Wednesday, 23 June 2010

What's in a name?

Fast forward several years and let's suppose that I have a successful career along the lines of what I am currently studying. When people ask for my job title, what should my answer be? This might sound like a stupid question as the answer might clearly be "palaeontologist" but that's no fun when so much can be done with it. Some answers might be obvious, as I could say "I'm a scientist" and there are different academic titles depending on which route I take (lecturer, reader, curator etc.).

My course title offers another option, the title of "palaeobiologist" which is one I rather like, but also I could label myself a geologist, a biologist, an Earth scientist and a life scientist. Expanding on these opens up more possibilities. As a palaeontologist the answer can be expanded to "invertebrate palaeontologist". As a biologist perhaps "evolutionary biologist" is more accurate. With some palaeontologists the name of what they study becomes a title; one who studies dinosaurs is sometimes informally referred to as a dinosaurologist, though trilobitologist appeals to me more.

One of my lecturers labels all the palaeobiologists "necromancers" as we like to play with dead things. I should someday give that as my answer, if only to see the response. A friend of mine prefers the title "dead-thing-ologist" which sums us up nicely. One I am rather fond of, due to how pretentious it sounds, is "historian of life". Bask in that one for a moment please.

I suppose I could also combine some of them, perhaps my job title could be "evolutionary invertebrate palaeobiologist". Overall though I think it makes sense to choose the title dependent on situation. Saying "I'm a geologist" would be useless when discussing evolution, when "evolutionary biologist" asserts authority. Conversely, saying "I'm a life scientist" would get you nowhere when a geologist's opinion is needed. The declaration that one is a geologist may also offer difficult situations; imagine hearing that a geologist is needed, only to find that they need an expert in vulcanology and there is not a sedimentary rock in sight!

And for the record, if I reach the level of gaining a PhD, I probably would stride forward with pride when someone shouts "we need a doctor" despite the fact that much of what I want to study preceded the pulse. Give the poor injured person a few million years to lithify and I will be useful....

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