Paleontology and Depression

Hey there every peoples!

I wanted to post this sooner but I’ve been this week running the dog to the vet and getting a mole removed. Now that that’s out of the way, I have some free time.

Last weekend I had an exchange with a paleontologist in Santa Ana that had some unexpected ramifications. I was referred to said paleontologist by my geology teacher. So I emailed him to start chatting and he referred me to a paper on entelodonts. I had also hinted at maybe seeking his help and he said he didn’t know how he could help. I offered a couple of examples, namely that he could perhaps help me figure out where to look for fossils. He may have misunderstood what I said (likely due to the context of our conversation) and wrote back with what was simply advice. But my depression decided to read into something that wasn’t there. Luckily Alton helped sort things out.

He suggested doing background research into what I was interested in and that collecting should be secondary. See, he probably thought I was referring to entelodonts when I sent my email (let that be a lesson: don’t be ambiguous. Be clear!). But when he said that maybe I should study at a university or college with entelodonts in its collections, I think that when my depression kicked in.

What seems to have happened is my depression zeroed in on that one word: university. Why would an institution of higher education have such negative connotations for me? It has to do with the fact that I’m a terrible student. I have spent the last 4 years at a community college trying to get enough credits to transfer to an actual college (because with my high school record I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting into a university). And I have to tell you it has been like wading through a quagmire. I am not very good at math or English which unfortunately our schools tend to focus on the most (actually I should say that I suck at fictional analysis. I’m apparently not half bad at writing essays). While I inched ever closer to getting my associates degree, the requirements to get into a paleontology program was a different matter.

Basically any school that would take my credits and had a geology program (geology… paleontology… they all had the same requirements) required a bunch of sciences: biology, chemistry, and physics. Ok, I thought, I can tough it out a little longer while I tough those out. And then I found out that I would need to take calculus. Any hope I had sank like the Lusitania. I had just failed intermediate algebra and I was supposed to work my way up to calculus?

My depression hasn’t helped any of this. Among the many problems it has blessed me with are a lack of confidence and a massive inferiority complex. Combine that with a failing struggle with math and you have a recipe for disaster. Back in the spring semester, I was doing my math homework and it took me 45 minutes to do 10 problems. 10 problems! Needless to say it spawned my worst episode in months.

School caused me so much anguish and despair that I took this semester off to focus on finding a job (something else that was causing me anguish). We’ll have to see how that turns out. As you the reader knows I have very very ambitious plans for the future. But it has been beaten so much into my head that I need a big college degree to get anywhere, forcing me to keep going back to community college to just fail again which just fueled my depression more. And that made me feel utterly hopeless about the future, feeding the depression even more.

I tell you, there needs to be trade schools for science. You know, places for people like me who are very passionate about a certain science but have major trouble with the other academic stuff or even some of the harder to learn aspects of  the science they wish to study. But that’s wishful thinking at best. Given our country’s disdain for science and the growing disconnect from the natural world in the general populace, such an institution would go under in its first few years. And that leaves me with even less hope. Because I learn by doing. I learn by immersing myself in the real time activities of what I’m studying. I do better when I take in bits of information at a time and repeating them (as opposed to the schools I’ve been to, where they just try to cram in as much as possible). I feel like what I need is not so much a teacher but a mentor. Someone who I work under who can just randomly quiz me on stuff as he walks by (barely five minutes would do). One of the reasons I’m doing that trip to Red Rock Canyon with the LA Museum not just to go look for fossils. I am hoping (very foolishly) that I perhaps may get chummy with the scientists leading it, maybe even getting a foot in to perhaps one day get that mentorship. But I probably have a better chance of winning the lottery…

All I have ever wanted to do was look for and study fossils. In recent years that desired has been refined to looking for fossils to tell their story and use them to teach people. I still want to study them, but in the vein of studying what I find (plus some other ideas I’d wish to pursue). I have been trying desperately to find places to prospect for fossils (even asking Bobby where he looks for the marine fossils he blogs about. He hasn’t responded) so that I might be able to start such an endeavor but to no avail. And considering my inability to cope with even community college and the fact that everyone hammers into my mind the importance of having a master’s degree, perhaps fate has decided I’m not fit to be a paleontologist.

