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Meet a Paleontologist

Dr. Plotnick Dr. Holtz holding a claw of a theropod (carnivorous) dinosaur from the Hell Creek Formation (latest Cretaceous), Ekalaka, MT


Dr. Plotnick Dr. Holtz with a skeleton of the duckbilled dinosaur Edmontosaurus annectens, and the actual hammer of early 20th Century paleontologist Barnum Brown at the Carter County Museum, Ekalaka, MT


Dr. Plotnick Dr. Holtz studying the wall-mounted specimen of the tyrant dinosaur Gorgosaurus libratus at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC

Thomas Holtz

Senior Lecturer, Vertebrate Paleontology

Department of Geology, University of Maryland

NFD Kid's Page Interview...

What is your job, and what do you study?

I am a vertebrate paleontologist - a scientist who studies ancient animals with a bony skeleton. More specifically, I am a dinosaur paleontologist who specializes in the anatomy, evolution, and behavior of the carnivorous (meat-eating) dinosaurs, most especially Tyrannosaurus rex and its closest relative.

I am also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Maryland, where I teach paleontology, evolutionary biology, historical geology, and global change science.

On top of that, I write books on paleontology for the general public.

What are you working on now?

Among many other projects, I am investigating the patterns of changing geography on dinosaurian diversity, and on how tyrant dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus may have changed in behavior throughout their life cycle.

Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?

I went to public schools in Nassau Bay, TX and Fairfax County, VA. I loved most of my science classes, but also history. I was a college student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, and did my graduate work at Yale University in New Haven, CT. My favorite classes as a college and graduate student were, not surprisingly, about paleontology, evolution, and geology!

Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?

I have wanted to be a paleontologist since before I have memory; in other words, I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be one. My parents told me that I first wanted to be a dinosaur when I grew up, but when they said that was impossible I said I would study them instead. Which is what I did!

What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?

Once, on the first day of the field season I was sitting on a hill trying to understand the local geology, then noticed I was sitting among a bunch of fragments of dinosaur eggshell! But in general, whether it is egg, bone, tooth, seashell, leaf, track, or any type of fossil, it is always amazing to think that when you open a rock to see a fossil that you are the first person in the history of the world to see it!

Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?

Read a lot of books about all sorts of natural and scientific subjects, not just about paleontology. In order to make sense of the world you have to understand how it works. But get your nose out of your books when you can, and just explore Nature!

NFD Kid's Page Paleontologist Interviews:

Cassi Knight  Roy Plotnick  Thomas Holtz  Sidney Ash  Joshua Samuels  Alan Titus  Vince Santucci  Josh Bonde 
Michelle Pinsdorf  Glenn W. Storrs  Rebecca Hunt-Foster  Arthur J. Boucot  Robert B. Blodgett  Greg McDonald  Eric Scott  Sally Shelton 
Hans Deitre-Sues  Jim Kirkland  Alton Dooley  Karen Chin  Erica Clites  Katie Loughney  Richard Kissel  Andrew Heckert 
John Repetski  Christy Visaggi  John Hoganson  Scott Foss  Bruce Schumacher  Scott Sampson  Greg Liggett  Jere Lipps 
Matthew Miller  David Brezinski  James Hagadorn  Kari Prassack  Tony Fiorillo  Mike Fracasso  Diana Boudreau  Phil Varela 
Mindy Householder  Andrew Milner  Don Prothero  Bill Parker  Kenshu Shimada  Jason Schein  Robyn Henderek 

Cassi Knight
Roy Plotnick
Thomas Holtz
Sidney Ash
Joshua Samuels
Alan Titus
Vincent Santucci
Josh Bonde
Michelle Pinsdorf
Glenn W. Storrs
Rebecca Hunt-Foster
Arthur J. Boucot
Robert B. Blodgett
Greg McDonald
Eric Scott
Sally Shelton
Hans Deitre-Sues
Jim Kirkland
Alton Dooley
Karen Chin
Erica Clites
Katie Loughney
Richard Kissel
Andrew Heckert
John Repetski
Christy Visaggi
John Hoganson
Scott Foss
Bruce Schumacher
Scott Sampson
Greg Liggett
Jere Lipps
Matthew Miller
David Brezinski
James Hagadorn
Kari Prassack
Tony Fiorillo
Mike Fracasso
Diana Boudreau
Phil Varela
Mindy Householder
Andrew Milner
Don Prothero
Bill Parker
Kenshu Shimada
Jason Schein
Robyn Henderek


Last updated: June 12, 2013