Since the tender age of 5, I have been fascinated by dinosaurs. It was never so much the treasure-hunter aspect of paleontology that attracted me to this science, but rather the thrill of reconstructing long-dead animals and breathing life into old bones. In other words, I am a zoologist and anatomist at heart who happens to be fascinated by dinosaurs. I see dinosaurs as living animals, and I want to reconstruct how these animals moved and behaved when their bones were still pulsing with blood.
To get a bit technical, my research combines traditional descriptive and anatomical study with computer-aided morphometric analysis and modeling of vertebrate skeletons. The focus of my research is limb functional morphology in dinosaurs, as well as the broader locomotor and evolutionary implications of size. I am particularly interested in the evolution and locomotor adaptations of the giant, terrestrial sauropod dinosaurs. These long-necked herbivores attained sizes no other dinosaurian or mammalian group has ever approached on land; part of sauropod success as giants may be tied to limb morphology and specializations.
On a bit of a philosophical note, as I tell my children and students, nothing worth doing in life is easy. That is certainly true for the field of paleontology. I have been fortunate in having parents who supported my dreams even though they were not scientists or academics, and that helped tremendously. I was also fortunate to marry another academic who understands the quirkiness and obsession of this type of career. In fact, paleontology and academics in general tend to be less of an occupation than a vocation. You pursue this type of career because you love it.
There is a saying that working at making your dreams reality takes the work out of the courage, and I certainly follow that philosophy. As with many of us who go into basic scientific research, there were many personal and professional challenges to overcome, and I’m sure the future holds more of the same. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way: I feel lucky and grateful to be someone who has their dream job. My role in the discovery of two new dinosaurs has been one of the greatest, recent rewards of this career, and my inner 5-year-old very much approves.
And now, the vital statistics:
- Associates of Science (Earth Science), College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL, 1993
- Bachelors of Science (Geological Sciences [Major], Biological Sciences [Minor]), University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, 1995
- Ph.D. (Biological Sciences), Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, 2001
- Current Position: Associate Professor, Biology Program, Stockton University
- Associate Professor, Dept. Biological Sciences, Western Illinois University, 2001-2012
- Zoology Associate, Dept. Zoology, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL, 2004-2012
- Adjunct Curator of Vertebrate Fossils, Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford, IL, 2010-2012