Passion for Paleontology

Richards examining a specimen at Harvard UniversityNow a graduate student at Harvard University, Jared Richards ’20 gets to interact with rare fossils everyday. At Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, he studies fossils of ancient invertebrates, including echinoderms like starfish, arthropods like horseshoe crabs, and other animal groups that lack a backbone.

At UNC, he studied quantitative biology, combining his love of science and statistics, as a Chancellor’s Science Scholar. The Chancellor’s Science Scholars (CSS) Program provides scholarships, research opportunities, and a community of like-minded students.

“That program was critical throughout my entire journey at UNC, whether it was just support in the academic setting or helping me figure out the next big thing to do, like figuring out what programs I wanted to apply to,” said Richards.

One of his first research experiences was studying coral in UNC marine sciences professor Karl Castillo’s lab the summer after his freshman year in 2017. CSS helped Richards find research experiences the following two summers. First, Richards worked at the Smithsonian Institution, cataloging cephalopods — like cuttlefish, squid, and octopods. He employed computer science techniques to analyze cephalopod ecology based on samples the researchers brought back.

The summer before his senior year, he worked in Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley, researching evolutionary biology with a focus on paleontology. The professor Richards worked with at UC Berkeley, Seth Finnegan, suggested he check out an up-and-coming researcher at Harvard University who was working in invertebrate paleobiology. CSS helped him apply for graduate school, and in the fall of 2020, he found himself heading up to Cambridge to attend Harvard.

“I could not be where I am today without the great people in the UNC CSS program,” Richards said.

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Photo by Melissa Aja, Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University

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