Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr., Univeristy of Maryland
Specialist in theropod paleobiology, with special concentration on/obsession with/affection for the Tyrannosauroidea
1. What first got you interested or involved in your research field?
As a young kid (about 3 years or so) I got two different toy dinosaurs: a Tyrannosaurus and a “Brontosaurus“. I asked my mom what they were, and she said “dinosaurs”. I apparently was very skeptical, because how could these two animals which looked SO different from each other both be called the same thing, when horses and cows (which looked a lot more similar) had their own names. So she bought a copy of the How and Why Wonderbook of Dinosaurs and read to me from it. At that point I decided I would grow up to be a dinosaur. Somewhat later (when my parents convinced me that this was not going to happen), I decided I would be a paleontologist.
2. What is your favourite piece of research?
I think my favorite pieces of research include: establishment under a phylogenetic context that tyrannosaurs were coelurosaurs (already suggested since the early 20th Century, and independently developed by Currie, Novas, and Sereno while I was doing my work); functional anatomy of the arctometatarsus (again there had been previous work on the subject, but by giving the structure a name it seems to have attracted more rigorous studies (e.g., various papers by Eric Snively); and the critical analysis of the obligate scavenging hypothesis for Tyrannosaurus and kin.
3. What do you think is the most interesting or important discovery in your field in recent years?
Feathers. Feathers galore. Feathers on fairly basal coelurosaurs, and maybe deeper. (However, I would also say that work on growth rates in dinosaurs and the revolution in studies of respiration and air sacs in archosaurs are also revolutionary for the field).
4. What do you think is the biggest unanswered question in your field right now?
How basal were feathers? Or, to put this a different way, are the elements in Tianyulong, coelurosaurs, and/or pterosaur pycnofibres homologous? Towards this end, dinosaur fossils in lacustrine or lagoonal deposits of the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic are greatly to be desired!
5. What advice would you give to students about research?
So many important things to suggest here…
One: Read the older literature! Just because a work wasn’t published since 2000 doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have great observations.
Two: Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Science is all about reducing the error bars over time, so don’t expect the first paper in a field to be the last word!
Three: Always keep in mind: if you were wrong, how would you know it? In other words, be clear as to what your hypotheses really are.
and a big one:
Four: Read outside your field! Be aware of research done in other disciplines, from functional anatomy to sedimentology and stratigraphy to ecology and so forth. Don’t get pigeon-holed into a single particular topic.