Don Brinkman

Life as a Wayfaring Paleontologist

This museum director gets to see some amazing things in his dual lives as a fossil specialist and a Celtic fiddler.


Don Brinkman is the Director of Preservation and Research at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, AB. We asked him everything from what he is reading to what advice he would give to young researchers in hopes of giving you a better understanding of one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What do you like most about being a scientist?
The thing I like best about being a scientist is working through ideas and figuring things out. In my particular branch of science (vertebrate paleontology) discoveries can be both tangible and conceptual.  In this science, particularly, there is a large aesthetic component, for example the beauty of the fossils themselves or the elegance of concepts that tie together disparate observations relating to fossils and their occurrences.  Also, I like the interactions with other scientists.  My particular area of focus (fossil turtles) has led me to travel very widely in Europe and Asia as well as North America and to work with people that are members of very different communities.

What advice would you give young researchers?
I am often asked by high school students how can I become a paleontologist.  My advice is always to get a broad background in the sciences.  Paleontology is a science that utilizes information and concepts from many different sciences, and the more one understands of other sciences the better paleontologist you will be.

What are you reading right now? 
I am reading a mystery novel set in part in the slums of London during the late 1800’s called “By Gaslight”.

What do you like to do for fun? 
I play fiddle in a Celtic-style band called the Wayfaring Fiddlers.  We have a Facebook page with a promotional video of our band.  I also do genealogical research and paint, landscapes mostly.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?

Aside from things for your survival, what item would you most want to have with you on a deserted island? 
Fiddle and some of the classic books I haven’t had time to read and probably never will.

Interested in Dr. Brinkman’s work? He is featured in our blog post about a very unique fossil preserved in amber.