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Meet a Paleontologist
John Hoganson doing field work at a fossil site in Cooperstown, North Dakota.
John Hoganson teaching about fossils in Pembina Gorge, North Dakota
John Hoganson and friends digging at a triceratops fossil site in Marmarth, North Dakota.
John W. Hoganson
State Paleontologist of North Dakota
North Dakota Geological Survey
NFD Kid's Page Interview...
What is your job, and what do you study?
My position responsibilities are multifaceted and include research, outreach, and regulation. As State Paleontologist I am expected to have knowledge of all aspects of North Dakota paleontology and all fossil groups; vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants. I have done research and written articles about North Dakota vertebrate, invertebrate, and plant fossils, but my primary research interest is Cretaceous and Paleocene marine vertebrates; fish and mosasaurs. I am also the curator of the North Dakota State Fossil Collection at the North Dakota Heritage Center—State Museum. This aspect of my job includes developing fossil exhibits and outreach activities about the prehistoric life of North Dakota. I also direct North Dakotaâ€™s fossil resource management program which includes issuing permits for paleontological activities on state lands and protecting fossil resources in North Dakota. I am also involved with fossil resource management issues on the federal and international level, and I am a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
What are you working on now?
A major expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center is occurring which includes a new gallery called Geologic Time. This gallery is primarily about the prehistoric life of North Dakota and developing exhibits and interpretive information for the galley has been my primary focus for about two years. My primary research project at this time is about the marine fish of the Late Cretaceous Fox Hills Formation.
Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?
My Bachelor's degree was in Earth Science from the North Dakota State University in Fargo, my Master's degree was in Geology from the University of Florida in Gainesville, and my Doctorate degree in Geology was from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. My favorite courses were in historical geology, paleontology, biology, and ancient history.
Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?
As a young boy I would borrow my father's claw hammer to break open rocks along the gravel road near our house in a small North Dakota town to "see what was inside." So the thrill of discovery was, I guess, part of my DNA at an early age. I realized that I wanted to become a paleontologist after I took a course from an outstanding teacher when I was an undergraduate at North Dakota State University.
What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?
My doctoral research was concerned with the use of fossil beetles to determine climate changes at the end of the Ice Age in southern South America. This included two expeditions to southern Chile which was a memorable and significant experience. In recent years, my most memorable experience has been to teach children about the wonders of prehistoric life.
Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?
Follow your dreams. Becoming a paleontologist is not by any means the easiest curriculum so always keep your final goal in mind when the going gets rough. Always be at the front of the line when special opportunities present themselves such a volunteer participation field trips, volunteering in research labs, etc.