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An Interview With Brian Switek

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Today, as part of our ongoing ScienceBlogger interview series, we bring you a conversation with Brian Switek (aka Future Transitional Fossil) of Laelaps.

What’s your name?
Brian Switek

What do you do when you’re not blogging?
I work for a university-run agriculture project and I’m currently a student at Rutgers University. When I’m not running between class and work, I’m usually can be found reading or visiting local zoos and museums.

More below the fold…

What is your blog called?
Laelaps

What’s up with that name?
In 1866, the vertebrate paleontologist E.D. Cope found the remains of a predatory dinosaur in the marl pits of southern New Jersey, and he named it Laelaps aquilunguis, believing it to be “the devourer and destroyer…of all…it could lay claws on.” Unfortunately for Cope, his rival O.C. Marsh discovered that the genus name Laelaps was occupied by a kind of mite, and in 1877 he changed the name of the dinosaur to Dryptosuaurus aquilunguis. Dryptosaurus might be the correct name for this relative of Tyrannosaurus, but I like Laelaps better.

How long have you been blogging?
I’ve been blogging for a little over a year; I started as part of a scholarship contest in the fall of 2006.

Where are you from and where do you live now?
I was born in New Jersey and have lived there ever since, only recently moving to be closer to my university. No matter how much I try to escape the suburban sprawl of New Jersey, it keeps pulling me back in.

Would you describe yourself as a working scientist?
The best I can say is that I’m a scientist in training, although I’ll always be a “student of nature.”

Any degrees or work experiences you’d like to mention?
I haven’t done anything particularly important or prestigious, at least not yet.

What are your main academic interests, in or out of your field?
I could probably create a long list of sub-disciplines that I’m quite taken with, but most of what I’m interested in falls under the heading of “natural history.” Zoology, paleontology, behavior, functional morphology, comparative anatomy, ecology, taphonomy, etc. are all things I want to know more about, it’s just a matter of what animal I want to know more about at a particular time.

Last book you read?
I closed James W. Valentine’s On the Origin of Phyla and am nearly finished with Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
Getting up early to spend a day in the field fossil hunting, then heading off for some cold drinks and good conversation with other bone sharps, eventually heading home to find out that a new book has arrived in the mail.

What’s your greatest habitual annoyance?
The phrase “Evolution is just a theory.”

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Rincewind from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and Indiana Jones.

Your favorite heroes in real life?
Charles Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould, and G.G. Simpson are among my favorite naturalists/paleontologists.

What’s your most marked characteristic?
A voracious reading habit that threatens to makes the floors buckle under the weight of my ever-growing personal library.

What’s your fatal flaw?
A general lack of self-esteem.

Who are your favorite writers?
In fiction it’s Terry Pratchett, but otherwise anything by Carl Sagan, Robert Sapolsky, or Stephen Jay Gould is always informative and exciting.

What would you like to be?
I hope to get my hands dirty as a real paleontologist sometime in the near future, but I want to always keep writing about science no matter what else I might be doing. Where I’ll end up or in what discipline, I can’t be sure, but if I have it my way I’ll be able to fulfill the dream of becoming a vertebrate paleontologist that I’ve had since I first visited the fossil halls of the American Museum of Natural History years ago.

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