Who are the people of SVP?
Members of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology come from many different backgrounds and live and work all around the world. Here we highlight the life and work of one of our members so that you can get to know them better. Paleontologists that have been profiled in the past are also listed so that you can go back and get to know them as well: Past PaleoProfiles
Kristi Curry Rogers
Profile posted: April 2006
Undergraduate education: B.Sc. in Biology from Montana State University
Postgraduate education: M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Anatomical Sciences from Stony Brook University
Current position: Curator of Paleontology, Science Museum of Minnesota and Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology, Macalester College
Q & A with Kristi Curry Rogers
Kristi and her then eight-month-old daughter Lucy in the field in Patagonia, 2004. Lucy’s got an eye for fossils. Photo courtesy of Kristi Curry Rogers.
How/when did you first become interested in science/paleontology?
I was always really interested in science. I think that I decided to become a paleontologist when I learned what one was. In fact, I’m pretty sure that “paleontology” was the first big word that I learned how to spell. By the age of six or seven I was already announcing my plans to be a paleontologist, though back then I thought that trilobites were the coolest things ever. Trilobites look a little like a cross between a cockroach and a pillbug.
They are ancient relatives of arthropods (the group that includes lobsters, crabs, and insects) and millions of them have been found. While I still like trilobites, dinosaurs are my favorites now. I still have the first dinosaur thing that attracted my attention. It was an article on the dinosaur eggs and babies found at Egg Mountain, in Montana. From then on, it was dinosaurs all the way!
What was your favorite subject in school?
Even though I really liked science (particularly as I got older and got to dissect things), English was always my favorite subject in school. I loved reading and writing, and especially enjoyed creative writing classes that I took. I loved music too, and played french horn for seven years as a kid.
Do you do fieldwork? If so, how do you spend a typical day in the field? The fun parts? The frustrations?
I try to do field work as often as possible. Lately, my time has been split between Montana and Madagascar, and fieldwork in each of these places in pretty different. In Madagascar, I wake up long before the sun comes up, and like to spend the time listening to the early morning and catching up on my field notes. We rise early there, and get out of camp by 7:30 or 8 am. Some days, I explore, looking for new sites with my colleagues, and other days I spend all day excavating bones from already-discovered quarries. Occasionally, I hang out in Madagascar with my husband, Ray (our project’s geologist).
That’s sometimes when the coolest adventures happen because we move away from our standard field area in search of good geological data and new localities. Once the sun goes down, we walk back to camp, have the standard dinner of beans and rice, and hang out around grass mats in the dark until everyone heads to bed.
Kristi and her husband, partner in crime, and collaborator, Ray Rogers. Photo courtesy of Kristi Curry Rogers.
In Montana, the plan is a lot different. Usually it is just my husband, Ray, and my two-year-old daughter, Lucy, and I. We spend all day hiking around looking for new sites, and once we find them Lucy and I surface collect microfossils (teeth, fish scales, vertebrae, etc.) while Ray takes notes on geology sections so that he can interpret the ancient environment (are these rocks from an ancient ocean? A floodplain? A beach?) and place the fossils I find in context.
Even though Lucy is only two, she’s got a great eye for fossils! We camp alone in the Missouri Breaks near the Missouri River, pretty tough badlands terrain in the middle of Montana – a sharp contrast to the big camps we typically have in Madagascar! It’s a 45-minute drive to pavement, so once out at camp, we only head into town once in awhile. We get to see fantastic sunsets from our camp at the top of the badlands cliffs, and we’ve weathered several huge thunderstorms and even one tornado!
How do you spend a typical day when you are not doing fieldwork?
When I’m not doing fieldwork, but still “at work” I do a lot of writing and researching, usually on the dinosaurs that are my specialty (the long-necked sauropods), or on dinosaur growth rates. Because I work at the Science Museum of Minnesota, I also do a lot of interacting with visitors, especially on the internet – at least one day a week I’m online answering kids’ questions about dinosaurs and paleontology. I write a monthly column for a local newspaper called “No Bones About It,” where I highlight the latest in dinosaur news.
I have lots of meetings, and help advise on exhibits here at the museum, and at other museums around the country. I also have an adjunct position at a local undergraduate liberal arts college (Macalester College), and each fall I teach a course called “Dinosaurs.” Finally, my job doesn’t end at 5 pm, or on weekends either – I do public speaking all over the country, at universities and colleges, for schools, libraries, and social groups.
The Missouri Breaks, central Montana, where Kristi spends part of each summer in the field. Photo courtesy of Kristi Curry Rogers.
When I’m relaxing away from work, I spend lots of time with my daughter, Lucy, I’m an avid runner, I take ballet and yoga regularly, and I love to read and hang out with friends.
What do you like best about your job? What excites you most about your work?
