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Biology Overview 

Philip D. Gingerich

Professor and Director
Museum of Paleontology
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI  


A.B., Princeton University
Ph.D., Yale University
Philip Gingerich is a Professor and Director of the Museum of Paleontology. Paleontology involves study of life through the geological past and into the present, which enhances understanding of both our place in nature now and
our sense of the future to come.
"Combine hands-on work experience with classroom teaching, because it is the hands-on experience that will teach you whether you have the passion for biology required to be successful."

What fields of biology do you work in?
Gingerich: Paleontology.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become a Biologist?
Gingerich: I always enjoyed biology at school.

Q: What was your college experience like?
Gingerich: Enriching and intense as I took every biology, paleontology, and geology course available. 

Q: Did you incorporate work experiences while you were an undergrad?
Gingerich: Yes, I did research projects for professors and wrote a senior thesis, part of which became my first scientific publication.

Q: How did you get your first job?
Gingerich: Applied, interviewed, and got the position straight out of
graduate school.

Q: What's the most rewarding thing about being a Biologist?
Gingerich: Comparison of a world without humans to the world we life in today: the earth is very old, and there has been literally a billion years of life on earth before we arrived on the scene. 

Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've worked on has positively impacted the world?
Gingerich: I am probably best known for documenting the transition of artiodactyl land mammals to aquatic whales in the fossil record. I have also been able to show that evolution can be (and usually is) very fast on the time scale of the process itself: slow change in the fossil record is an artifact of time averaging.

Q: Do you spend a fair amount of time traveling?
Gingerich: I travel a lot in the U.S. and in Europe, and have ongoing field projects in Wyoming, Egypt, and Pakistan.

Q: Do you have a mentor? Or did you in your college years?
Gingerich: I worked closely with several professors in college and in graduate school, and each was encouraging and helpful in different ways. Mentoring is important.

Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Gingerich: I do both. When I was trained students did more of their work on their own, but now research is more complicated and requires teamwork. I encourage my students to develop their own ideas though, because that is where new projects start.

Q: Do you find you are able to balance work with social/family life while working in your current job?
Gingerich: Yes, but it takes effort and it isn't always easy!

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still become a Biologist?
Gingerich: Definitely.

Q: Did you think that school prepared you for the way the work gets done in the real world?
Gingerich: Yes, because I had a lot of hands-on work experience along the way.

Q: Where do you see jobs for Biologists in the future? What should students be doing to prepare themselves to take on those roles?
Gingerich: Jobs for biologists are everywhere, and always will be. However, it is also true that we will never be better biologists than our training in mathematics and the related sciences of chemistry, geology, and physics.

Q: What other advice do you have for precollege students?
Gingerich: Combine hands-on work experience with classroom teaching, because it is the hands-on experience that will teach you whether you have the passion for biology required to be successful.


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