David Paterson McDonald studied at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, where he qualified as Master of Arts (MA, 1901) and Bachelor of Science (BSc, 1908). He was in South Africa from 1911 or earlier and from 1912 to 1919 was an assistant lecturer in geology and mineralogy at the South African School of Mines and Technology in Johannesburg, under Dr R.B. Young*. During this period he was also Dean of the school's Sunnyside Residence. There is some uncertainty with regard to his second given name, as Anhaeusser (1997, p. 120) identifies him as David Phillip McDonald. In 1920 he was appointed as geologist to the Globe and Phoenix Mine in the midlands of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he remained until about 1925.
D.P. McDonald became a member of the Geological Society of South Africa in 1911 and was still a member in 1920. He served as president of the society for 1914, and as vice-president the next year. His presidential address dealt with 'The study of ore deposits in South Africa' (Proceedings of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1915, Vol. 18, pp. 21-32). During the previous few years he contributed several articles to the society's Transactions, including the following: 'The intrusive rocks of the Witwatersrand' (1911), 'On the occurrence of sideroplesite and ankerite in the cassiterite lodes at Rooiberg' (1912), 'Notes on a form of black diamond from the Premier Mine' (1913), 'The cassiterite deposits of Leeuwpoort No. 938: The paragenesis of the lode forming minerals' (1913), and 'Notes on the red feldspar of the Bushveld tin fields' (1914).
David Paterson McDonald, MA, BSc, of Johannesburg, became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1916.