Museum scientist Cassius Morrison examines a dinosaur fossil.

As a child, Cassius dreamed of studying dinosaurs. Photo by Tammana Begum.

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Behind the Science: Cassius Morrison spearheads inclusivity in the workplace

Palaeontologist Cassius Morrison spends his days looking at dinosaur brains and exploring the environment in which these creatures lived. He's also passionate about equality and has worked hard to promote diversity and inclusion within his field.

This interview is part of a new series in which we talk to young scientists and researchers about what they're working on.

Can you give me an overview of what you do and how you got here?

I'm a PhD student who studies dinosaurs, mainly a group called theropods, which includes Tyrannosaurus rex and raptors.

I've always been obsessed with dinosaurs and one of my earliest memories is seeing Jurassic Park in the cinema. I did my undergraduate degree in geology and went on to work in the environmental sector for a few years, including in the rail and the oil and gas industries. But my love for dinosaurs never died, and I returned to academia to start a PhD.

My research involves exploring the brain anatomy and neurology of dinosaurs, as well as their ecology. I'm looking at different species, including some from Britain, such as the famous Baryonyx, which was discovered in the 1980s in Surrey.

Was there anything significant in your experience in the environmental sector that contributed to where you are now?

I worked in the rail industry for a few years prior to doing my PhD and I found that there were a lot of inequalities there, such as racism and sexism. So I spearheaded a movement to tackle this, which involved bringing together people of colour and talking about the problems we were experiencing.

We then raised these issues to the Rail Delivery Group, which is an organisation that works to improve the rail industry. This allowed us to make some positive changes, such as adequately supporting colleagues, having regular discussions with the CEO, who was a great ally, establishing new HR processes and raising awareness for best practises.

Museum scientist Cassius digs for dinosaur bones on the Isle of Wight.

Cassius discovered his first-ever dinosaur bone on the Isle of Wight

I wanted to expand this success further and reached out to more people within the rail industry, including the CEO of the Great British Railways. Through this, we were able to make more positive changes - one of these was implementing a whole new Diversity and Inclusion Department. This was all well received and some new work streams were created as a result.

Around the same time, I started my PhD at the Museum, and I've been involved in increasing diversity here too.

I set up a group called Palaeontologists Against Systematic Racism to raise awareness of racism in the workplace and initiate change. I've gathered palaeontologists from all around the world and we've held a number of events that focused on things like increasing diversity within geoscience and decolonising palaeontology.

If there was one thing you could change about your profession, what would it be?

I would like for people to be able to do science based on their abilities and not face barriers because of their protected characteristics.

Palaeontology and the history of life on Earth is a global science and therefore no one person or organisation has a right to it. It should be a global endeavour to understand the past, to look to the future and to understand more about climate change.

Have you ever experienced any barriers when it came to accessing nature?

I've always been aware that people may not perceive me well due to the colour of my skin, but I've also always been determined to do what I want to do.

I have a Caucasian-sounding name and it allows me to slip into places where some people might hesitate to welcome me otherwise, like when booking a horse riding lesson or camping in the countryside.

There's actually a meme floating around somewhere that says anything is possible when you have a Caucasian-sounding name and that is a comical reflection of my life at times.

Cassius Morisson shows off a dinosaur fossil from the Museum's collection.

Outside of work, Cassius enjoys gardening, horse riding and hiking in the countryside. Photo by Tammana Begum.


A friend of mine experienced racism on a busy train once while we were travelling to one of the UK's national parks. It was late at night, we'd had a long day and were carting around a lot of luggage.

A large, Caucasian guy came on board and said something racist to my friend. What he said was horrendous and everyone around us was shocked, but people didn't know what to do. I felt like I had to step up and tell him that what he said wasn't right, while simultaneously assuring everyone else that I held high opinions - and had experienced the kindness - of the locals, and I know this didn't reflect on them or their community.

As a person of colour, I had to make sure I presented myself in a calm manner and spoke articulately so I wouldn't be seen as an aggressive black man. If I were a woman, I'd be labelled as an 'angry black woman'. And that's the paradox for ethnic minorities. If you speak up, you have to do so in a calm, polite and articulate manner or else you'll get labelled and your message will get lost. However, if a Caucasian person were to speak defensively, they'd probably be praised and applauded for their courage or enthusiasm.

Fortunately, I'm able to stand my ground and I know how to navigate discrimination. But if a person of colour is unaware how to do that, it can be extremely difficult and have a knock-on effect. It's common for them to feel hurt, angry and resentful, to avoid certain places and even to experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. In some extreme cases, people of colour have even considered changing their skin tone due to racism.

What advice would you offer to people of colour trying to get into the same field as you?

If you love it, don't give up. It will be a challenging road and you will probably face discrimination and double standards, but your dream is worth fighting for.

There's a lot more awareness and movements for positive change now so hopefully, things will be better for you, whether it's palaeontology, another type of science or a completely different sector.