Rodney Feldmann, Ph.D.

My life goals have been to enjoy my work, to excite others with the wonders of paleontology, and to work with students to assure that they are prepared for a great career.

Questions & Answers

Why did you decide to pursue your field of research?

I was drawn to geology in general because it provided the opportunity to combine field and laboratory research in deep time. Paleontology is an amazing field that makes it possible to discover creatures new to science. The full understanding and excitement of discovery expressed by my predecessors convinced me that paleontology provided a valuable insight into the evolution of life. Since entering college, my primary objectives have been to follow a scientific field of discovery and one that would excite me throughout my career.

What would you tell a student at the beginning of their academic career?

Make a list of things you like to do, things you do not particularly like to do, and activities you most enjoy. These lists help one to examine different disciplines and narrow the fields of study to those that embrace your likes and favorite activities. The main thing is to attempt to find a field of study that remains more like a hobby than work.   

Tell us a little about your research:

My research has centered around the systematics, evolution, and ecology of decapod crustaceans (shrimp, lobsters, and crabs), a group that has been studied since the beginning of the 19th century but, because fossil decapods are relatively rare, the number of specialists has been relatively few. My research has led me to field work on every continent except Africa and studies of fossil arthropods, including decapods, throughout the world. These studies have formed a platform for research by a remarkable group of graduate students, most of whom have either gone on to a PhD program elsewhere or entered the paleontological profession. They constitute my most important contribution to the profession.

What are you hoping to accomplish?

I hope to provide a rational basis for classification and phylogeny of decapods integrating paleontological and neontological studies as a framework for the next generation of decapod workers.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Do not believe what others tell you on the face of it; examine the observations and make an independent judgment. 

Who is someone you admire, and why?

My major professor, Dr. F. D. Holland, Jr. devoted a long career of teaching paleontology and stratigraphy at the University of North Dakota. He devoted a full day, every day, to his students. His knowledge of paleontology was encyclopedic, and he translated it into an amazing educational experience.   

A close second is Dr. Ellis L. Yochelson, deceased, a career paleontologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at the Smithsonian Institution. Ellis went out of his way to shepherd me into the research possibilities of the Smithsonian, introduce me to an extraordinary group of paleontologists at the Museum, and subsequently did the same for my students. His effort to keep paleontology strong by mentoring new students was a real labor of love.

Do you have any skills or talents most people don’t know about?

I own and take care of a 1930 Model A pickup truck and a 1937 Packard 6. I work to maintain both in great drivable condition and occasionally win a trophy at car shows.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I enjoy reading mysteries and cooking.

What does it mean to you to be included in the top 2% in your field?

I did not set out to be "top of the field." My life goals have been to enjoy my work, to excite others with the wonders of paleontology, and to work with students to assure that they are prepared for a great career. 

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