My name is Charlotte Hohman, and I’m a 3rd-year undergraduate at Montana State University. I am majoring in earth sciences, with a concentration in the field of paleontology. There are many different aspects of the field that one can be involved in, including but not limited to research, fossil preparation, education, outreach, fieldwork, digital reconstruction, and art. I love many different aspects of the field and am using my student years to gather experience in those aspects and learn from a variety of mentors to prepare me for a career in the field.
I first became aware of paleontology as a scientific field in 2018 when I began volunteering at the Western Science Center (WSC). In California, you need 40 hours of community service to graduate high school, and I knew the museum was taking volunteers, so I signed up. I started as a docent the summer before my senior year. In September 2018, the director had me identify some Ice Age rodent fossils. He asked me to find a way to categorize the fossils, and I ended up coming up with a categorization method meant to make predictions about the ancient environment of the site during the Ice Age. The director thought the method looked interesting and asked me if I wanted to present at a conference. I presented my preliminary results my senior year of high school at the 2019 Geological Society of America Cordilleran meeting, where I realized that I definitely wanted to pursue paleontology professionally.
Since then, I have continued to do research. I conduct student research at Montana State (and its affiliated museum Museum of the Rockies (MOR)) and the Western science center. I have co-authored two publications: one on the Pacific mastodon’s (Mammut pacificus) geographic range (McDonald et al., 2020), and one on the prehistoric horses of the Cajon Valley Formation of Southern California (Stoneburg et al., 2021). My three in-progress manuscripts focus on how dromaeosaurids (raptors) grew into adults, horses in southwestern North America during the Ice Age, and my continued work on the aforementioned rodents!
But as I mentioned, paleontology is so much more than research, and I am involved in multiple other aspects of the field as well. I have been able to go on digs in New Mexico in Cretaceous rocks (79 million years old), and in Southern California in Miocene rocks (15 million years old). I prepare fossils at both the MOR and WSC, and have been fortunate enough to clean the fossils of whales, sauropods, bison, and more!
At the WSC, I make casts, molds, storage cradles, and create 3D models of fossils. All these lab skills are important for the sharing of research— open-access digital models allow researchers from around the globe to view your specimens. Casts and 3D prints are great for outreach and education. I believe that sharing the science is equally as important as doing it, which is why I am also active in scicomm, or science communication. Science communication can be online, like on social media, or in-person, like at outreach events. For the WSC, I am the illustrator of their children’s book series on scientific papers for kids. I run my own educational account on Instagram, along with managing social media for other paleontology-focused organizations. Many people have a natural interest in prehistoric animals, so I use science communication about prehistoric life as a way to draw people in and introduce them to many different concepts within earth science and biology.
I plan on doing a Ph.D. when I am done with my bachelor’s and would like to work in a museum setting one day, to be able to continue to do research, while continuing to share and teach others about earth history.
Stoneburg, B. E., McDonald, A. T., Dooley Jr, A. C., Scott, E., & Hohman, C. J. (2021). New remains of middle Miocene equids from the Cajon Valley Formation, San Bernardino National Forest, San Bernardino County, California, USA. PaleoBios, 38.
McDonald, A. T., Atwater, A. L., Dooley Jr, A. C., & Hohman, C. J. (2020). The easternmost occurrence of Mammut pacificus (Proboscidea: Mammutidae), based on a partial skull from eastern Montana, USA. PeerJ, 8, e10030.