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Susie Maidment: Palaeontologist

A postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, Susie Maidment, 29, lives in a two-bedroom flat in Fulham, London with her husband Michael Lanaway, a geologist in the oil industry

The first thing people say when I mention I’m a palaeontologist is: “Oh, like Ross from Friends!” It’s actually a running gag in our field. At a recent convention someone was actually selling T-shirts that said, “No, I am not like Ross from Friends.” I’ve been fascinated by dinosaurs since I was seven, but it didn’t occur to me that I could make them my profession. It was my grandpa who said one day, “Why don’t you become a palaeontologist?”

Stylist visited Susie at The Natural History Museum in London. Want a guided tour? Click on [http://www.stylist.co.uk/stylist-network/video/216/work-life:-palaeontologist?Preview=115cc787a8cdea407b6cfe9819587c9b26b85ab7 Work Space].

My day begins at 6.30am. I get up, take a shower and get dressed. We can wear whatever we like, but I love dressing up. Once a week I give a lecture to museum guests, so I’ll wear a smart skirt with heels. When I’m tied to my desk, my staple outfit is a cardigan, jeans and trainers. Breakfast is always with my husband Michael, then I’ll cycle to work in about 15 minutes.

I get to the office at 8am. My main objective is to research dinosaurs, in particular why they went from walking on two legs to four. My current project is about the evolution of plant-eating dinosaurs. Today there are so many questions regarding how ecosystems will be affected by global warming, so studying what happened to dinosaurs as conditions changed is important.

I get to the office at 8am. My main objective is to research dinosaurs, in particular why they went from walking on two legs to four. My current project is about the evolution of plant-eating dinosaurs. Today there are so many questions regarding how ecosystems will be affected by global warming, so studying what happened to dinosaurs as conditions changed is important.

In order to get all the data I need. I travel to museums all over the world. In the past year I’ve visited China, Canada, France and Switzerland. I look at different specimens, take photos, make notes and draw sketches. Mostly, I try to reconstruct their muscles. I focus on the legs, knees, hips and shoulders, compiling data in a chart. Bones are usually kept in the basement, so although I get to visit some amazing places, I spend more time indoors than sightseeing.

The best places to find fossils are in dry desert environments. I’ve done some of my best work in the USA: in Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. The best part of travelling is meeting like-minded people. It’s very inspiring to collaborate with others, but no matter how lovely the other scientists are I start to think of home. At the end of the day you go back to an empty hotel room and I miss my husband terribly. When I have all the pictures and data I need, I go back to the Natural History Museum and write it up. It’s a long process that usually takes six months.

My office is in a small corner which looks over the courtyard of the museum. My desk has my notes and books spread out and loads of dinosaur toys. It’s homely. We’re a small team of about 10 people. My boss, Paul Barrett, is one of the leading palaeontologists in Britain and a joy to work with. He’s got really thorough general knowledge so it’s great to have him as a sounding board for my ideas. In our team, the divide between men and women is pretty much 50/50, but that’s not a representation of the field — generally, palaeontology is driven by men.

Although we’re a team, we all have separate offices, and I’ll often reach the end of the day and realise I haven’t spoken to anybody. That’s why a group of us have started to go for tea around 4pm to catch up. It’s something my friends always tease me about. They don’t consider what I do a ‘real job’; I just play with dinosaurs and drink tea. In reality, though, I work very hard. Luckily, my husband is supportive.

My goal isn’t to make a big breakthrough, like the first time dinosaurs with feathers were discovered; I’d rather gain the respect of my colleagues for my research.

Around 6pm, I’ll jump on my bicycle and head home. On the weekends, I go mountain biking with Michael and the boys, his group of male friends. I’m hugely competitive, so I take spinning classes during the week to keep up with the boys. I also love cooking; it calms me and takes my mind off work. My favourite recipe is an Ainsley Harriott chicken and artichoke hotpot. I go to bed early, around 10.30pm. Getting my full eight hours of sleep is vital.

Picture: Gemma Day

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