I am a vertebrate palaeontologist based at the University of Birmingham. I lead a group of researchers addressing questions relating to the systematics, evolution, diversity and biogeography of fossil vertebrates. I am particularly interested in the origin and early evolution of dinosaurs and their close relatives in the aftermath of the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, as well as long-term patterns of diversity on land.
My research has been recognised by major early-career grants from the German Research Foundation and the European Research Council, and by the Hodson Award of the Palaeontological Association and the Joseph Chamberlain Award for Academic Advancement from the University of Birmingham. I was promoted to full Professor (personal chair) by Birmingham in 2017. Currently, I am Director of Research for the College of Life & Environmental Sciences, with strategic leadership of research activity across the four Schools that make up the College. I have previously held other leadership roles, including as Director of Global Engagement for the College (2020–2022) and REF2021 lead for Earth & Environmental Sciences (2018–2021), the results of which saw Birmingham rise 30 places to be the joint second ranked University in the UK for research in this area.
In Birmingham, my team forms part of the Palaeobiology research theme, one of the largest and most active clusters of deep time researchers anywhere in the UK. We are closely linked to the award-winning Lapworth Museum of Geology.
I have been awarded >£3 million in research funding. Our research is currently funded by the Leverhulme Trust, NERC and the Marie Curie Actions. I have previously received funding from the European Research Council, the Royal Society, National Geographic, the German Research Foundation, the Palaeontological Association, the Rutherford Fund and the Humboldt Foundation, among others.
I grew up on a farm in the Welsh Marches. I completed my undergraduate degree in Geology at the University of Bristol, before moving to the University of Cambridge to complete my PhD on early dinosaur evolution. I then spent three years as a postdoctoral research assistant at the Natural History Museum in London, working on dinosaur-plant co-evolution and dinosaur respiration. This was followed by four years working at the University of Munich and the BSPG in southern Germany, funded first by a Humboldt Fellowship, and then by a Emmy Noether Programme award from the German Research Foundation. In 2013 I returned to the UK to take up a permanent position at the University of Birmingham.
I am an active field palaeontologist, with experience in the UK, USA, India, South Africa, Poland, Portugal, Lithuania, Morocco and Kyrgyzstan. Current research fieldwork is focused on Morocco and the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and field teaching in the western USA. I have a developing research interest in geoconversation and co-lead field-based research on the protection of palaeontological sites in Dorset.
Much of my research is specimen-based, and I have worked closely with museums throughout my career. From 2013–2018 I was the Academic Keeper of the Lapworth Museum of Geology, and helped lead the Museum through an award-winning £2.6 million redevelopment and expansion which has transformed this historic institution and hugely expanded its audience. I collaborated on successful major funding bids to HLF, Research England, and Arts Council England, among others. More recently, I co-curated the exhibition Drawing Out The Dinosaurs, which explored two centuries of scientific discovery and artistic inspiration. This public engagement activity formed a core component of an impact case study which I led for REF2021, and which was considered by the panel to be of world-leading quality.
Hunting for dinosaurs in the Jurassic of Kyrgyzstan, 2022.
Collecting therapsid fossils in the Middle Triassic of Eastern Cape, South Africa, 2017.
Receiving the Joseph Chamberlain Award for Academic Achievement from the University of Birmingham, 2019.
Visiting the Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 2013.
Lower jaw of a temnospondyl amphibian, Lower Triassic of West Bengal, India, 2015.
In the newly redeveloped Lapworth Museum of Geology, 2016.