Till next time…


10 thoughts on “Paleontology and Depression

  1. hello,I am also from the central coast and I would very
    much like to have a paleontologist to mentor me and to
    consult as I write these paleo-fiction books/stories?
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    530-510-7680 respectfully,KENNEY

  2. Doug, thank you for this very candid post. You’ve discovered what so many people find, that academia can be a frustrating career path. I’d love to say that hard work and perseverance always pays off, but of course I don’t know for sure what the future will bring. It’s supremely difficult to actually make a living as a paleontologist, but it obviously does happen and could still happen for you. Not having a doctoral degree may limit options, but it doesn’t eliminate them. And the community college route into academia is becoming increasing common. One of the undergraduate students I’m currently working with started in community college before moving to a 4-year school, and in fact the director of research at VMNH (my boss) started with an associate’s degree.

    I certainly hope you continue with your efforts. Maybe it will eventually lead to a job, or maybe only to volunteer and avocational opportunities; who knows? But just in making the effort you’re doing what you love. You’re already learning geology and paleontology, and even if you never make a dime at it you’ll still be able to make contributions. Indeed, you’re already doing so, by writing this blog, and by engaging in discussions with others interested in natural history. There are all kinds of ways to make a difference.

    • Thanks and you’re welcome. It is good to know that contributions can still be made without a university degree. Trying to find my path has been difficult since i spent my whole life being told that there was only one path to succeed. I remember in my 10th grade integrated world history/literature class, the teacher mad sure i knew that. I even tried to tell her of a couple paleontologists i knew of who didn’t have formal degrees and managed to go on to become successful paleontologists. But she just about jumped down my thorat and told me “but they are the exceptions”. In hindsight, I should have asked her “How do you know i won’t be the next exception?” But it is my hope that this museum i am trying to establish will be able to provide a few more jobs for paleontologists and archaeologists.

  3. Pingback: Sources of Inspiration « A Central Coast Paleontologist

  4. I can relate pretty much to everything you say. I seemed to have depressive episodes for much of my life, maybe worst once I reached adulthood. I also had really bad social phobia, mixed in with ADD and LD. I too aspire to become a paleontologist. But those things just interfered with all that. I left college in 2005 and never went back. My performance wasn’t so great either. I didn’t like what I was doing anyways, it was a huge mistake. I should of did more research and talked to people at the time who would of guided me in the right direction.

    I was always much an introvert and growing up and still one today. People always seem to take offense for some stupid reason to my quiet demeanor. “Why don’t you talk much Steven?” When in fact I had nothing to say, and general chit chat is boring btw. I always would feel guilty for that. I never liked being around strangers or a lot of people, so parties or other kinds of gatherings are not my thing. It always takes some time for me to warm up to people and to make friends. So being reserved and more sensitive to external stimuli didn’t help either. I think these combination of my personality and learning issues led to me developing social phobia and depression in the first place. I seemed like the only one in school that took a deep interest in dinosaurs and paleontology. I always never could fit in with the other kids.

    Now in the last maybe two years I have started to come around, and my way of thinking is shifting in better direction, I’m not a 100% over it, but I making progress.

    My interests in paleontology is and has always been geared towards dinosaurs. But I do have interests in the paleontology and geology of my area here on the Gaspe peninsula. You must of heard of Miguasha? I find fishes and early tetrapods, and invertebrates fascinating. But dinosaurs are still more of my thing and captured my imagination and had the deepest impact on me. So dude I know what its like to be going through that. Hang in there!

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  6. Don’t go into paleontology. Volunteer at your local museums or collect recreationally, but don’t get too far deep into the field. There are staggering student loans, no jobs, and politics that the paleontological community into something cannibalistic. As an individual who suffers from minor depression problems myself, I can tell you that trying to make a living off the field has escalated my anxiety and is often the contributor to my depression. The field is oversaturated. Attempting to make a living in this has twisted something I was passionate about into something I despise and it has done so too most of the people I know in the field.

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