Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Everything That Goes Around...

Many years ago when the world was young (back in the 1980s) I did a Ph.D. thesis in Cambridge entitled Bovidae from the Pleistocene of Britain. It was a big morphometric study of the cattle and bison that roamed Britain during the Ice Age. It was a solitary exercise, I hated pretty much all of it, and the sole paper that emerged, in 1993 (if you must know, the doi is 10.1002/jqs.3390080107) has gone almost entirely uncited.

A few years after my thesis was done and dusted and I'd become an editor at a well-known science research journal beginning with N, I happened to be at a palaeontology conference in the US and saw a platform presentation in which the student had done pretty much everything I'd done, but with American material. We talked, and it was so great to be able to talk about the same things. It could have been that the misery of my graduate years came from the fact that I was working in complete isolation. We met over the course of a few years, decided we might do a paper together - pooling our results - but somehow, after I'd drafted it, it just fell by the wayside. I was busy with books, and family, and the aforementioned science journal beginning with N; my LA-based prospective collaborator had an archaeology consultancy to get off the ground, and a small son to raise.

A decade passed, and then, suddenly, I got an email - last week - from my once-prospective collaborator saying, hey, her business is now so secure that she can take her eye off the ball; her son has long since grown up and left home; she's coming over to a palaeontology conference in the UK, so can can we resurrect our paper so that we can submit an abstract by April 20? And can I send her my data?

My thesis is by now at my former PhD advisor's house (by happy chance he lives a few miles from Cromer) and I'll have to extract the data from the fading data tables, put them in a spreadsheet and email them over.

Like, yesterday.

Palaeontology is like that. You know, nothing for thirty million years and then it all happens at once.


  1. Ah, so the paper will suddenly appear, with no transitional forms.

  2. I have the old thesis now in my clutches. What an ancient yellowing grimoire it is, too.

  3. Oh, that's so fantastic, and reassuring, too. I'm in that maelstromy spot now -- lots of tasty collaborations bruited about, but we're all busy establishing careers and raising children, and there just isn't time for more obligations. I like to think that in 15 years we'll be able to make some of these things go. And then there's the novel in the file cabinet...

  4. It's so cool when things come together!!!

  5. It's rather exciting, actually. More in the next post...

  6. Fun!

    I pondered trying to dig something out of my old lab books when BMC Research Notes launched, but apparently they have been 'archived'. (I think this means they've been thrown into the Clyde).