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International Master in Geosciences: Palaeobiology

Student Ally Award 2020 Recipient Niklas Hohmann


Niklas_Hohmann_Hugging_a_stoneNiklas Hohmann received the Student Ally Award 2020 for the class of 2018-2020 for his support and engagement for our student community. You can find him on Twitter as @HohmannNiklas and read his publications on Google Scholar or Research Gate

What is the topic of your research and makes you excited about it?

I look at how organisms turn into fossils and how much ecological information is lost in the process. It is pretty basic research, and I really like that it is a hard and complex problem that has large implications for the interpretation of past ecosystems. My big hope is that at some point it my research will contribute to conservation efforts that are informed by paleobiological research.

How did you decide to become a palaeobiologist? What sparked your interest?

I started with geology as it is a very interdisciplinary science that allows to combine the most interesting bits of the classic natural sciences (Chemistry, Physics, Biology). Having an undergraduate degree in math, I got stuck with paleobiology as it is very heavy on statistics and has a lot of interesting questions that can be approached with math.

What would you like to do next?

I plan to do a PhD after I finish my Masters.

What in your perception are the main struggles faced by students in Palaeobiology? Are there any difficulties that are specific to this field?

Many students struggle with the amount of programming in the study program and the statistical knowledge required. This might be partly due to the discrepancy between the public image of paleontologists as Indiana Jones like fossil hunters and the everyday work which is dominated by programming and dealing with databases.

How do you see the situation of international students in the programme? E.g. is it easy to find a support group and learn how to function in the German system?

The German administrative system can be very confusing and is perceived as arbitrary many international students. This is especially difficult in the first semester, where everything is still new and a lot of paperwork adds up. Also not all administrative staff speak English.
Another common difficulty is that most German students already know each other from their bachelor degree and thus form relatively closed groups, which makes it difficult to for international students to mingle with them.

What can academic staff do to support good relationships among students and between students and the staff? Do you have ideas how to inspire teamwork and collaboration?

The communication of the teaching staff amongst each other and with the student serves as a role model for the interactions between students. Accordingly it can foster an environment of mutual respect or destroy it.

What would you do if you could teach a Palaeobiology course for a day?

Either one day of basic mathematical statistics (kill the p-value!) or visit some amazing outcrop. Both would definitely involve a lot of ice-cream.