UCMP Profiles
Kevin Padian: Career
Dr.Kevin Padian was initially drawn to a career in science not by an interest in research, but by a dedication to public education. He began his career in science by teaching public school before deciding to broaden his training by earning a graduate degree in paleontology.

1990 UREP field trip
Padian led this group of volunteers on a dig in 1990—a wonderful opportunity to teach paleontology in the field.

What led you to teach science?
“I wanted to teach science because the subjects I studied in college and enjoyed most—evolution, ecology, field biology, paleontology, and earth science—were not really emphasized in science courses I took in K–12. I thought that by learning about these things I could teach them and give students a better awareness of them. But after teaching for a few years I realized that I didn’t know as much science as I wanted to know in order to teach as well as I wanted to.

“So I decided to go back to graduate school. Then I got into research, as one does in grad school, and found that combining research with teaching was a great way to bring what you actually do as a scientist to the public.”

When asked how he chose science as a career, he claims to be “still deciding,” and that there’s “no point in getting too settled in.”


What do you love most about your work?
“That it’s different every day (I always have new problems to work on). That I can work in my museum, in other museums, in the field, and all over the world. That there are great people in my field from all backgrounds. That we’re learning cool stuff all the time. That you’re part of a profession with an amazing historical legacy (you can pick up and work on the same materials that Owen, Huxley, Cope, Marsh, and many other great scientists worked on in their day). That you have to know something about a lot of different fields in order to do it properly. And that five-year-olds are as interested in what you do as you are.”

What is the most challenging aspect of the work?
“Two things come to mind. First, getting funded to work on a good problem is difficult, even if it doesn’t cost much. Most people don’t understand where the money comes from to support this kind of science, and there’s not much of it. If public interest in our branch of science were correlated with funding support, we’d be rolling in money, but we’re not.

Second, writing up your results is difficult, because it’s hard to put down on paper what’s in your head so that other people will understand it. A lot of people think that writing should come easy to a scientist, because your findings should be straightforward. But it’s not true. You’re constantly forming and testing hypotheses, constructing chains of logic in your arguments, finding new lines of evidence you have to investigate in order to check yourself. But writing makes you do that. And sometimes the frustration is where the fun is.”

What is the greatest contribution you hope to make?
“American science education will be vastly improved when people understand more about what evolution is and isn’t. I’d be happy if my work helps to contribute to [this understanding].”

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