed and distorted beyond instant recognition, or altered by being collected.
- A huge amount of information can be gleaned from one, or a few, shells and where they were found; just think how this increases with a 100 bone skeleton!
- Preservation can be so complete that cellular structures can be view on specimens under a high powered microscope.
- And many more things beside (I may talk about some of these later…)
Now, I have the chance to study what I consider to be the most interesting organisms of all time: Mesozoic marine reptiles, and get a qualification for doing it! My thesis is based upon reviewing the Middle and Upper Jurassic (~160–145 Ma) ichthyosaurs of Britain. Based on a previous thesis by Dr Angela Kirton, I will be updating descriptions she made of the four taxa then known; analysing the relationships between these and other ichthyosaurs and extending the project to consider many other aspects of ichthyosaur palaeobiology: palaeogeography, mechanics and evolution. With this blog, I aim to keep a record of this, explain it to myself and hopefully present my findings in a more publicly digestible format. I apologise for using quite a bit of jargon in this first post, but will explain this later. I do not know how often I will post, my aim it at least once a week, but this will depend on how busy I am and how much I have to write about.
Well, this concludes my short introduction and trial of WordPress’s capabilities and ease of use (so far I am impressed), hopefully I shall be posting again fairly soon.