My interview with Imperial College on the rise and fall of ancient dinosaur-eating crocodiles

While back in London recently for my PhD viva, the opportunity came up to speak with the Communications Office at Imperial College about some of my research. Naturally I pounced at the chance to discuss my research and broadcast it to a wider audience. The short audio for the interview is now online here, and we discuss everything from the impact of changing climates on biodiversity to giant, dinosaur-devouring crocodiles! Enjoy 🙂


Dr Jon Tennant studied these creatures as part of his PhD in theDepartment of Earth Science and Engineering. He was exploring the biodiversity and the extinction of some tetrapods, which is a classification for all creatures with four limbs.

Dr Tennant, who is also a science communicator and children’s author, looked at some of the most fearsome tetrapods of them all – crocodilians. These creatures, which alligators and crocodiles are modern ancestors of, lived on Earth over one hundred million years ago in the deserts, coasts, oceans and even the artic regions of our planet. Some, like the Sarchosuchus, were the size of double-decker buses, and going by the fossil evidence, fed on dinosaurs, who were rival ‘apex’ predators.

Dr Tennant discovered in his research that changes in sea level, brought on by fluctuations in the climate and continent movements, changed the world of tetrapods like the Sarchosuchus forever. Now, he is embarking on a six-month exploration of the planet, including some of the regions where modern crocodilians live. Colin Smith caught up with Dr Tennant to talk about his favourite ancient crocodilians and how changes in early Earth impacted on their biodiversity. 

Full podcast here and you can download the mp3 file here.

Shit I learned during my PhD

Doing a PhD is one of the greatest trials you will ever experience in your life. It is physically and mentally grueling, you will be challenged and pushed to the limit every single day, and the pressure levels are so high they will bust you right into the sixth dimension if you’re not prepared or strong enough.

So yeah, they are not for the faint of hearted. That is, if you want to succeed by pushing yourself to the limit, excel in everything that you apply yourself to, and grow to become more powerful than you can possibly imagine (compared to the wimpy undergrad you used to be). But I imagine you wouldn’t even be doing a PhD if this wasn’t your mentality anyway.

I’m a strong believer in committing yourself fully to something if you believe in it, and doing everything within your power to achieve your goals. A PhD is basically a 3-4 year long single project that you can, and should, dedicate yourself too. Now that I’m nearing the end of my own challenge, I wanted to share some simple things with you all that might help in some way.

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The social, economic, and academic impacts of Open Access – done, and done.

For the 3-4 regular readers of this blog, you’re probably aware that a while back we published a paper with F1000Research reviewing the evidence behind the societal, economic, and academic impacts of Open Access.

Today, we submitted what I like to think of as the ‘final’ version of that paper. We have taken on an enormous wealth of feedback from the community through formal peer review, comments, open discussion on social media, and personal conversations, and integrated all of this into the manuscript. This discourse has greatly improved the content, and I hope you all find it to be a useful basis for further discussions of Open Access.

I consider this to be the final version, as thanks to this extensive ‘peer review’ I feel there is little more which can be significantly altered. Of course there will always be future developments and debates in Open Access, but rather than adapt the paper fluidly with this, I’d rather consider it to be a good reference point on which to base these discussions.

That does not mean that everything in the paper is perfect. I strongly encourage further discussion and debate on the article itself, continuing the rich comment thread that exists already. If something major comes up that we have failed to include, then we will open up considerations for a new version.

Finally, please do share this paper with your friends and colleagues. It’s such a damn important topic, and well-worth being informed about. Remember, Open Access isn’t about policies, mandates and embargoes – it’s about freedom, equality, and democratic access to our core global knowledge base. That’s something worth fighting for.

Which palaeontology stories in 2015 captured the public’s imagination?

Happy New Year everyone! It’s that time of year when all the summaries of an amazing year of research are coming out, and goodness, what a year it’s been! The folk over at Altmetric have been kind enough to summarise the top 100 articles of 2015, measured by their altmetrics scores – a measure of the social media chatter around articles. All the data are available on Figshare, and here I just wanted to highlight the palaeontology stories that stood out in the media this year according to the list.

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OpenCon comes to Berlin!

A few weeks ago, OpenCon hit Brussels in a tidal wave of awesomeness, and led me to thinking about how open access and all that jazz aren’t really about just making papers openly available, but in making the statement that knowledge is something that everyone has equal rights to.

Open Science isn’t just a way of practising science by making your research outputs available; it’s a mindset, a way of thinking, a way of conducting the entire process of your research.

It also made me fully aware of the ‘open community’, and despite the fact that there’s a global network of ‘open champions’ out there, the vast majority of academics, or those involved in academia, are still very poorly informed about the importance of open research on the fundamental level of how to practice it, but also on a deeper level of the importance of it. To me, this highlights the importance of developing active networks and communities that aren’t just discussing the current issues of research and publishing, but also working to improve them.


Beautiful view of Alexanderplatz in central Berlin for our satellite event

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