Illustrated portrait of Neil Shubin

(Illustration by Jordi Ferrándiz)

Neil Shubin

Questions for the paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and host of PBS’s Your Inner Fish.

What surprising job have you had in the past?

I worked in a paper mill stacking and fixing pallets.

What would you want to be doing if not teaching?

Be a fly-fishing guide on western trout streams or Caribbean ocean flats.

What do you hate that everyone else loves?

A tie: superheroes and social media.

What do you love that everyone else hates?

Fifteen-hour car rides alone in complete silence.

What was the last book you finished?

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

What was the last book you recommended to a friend?

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

What book, work, concept, or idea do you relish teaching?

The history of life on Earth—how we have come to know it and what it tells us about who we are.

What person, alive or dead, would you want to write your life story?

Carl Sagan, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60.

Who was your best teacher, and why?

Eleventh grade social studies: Stephen McCarter, at Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia. He encouraged curiosity and a fearlessness in pursuing ideas.

Tell us the best piece of advice you’ve received—or the worst.

The worst piece of advice I ever received came when I was a postdoc from an eminence who told me to give up paleontology because I’ll never do anything meaningful.

What advice would you give to a brand-new Maroon?

Get your ideas out there and don’t be scared to be wrong. Being wrong is part of the process if you are always learning and self-correcting.