Passion for Paleo

Posted on behalf of Katie Tremaine, Chief Preparator:

My connection to Burpee started at a young age. As a little girl, I would spend endless hours of family vacations stuffing rocks and shells into any open space I could find- including the shoes of unsuspecting family members at the beach. Around age six, simply collecting these items wasn’t good enough. I wanted to know about them: where they came from, how they formed, what they were made of, etc. I had announced to my mother, at the ripe old age of four that I wanted to be a paleontologist. My mother said, “That’s nice, honey. We’ll see.” When six came around and I still hadn’t given up, she decided that something must be done. So, she started bringing me, with my little suitcase of fossils and rocks in tow, down to Burpee Museum. There, I had all my treasures identified and explained, including some Oreodont bones I had collected on my grandmother’s farm. These regular visits to the museum instilled in me a lifelong love of science, natural history, and of course, fossils. Over the years, however, I drifted slightly away from science; for many years I was intent on becoming an actress- something I was successful at for several years. During this time, though, I still harbored my love for fossils. In 2003, I decided I could wait no longer to test out my interest. I called up the museum, and I asked for an internship. Scott Williams (then Collections Manager), decided I was worth a shot. I interned at the museum for a little less than a year before I was hired as a preparator on the “Jane” project. This project was an incredible opportunity for a senior in high school, and I learned many things and was given many opportunities that I would not have otherwise. I am incredibly grateful Scott took that chance on me, because it set me on the trajectory I still follow today.

I remained a preparator for the next eight years. In my nine years at the museum, I have worked in Visitor Services, as a Preparator, and even sometimes cleaned the toilets and helped with tours. Not even toilet-cleaning can shake my love of this place. My love was rewarded when, in 2011, I became the Chief Preparator and became responsible for oversight of the lab and assisting with organizing collections.  Although being Chief Preparator has brought many challenges, it has been worth it. I have seen Burpee physically grow, expand its programs, and encourage young people in positions similar to mine- a service that remains highly meaningful to me today. In those nine years at Burpee, I also spent as much time as possible tagging along on expeditions. This dogged pursuit served me well, as I became a full-fledged expedition team member.

Katie demonstrates outlining a fish during a trip to the Green River formation in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

Today I act as a group leader of sorts on our expeditions, and I love the time I get to spend working with fossils. My role in Expeditions has changed dramatically since 2003. Now, I spend much of my time supervising others and finishing up jobs that most others cannot finish, whereas 2003 saw me creating jobs I couldn’t finish and being supervised. The insight I have gained from this position will suit me well in the next phase of my life- graduate school. As some of you may already know, I have been accepted as a Master’s student by Dr. Jack Horner at Montana State University. I cannot express how excited I am about this new journey. However, I will be leaving behind a very important and very sentimental place, with many friends and experiences I can never replace. I am so proud of the things the Burpee Museum Collections, Expeditions, and Prep Lab have done over the last nine years, and I am even prouder to say I was a part of them. I will miss Burpee intensely, but the only reason I have this opportunity is because of the faith and interest of Scott and Burpee Museum.

Burpee Expeditions provided me with a realistic expectation of what paleontological fieldwork looked like- picking, shoveling, hiking, picking, etc. All that physical labor didn’t deter me, and I kept coming back for more. I have learned basic principles of comparative anatomy, fossil identification, and excavation and collection techniques from the last nine years of Expeditions. This time in the field has brought other opportunities as well- I have met many famed paleontologists, and have worked with some of them. At Scott’s urging I joined SVP (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology), expanding my knowledge of many fossil life forms, techniques, and providing work, volunteer and graduate school opportunities. By citing my fieldwork, I opened many doors that would otherwise have been closed. For many students, fieldwork is unpleasantly eye-opening. Burpee has toned it down a little from some crews you might see on television, but it is still an experience that might shock some. If you are toying with the idea of paleontology, you should absolutely consider going on an expedition. Over the last several years Burpee has been ecstatic to see more than five high school students (who cut their original fieldwork teeth with us) move on to pursue degrees in biology/geology and dig with crews of world-renowned paleontologists.

I am incredibly pleased that the Burpee fieldwork experience helped encourage these students to pursue science degrees and fostered their interest in fossils. Very few other things could make me as proud. I invite any interested students to contact me or Scott with questions they might have, and I encourage them to pursue their dreams. We need more scientists in the world!

– Katie Tremaine, Burpee Museum Chief Preparator

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One thought on “Passion for Paleo

  1. Nice post Katie, even if it is kind of a double post (look at it this way: it was such a good story that it bore repeating). Good luck with grad school!

    “I invite any interested students to contact me or Scott with questions they might have…”- I’ll keep that in mind. I think i emailed Scott once and never heard back. No worries, i think Andy Farke and Alton Dooley have got it covered. Again, best of luck in grad school and any future ventures with Burpee!

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