A passionate jack of the paleontology trade, Jason C. Poole is the Dinosaur Hall and Fossil Preparation Lab Coordinator at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, where he manages fossil lab functions and visitor experience, and has traveled to participate in dinosaur digs around the world.
As if that isn’t cool enough, Jason is also a down-to-earth (literally!) artist whose talents skillfully bridge the arts and sciences, and he creates beautiful paleontological illustrations that have been published in National Geographic and Science, and displayed in museum exhibitions.
Tell us about what do you do! What’s a normal day like for you?
I am the Dinosaur Hall and Fossil Preparation Lab Coordinator here at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. With the title comes lots of hats. I run our Dinosaur Hall exhibit spaces. That includes training part time and volunteer staff, managing the visitor experience as well as all the fossil lab functions. Field and lab work are my favorites. I am a hands on person so working directly on the fossils and training people how to do the same makes me happiest.
I am lucky to work with so many people with the same core interests. Discovery and interpretation of those discoveries and the natural world in general is the thing that brings all of us to work at the museum and that is a great recipe for a fun bunch of folks.
Tell us about your travels… What’s an expedition like?
I am also in love with working outdoors, field work is the thing I enjoy above all. I have worked in Egypt, Patagonia in Argentina, Montana, Wyoming and a far off and mysterious place called New Jersey. Dinosaurs, Crocodilians, turtles, birds, pterosaurs and all sorts of invertebrates as well as traces of plants and footprints this is what the teams I work with are looking for and these are the clues that help us figure out what this world was like when these animals and plants lived.
The field has lots of challenges depending on how far removed the team is from civilization. Sometimes we are close to a town with a hotel, but my favorite expeditions are those where we have to set up our own camp and live out of tents. When we work in Patagonia we have to make our own roads. This includes moving a lot of rock before we even get to the quarry. Cell phones are not a possibility and satellite phones are reserved for emergency. Some people hate that but I love being disconnected from the world of meetings and telephone solicitors. Digging all day and sleeping on the ground sounds like hell to a lot of perhaps sane people. However as a friend of mine states when asked about this “Many of the best times of my life have been the physically least comfortable”. Rock on!!
I have slept in tents in some extreme situations. Hi winds and snow, lots of heat and once I woke up to my caved in tent which a cow had decided to sleep on. I was lucky not to be smushed!
What’s been your favorite thing you’ve done in the past few years as part of your position?
Since 1999, I have been lucky to be involved in the naming of three new genus of dinosaurs and the preparation of countless specimens which are now available to the scientific community for study adding to the available “clues” to what our ancient world was like for those animals.
The absolute best part of all of this is the students. Working with the concept of millions of years really gives you a feel for how brief our lives really are and how important it is to live them well and pass on what you have learned.
What led you to Philly? Are you born and bred or a transplant?
I was born in Philadelphia and am happy to be here. It is a great home to come home to. Philly has some of the best people to call friends.
What did you study?
I studied art at the high school of Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia and I got a degree in commercial art from Antonelli Institute of Commercial art and Photography, but nature and science especially fossils have been a lifelong interest as well.
Can you expand on what led you toward your unique job and such an interesting career?
I am the product of Philadelphia Public Schooling and major Dyslexia. I am stubborn as hell and not afraid to jump when the opportunity presents its self. I am a trained artist who grew up drawing from comic books during a time when dinosaurs where often highlighted in the stories. I find words to be a difficult way to communicate and art gave me a way to do that and prove myself to some extent. I also collected fossils as a kid. So art and science have been a major part of me for as long as I can remember.
I began as a volunteer at the museum 22 years ago in the fossil lab and the museum has been an incredible place for me to jump at opportunities. Philadelphia is also home to some incredible paleontologists who have encouraged and educated me on the way. Art work has opened many doors and has added to what I have to offer to my chosen path in paleontology.
Above all, I blame Indiana Jones for my love of exploration. Although he is not a paleontologist he is still the coolest scientist in movies today and I am sure all he did adhered to the strictest laws of antiquities. Ha.
What advice would you give to someone interested in a career like yours?
For people looking to do what I do, I would recommend volunteering at a museum or institution that has an active program that you can get involved in and test out how you like it. The Big Horn Basin Dinosaur Project is a program that takes volunteers to dig in Montana and Wyoming and I would recommend that if you want to try field work.
If you get to the point where paleo is all you think about then do it. I suggest grad school or continuing to volunteer.
What or who inspires you, artistically? Do you have a favorite medium or style?
Ok, by day… Mild mannered museum Dinosaur Hall Coordinator. By night “and weekends”, illustrator of mostly dinosaurs but also live animals and whatever I want to put in my ever present sketch book.
I love black and white line art and acrylic painting. My favorite project was working for National Geographic Magazine “bizarre Dinosaurs” and several Nat Geo television programs.
I am now working on several books one of which I get to draw DRAGONS!! And get paid for it. Crazy right?
Outside of the Academy, what’s your favorite place in Philadelphia?
There are a lot of wicked cool places to be in Philadelphia, Fleischer Art Memorial is top of my list. There is great creativity in that place and great instructors! I also have to say that Sabrina’s restaurant just a few blocks off the parkway is a great spot to get an early breakfast. The stuffed French toast is incredible!!
Do you have any favorite local events?
I am a huge fan of the way Philadelphia does the Fourth of July!! Music, food and fireworks. I have missed it the last few years due to field work but when I am in town it is great fun. I am also a huge fan of Nerd Nite.
From the first time the red carpet rolled out, I have enjoyed it all. Nerds represent!!
Thanks so much for talking with us, Jason. We can’t wait to see what you’re up to, next.
Follow Jason’s progress on his artwork of creatures both extinct and extant on his blog and learn more about the Dinosaur Hall, Fossil Lab and upcoming exhibitions at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Photo/picture credit: Jason Poole.