BC’s Mountain Dinosaur
Dr. Victoria ArbourCurator of Palaeontology
Why did you want to become a palaeontologist?
I was one of those kids that was super into dinosaurs, and I just never grew out of that phase! I loved visiting museums and reading about new dinosaur discoveries. I’m also part of the “Jurassic Generation” of palaeontologists who took inspiration from the original Jurassic Park film – even though it’s a Hollywood movie, it showed a lot of the new ways of thinking about dinosaurs as active, dynamic animals closely related to birds. During my undergraduate degree, I knew that I really wanted to spend my career doing palaeontological research.
How did you become a palaeontologist?
I had really supportive parents, teachers, and professors who helped me along the way to becoming a palaeontologist. I have a bachelor of science in earth sciences and biology from Dalhousie University, a masters and a PhD in systematics and evolution from the University of Alberta, and spent time as a postdoctoral researcher at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and at the Royal Ontario Museum. For up-and-coming palaeontologists out there, I’d recommend trying out lots of different science classes in addition to biology and geology, because palaeontology uses many different branches of science to answer research questions, everything from chemistry to physics to statistics and more. I also spend a lot of my time writing and being able to sketch the bones I study helps a lot. Finally, being comfortable in the great outdoors is a great set of skills to have as well, because my fieldwork often takes me to remote environments where I spend time hiking, shoveling, pickaxing and carrying heavy rocks!
What does a curator of palaeontology do?
Like other curators, my job has three main goals: to study specimens in our collection, to add new specimens to the collection, and to tell the stories of those specimens in different ways. My research focuses on dinosaurs and those are the animals I know best, but I think all fossils are interesting. The research I do at the museum is usually published in scientific journals, but I also share this research by contributing to new displays and exhibits at the museum, and by giving public talks, tours or workshops. Sometimes I’m asked to help out as a consultant for dinosaur documentaries, or even video games! I give advice to other researchers about the laws around fossil protection in British Columbia and help identify new specimens donated to the museum by people from across BC. I also go out into the field and collect new fossils myself!
What have you learned from working with fossils?
The fun thing about working with fossils is that you get to explore the evolution of life on earth in a really big way – some of the fossils in our collection are more than 500 million years old! (Although most of the ones I work on are a bit younger, more like 100 to 66 million years old.) My research includes things like identifying new dinosaur species and seeing how those species are related to each other, figuring out how armour and weapons evolve in different kinds of animals, and understanding why certain groups of dinosaurs are found in some places and not others. I’m really excited about exploring British Columbia to find more bones from dinosaurs and other animals that lived alongside them. Dinosaurs are still pretty rare in our province, but there is lots of potential for finding new specimens if we look hard enough!