I like the flexibility that my job offers. On any day, I may be doing something a little bit differently than the day before. I think that the most exciting part about my work (aside from the coolness of discovering and researching new things and ideas) is my responsibility to make sure that what I do reaches the public. While my scientific papers are incredibly important to me, and excite me, I really love the outreach and connection to the public that my job makes possible. There’s nothing more exciting or fun than meeting up with a kid who is as into paleontology as I am (and was when I was a kid!).
What is the most difficult part of your job? What bugs you most about your work?
Like all paleontologists, I think that the most difficult part of the job is fundraising. Writing grants is fun, but getting funding is challenging. Similarly, my job requires a lot of time with donors, which can sometimes be rewarding, but can also be really frustrating.
Kristi in Madagascar, 2005, practicing her Malagasy. The building in this image is a recently built school constructed with funding from the Madagascar Ankizy Fund, a non-profit organization started by paleontologists to assist in the education and health care of kids in rural Madagascar. Photo courtesy of Kristi Curry Rogers.
What has been your most exciting discovery?
I actually have two most exciting discoveries. The first was figuring out how fast the long-necked dinosaurs called sauropods grew to adult size – at least some of them did it in less than 20 years! The second was naming a brand new species of titanosaur (the group of long-necked sauropods that were most common during the Cretaceous Period) from Madagascar. My colleague and I named it Rapetosaurus krausei. “Rapeto” is the name of a legendary giant from Malagasy folklore – it could walk the entire length of the island with a single stride.
Malagasy is the name for the local people of Madagascar, as well as the name of their language. “krausei” is named for my friend, colleague, and former committee member Dave Krause, who is the founder of the Madagascar Ankizy Fund (aimed at improving healthcare and education in rural Madagascar), and began the project in Madagascar. Rapetosaurus is a real giant from Madagascar (it might have been 50 feet long when full grown). Turns out, Rapetosaurus is still the most complete titanosaur ever found, and is still telling us a lot about what this group of dinosaurs looked like, and how they are all related to one another.
If you could find the answer to any one question in science, what would it be?
Right now I’m getting really excited about the relationships between dinosaur growth rates, body size, and how animals regulate their body temperature. I’d love to figure out how all these biological traits are intertwined – especially in the really gigantic dinosaurs! How did dinosaurs grow to such extreme sizes? What and how much did they eat? Were they able to keep their bodies warm like mammals, or were they more like reptiles, dependent on outside temperatures to heat up and cool down their bodies? Did all dinosaurs grow fast?
A close-up of dinosaur bone under the microscope. The organization of dinosaur bone indicates that they grew between two and 56 times faster than living reptiles. Photo courtesy of Kristi Curry Rogers.
What is your favorite fossil and why?
My favorite fossil isn’t a dinosaur at all. It is actually a fossil of an extinct, marine echinoderm called a blastoid. It’s my favorite fossil because the first paleontologist I ever met gave it to me, and it always reminds me of how much I love all aspects of paleontology.
Whom do you admire most in science or the world at large?
It’s hard to choose among the individuals that I’ve encountered – I think that they all had a couple of things in common: (1) following their dreams for whatever they wanted to do; and (2) generosity of spirit and providing support, opportunities, and non-pushy guidance. A few standouts in science for me are Mr. Robert Parkinson, who let me come and visit him at Southeast Missouri State University when I was just 12 years old (he’s the guy who gave me the blastoid), showed me all around in their fossil collection, and even let me pick microfossils out of sand. Jack Horner gave me the opportunity to work at the Museum of the Rockies when I was desperate to follow my own dreams, and at 17, left home for Montana with nothing guaranteed and no money – he gave me a job, and later provided me with my first field experience and my first research project.
Is “evolution” fact?
Evolution, change over time, is occurring right now, under our noses and all around us, and it is evidenced in everything from the fossil record, to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to the genomes of living organisms. I think that evolution is a fact.
How were you taught about evolution?
I wasn’t taught about evolution at all until I was in college. Earlier than that, I relied on my dad, who was an avid reader and was really interested in natural history, and I learned about it by myself, through my own reading. In college I took two courses that opened my eyes to the details of evolutionary biology – one was simply called “Evolution” and one was “Historical Geology.” These two courses really tied things together for me.
How do you use evolution?
Evolution pervades my research. It is the framework within which I can test my hypotheses, and make my hypotheses testable by other workers. For example, I might be interested in the distribution of animals, and how these distributions were achieved. How did dinosaurs get to Madagascar, and why are they so closely related to Indian and/or South American animals, but not to those in Africa? With evolution as a backdrop, I can answer these questions, and can even use the relationships of animals to examine the positions of landmasses in time and space.
What message would you send to “future paleontologists”?
This is a great time to be a budding paleontologist! Paleontology has always been a field that borrows methods and tools from other fields to answer distinctive paleontological questions. Right now, there is such a boom in the innovative methods employed by paleontologists (from oxygen isotopes, to computer modeling of locomotion, to comparative anatomy and soft tissue reconstruction) that there are a million new questions to be answered. Now, get to it!
Where can I go to learn more?
To read more about some of Kristi’s favorite dinosaurs, or about her research, explore these sites:
Ask a Question
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