Ben Garrod on Dinosaurs and David Attenborough


How a tiny invertebrate inspired a life-long love of primates in evolutionary biologist and broadcaster Ben Garrod

When did you realise you wanted to work in the sciences?

I was about three or four, staying with my grandparents. My granddad took me for walks on the beach. We returned home one day when it had been raining and found lots of little red worms over his garden path. I didn’t understand where they had come from and my granddad told me they were moon worms. I was fascinated by them and this was the first step on my way to becoming a scientist.

How did your school years influence your career?

I loved school and learning; I still do. I was probably a weird student. One day on a run on the beach, I found a seven-foot long species of British shark. I thought it would be great to dissect at lunch time and took it back to school. I will never forget the look on my biology teacher’s face!

What are your feelings towards the way the Sciences are taught within schools?

It needs to be done properly. There are some amazing science teachers out there already but I would like to see more scientists teaching.

 

When did you get your first big break?

I’ve had so many and I’m grateful for them all. My first was when I met Dr Jane Goodall, my childhood heroine. We chatted over dinner (I was a waiter!) and by the time I’d served ice cream I had her email address. Weeks later, I was working for Jane in Africa, looking after wild chimpanzees.

“look for a job that means when you wake up most mornings you are looking forward to the day ahead”

What is an Evolutionary Biologist?

The best job in the world. A biologist studies living things; the ‘evolutionary’ bit means things that evolve and change over time. My main area of specialism is great apes, monkeys and other primates. It’s a very cool job.

Why do you love dinosaurs?

They’re awesome! I think they are so popular because they make you think about them–we have a jigsaw with only a few pieces and have to go hunting for the extra pieces to build a picture of life millions of years ago.

What is your favourite dinosaur and why?

I’m a massive geek and think being brainy is a good thing . . . it makes sense then that I’d go for a brainy dinosaur. My favourite is Troodon. It has the biggest brain of any dinosaur for its body size and we assume it was a clever hunter.

You worked with David Attenborough on Attenborough and the Giant Dinosaurs; how was it working with the great master?

It was brilliant – not because of who he is but because of how he is. David still has that unstoppable passion that many of us have in childhood. He has a great sense of humour.

Has anything funny happened while filming?

I once filmed with an emu that kept trying to attack the soundman. I couldn’t stop laughing.

What work are you most proud of ?

Running a project with Jane Goodall working with chimpanzees in Uganda. It was hard but I loved it and I was able to make some small difference.

What advice would you give to kids eager to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t follow in someone else’s footsteps – make your own. Be proud of who you are and try as many interesting side paths along the bigger journey – you never know where you will end up or what fun you’ll have along the way.

What do you need for a career in the Sciences?

A real passion for the work you do and a mind that is always asking ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ If that’s you then you’re already halfway there.

You presented Hyper Evolution, Rise of the Robots, do you think robots could take over the world?

Nope.

What is your greatest concern for our planet?

People. We are the reason it’s in trouble but we are also the solution and we need to remember that.

Why do you love your job?

My mum once said to me: ‘look for a job that means when you wake up most mornings you are looking forward to the day ahead’. That’s exactly what my job does and I love it.

Do you still have Lola as your pet?

Ha ha, I do. Lola is a skeleton of a monkey I’ve had for years. She was given to me by a professor who found her in the Amazon. She sits on a branch over my bookcase.”

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Buy tickets for Ben’s upcoming UK tour So you think you know about Dinosaurs! this April and May

Ben’s recent series Secret of Bones is now available on BBC iPlayer

 



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