Educating Paleontologists for the Next Millenium--the Oil Industry: To Be or Not To Be
H. Richard Lane
Education of exploration/exploitation Paleontologists for the next millennium must change. The industry Paleontologist' image, like much of the rest of paleontology, is a consequence of past working values, not future ones. An accurate image of the Paleontologist in industry today is that of a business-oriented, integrator of information from paleontology, geology, geophysics, and engineering. In contrast, the traditional and prevalent image is one of a non-business-oriented scientist, working largely behind a microscope, picking and identifying microfossils. This 'bug-picker' produces lists of trinomials, while arguing with fellow Paleontologists about species identifications, synonymies, and ages, befuddling the Explorationist/customer and undermining the credibility of paleontology. This image is a product of our educational system, the oil industry and an historical unwillingness to produce business-focused results. It so pervades industry that the terms paleontology and Paleontologist are avoided in favor of biostratigraphy and Biostratigrapher. Industry paleontology's plight is aggravated further by Jurassic Park-type publicity, a goose and gander dilemma, which depicts the Paleontologist as a blue-sky researcher-hobbyist with little practical outlet for the fruits of her/his labor, except for museum foyer dinosaur reconstructions and a spot on the annual elementary science curriculum.
In the new paleontological paradigm, data generation in the form of species lists will occur mostly outside the majors, being acquired through outsourcing to museums, academia and consultanting firms. Such information will be quality-controlled and synthesized by the industry Paleontologist into a form that gives it geological, geophysical, and engineering relevance.
Education of Paleontologists for future careers in the industry must, therefore, better prepare them for a business environment, as well as grounding them well in ancillary technologies such as geophysics, geochemistry, stratigraphy, engineering, statistics, and computer science. Remedial paleontological/geoscience/engineering/business and related training and education of Paleontologists in their new industrial jobs must be mininized.
Finally, effective communication between industry and academic Paleontologists has been poor historically because, 1) academia has been a place of largely theoretical leaning only and, 2) industry, for reasons of propriety, has not allowed a sharing of information to promote a closer cooperation. This paradigm must change.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91020©1995 AAPG Annual Convention, Houston, Texas, May 5-8, 1995