Milestone for young dinosaur hunter

Barely two years after joining Wits University, Massachusetts native and dinosaur expert, Dr Jonah Choiniere, has become only the second palaeontologist to be awarded a P-rating by the National Research Foundation (NRF).

He will be officially receiving his P-rating tonight (11 September 2014) at the 2014 NRF Awards Ceremony to be held in Johannesburg. The P-rating is the most sought-after rating for young researchers as it is only awarded to researchers under the age of 35 who, on the basis of exceptional potential demonstrated in their published doctoral work and/or their research outputs in their early post-doctoral careers, are considered likely to become future international leaders in their field.

Choiniere joined the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI), South Africa’s foremost palaeontological research entity, in 2012 and has contributed significantly to the palaeo-research output of the country.

“Many people who start out with a P-rating in their young careers go on to be very research productive throughout their careers, and I’m honoured that the NRF and Wits University’s Research Office are investing in me now. I hope they will be reaping the dividends of their investment in the near future.” Choiniere said.

His P-rating term commenced in January this year and will continue until 31 December 2019. The rating gives Choiniere access to an annual research budget that he plans to use for fossil collecting. Field trips are the backbone of palaeo-research, and one of the reasons Choiniere decided to make South Africa his home. “Palaeontology is a combination of the two great field-based disciplines in science: geology and biology, and South Africa offers so many opportunities for both,” said Choiniere, “Exploratory field research is the first and crucial step in a high output palaeo-research career.”

He said joining the ESI at Wits has been a great step in cementing his career as it has grouped him with like-minded people who do similar things. “It is place where young researchers can be supervised and taught by experienced scientists. At the ESI we also benefit from communally investing in resources, such as field work equipment, that assist palaeontologists with many different research interests.

“Wits University in South Africa is one of the only places in the world where you can book out a 4×4 vehicle with all the field equipment, and three hours later you will be collecting dinosaur bones in the veld,” Choiniere said.

The NRF awards, an annual celebration, honour the country’s foremost researchers who have been recognised by their peers as international leaders in their field due to the impact, quality and the exemplary nature of their research outputs. The rating categories – A, B, C and P – are based on the NRF rating and evaluation system which is centred on peer review and enjoys international prestige in the global research community.


Choiniere grew up on a 1000 hectare wildlife sanctuary in central Massachusetts (USA), where he learned the rudiments of sheep farming, wildlife habitat management, and public science programming.

He completed an undergraduate degree with honours in Anthropology and another undergraduate degree with honours in Geology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

He completed his PhD at the George Washington University, studying meat-eating dinosaurs from China. During the course of his PhD he participated in six summers of field work in China. After a postdoctoral research fellowship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he worked in the Gobi desert of Mongolia searching for dinosaurs, he joined the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits in September 2012, where he is the Senior Researcher in Dinosaur Palaeontology.

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