My Time as a Paleontologist: A Science Communicator

by Mary Jane Hughes


Well hello there!

Enjoying some time in the teaching collection from the Florida Museum of Natural History.

If you are reading this, then that means I am no longer a team member on the FOSSIL Project.

Instead, I have moved from my comfy home in Gainesville, Florida and started my life as an educator in South Korea. My time at the FOSSIL Project has been a memorable one filled with long trips to conferences, exciting outreach events, meetings with the always hilarious social media team, and a renewed passion for graphic design. I accomplished more then I could have expected when I was hired as the social media intern back in 2018.

Originally, my job description included making a post on all three of our platforms, making a few designs a month for the myFOSSIL website. By the end of my time with the project, I had taken over posting for the Instagram account, conducted research and presented on these data, made interactive videos for various parts of our project, and was given a voice on various items that the project developed. Now that you know a little more about what I did on the day-to-day, here is a rundown on the tasks I accomplished while becoming a paleontologist. 

Let’s start from the Beginning

In May of 2018, I was hired as a FOSSIL Project intern and tasked with aiding in creating content for social media and bringing and a perspective outside of the paleontology community. My background is in Public Relations and I worked for the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida as their social media intern before taking on this project.

Grinning through the gomphotheres fossils found in the Florida Museum of Natural History vertebrate collections.

At first, I was making a few posts a week for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram while recording the insights Instagram allows us to see about our audience. Drafting posts was not foreign to me but the topics were. I remember creating my first post about mammals found at Belgrade, North Carolina. The project was partnering with the Special Friends of the Aurora Fossil Museum at the Belgrade Mine in North Carolina to research rare extinct land mammals and I quickly realized that I had no idea about the niche community that is very passionate about paleontology.

During that same week, the team was hosting a webinar on the same topic and I was asked to live-tweet the event with my freshly hired co-intern, Sam Ocon. Sam is a geology student that cannot get enough of invertebrates and has all of the paleontological knowledge I do not possess. This task soon became very daunting to me because the online scientific community is not very forgiving when a mistake is made so writing about a certain ‘hell pig’ was a nerve-racking, knowledgable learning experience.

Moving forward, I became confident in my ability to gather the necessary research for a range of topics dedicated to not only paleontology but geology, paleobotany, stratigraphy, and many more!

How Informational Posts Grew our Platform

From there, my tasks grew to make two posts a week, then taking over the Instagram account, while also completing any assignments our calm and collected project manager asked us to complete while in the office. One of the first big projects I was asked to take on was to gather and analyze the data collected from Instagram. The research began with the intern prior to my start date, who also created the account on the platform, and was being collected every Wednesday to see how our page grew from the previous week.

This project became my main focus as we discovered the significance of post types and how our paleo community is involved with our content. This subject came to mind as our follower count started increasing exponentially in July of 2018. Since June 18, 2018, we have grown from 500 followers to 5,500 followers. This leap within one year caused my team and me to search for answers so we can replicate this success on our other platforms. After taking notes from another team member’s Ph.D. dissertation on the taxonomy of post types that engages individuals on social media, we determined that our page has six different types of posts. These types include Opportunity, News, Information, Promotion, Activity Updates, and Other. Further analysis allowed us to come to the conclusion that informational posts perform better than any other post type, reaching 15 percent engagement rate. The average engagement for Instagram as a whole is only 3 percent proving that the paleontology community is very interested in content pertaining to their field. 



Once the data was reviewed and verified by my social media team, I presented my poster the information at the Southeastern GSA conference in March of 2019. This was an eye-opening experience for networking and gaining knowledge on a range of subjects pertaining to geology. You can read more here about my experience and the other team members involvement during the conference.

myFOSSIL Mobile App and Other Projects

During my time with the FOSSIL Project, the myFOSSIL mobile app was launched and I began using one of my favorite skills, creating promotional videos. After some research on different platforms that produce software for video making, we decided to work on the website powtoons to create all of the informational videos on our YouTube account. I am especially proud of the myFOSSIL eMuseum video series that we created this summer to help spread knowledge of paleontological terms and teach users how to properly upload their specimens to possibly be used for research.

A New Chapter

Overall, I wouldn’t change my experience for anything. Without my incredible social media team guiding and supporting me in whatever direction my creative drive lead me, I would not be the science communicator I am today. Other than the skills I acquired working on my various objectives, I also began my journey of becoming a paleontologist in my own right. Even though I do not have a direct background in science, I can now easily describe to my family members why birds can be considered dinosaurs because they are also theropods and who Mary Anning was along with her discovery of the plesiosaur.

I have even made my family take special trips to see geological masterpieces like the Bay of Fundy that lies between Canada’s Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces! In the end, I hope to continue learning about paleontology and share my knowledge with my students in South Korea. 



Thank you, everyone, for your hard work and amazing personalities. I am going to miss you all! 

안녕 ♡ MJ