Published: Feb 26, 2015
Meet Christopher Thorton, Lead Program Officer for Research, Conservation and Exploration at the National Geographic Society. Student volunteer Frank Sedlar interviewed Christopher during the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting
What is your background and how you ended up working at National Geographic?
During my undergraduate degree I studied archeological science, so I was doing a combination of geological and material sciences mixed with archaeology. Following this my masters was then focused on archaeology, eventually leading to a PhD in anthropology. My thesis specialized in ceramics and metals, which by nature is very geoscience oriented. After my PhD I left academia and soon found a job
opening in the grants group at National Geographic.
What is your current role at National Geographic?
I am a program officer at National Geographic. In this role I help astronomers, anthropologists, archaeologists, geologists, geographers, and paleontologists receive grants from National Geographic to conduct fieldwork. Once they are awarded a grant I then promote their work through our media, working with everything from magazines, television, books, online, blogs and Twitter. The goal is to find a way to communicate their work, which National Geographic funded, to a much broader, general audience.
Why does National Geographic choose to attend AGU?
AGU is a great venue for us because a very large number of different scientists all with a link to earth and climate science are in attendance. For National Geographic it’s a great way to go to one conference and get the word out about our grants to a huge range of disciplines.
What can you tell us about the National Geographic Young Explorers Grant?
We highly encourage people between the ages of 18 - 26 to apply for a Young Explorers Grant which provides up to $5,000 for fieldwork. The key is that you have either a research, conservation, storytelling or an adventure angle to your proposed project. Read more here -
What are some geoscience related projects that National Geographic Young Explorer Grant have funded?
National Geographic has funded young explorers with a wide range of interests from investigating anthropogenic effects in lake sediments around the US, to work with indigenous farmers in Laos to help combat deforestation, to researching earthquakes in New Zealand.
What’s the most exciting aspect of your current position?
The ability to help scientists and conservationists share their passion through National Geographic. It’s extremely rewarding to first work with these amazingly talented people to help them receive a grant from National Geographic and then give them a bullhorn to help spread their work to the world.
Any advice for young students that are interested in working for National Geographic?
First, grants are the best way into the world of National Geographic. Receiving a grant opens up a lot of doors as far as meetings with our media, our executives, getting to know what we do on the inside and getting to know who we are as a society.
If you want to be a science writer or photographer, start a blog. Not five blogs, but one blog and make it your own. Make it your voice. And then find your niche. Writing a blog is also a good way to hone your craft. None of the writers who write for National Geographic got to where they are on passion alone, but because they all honed their craft.
As someone who travels the world for their science, what’s the wildest place that you’ve found yourself in?
Most recently Bhutan. As part of a National Geographic delegation I met with the king and queen of Bhutan and saw firsthand the research and conservation efforts underway in the country. We met with the only archeologist in Bhutan, the only geologist, the only conservationists, and traveled on the only paved road. In many ways it’s like a land that time forgot, in a beautiful, fascinating, and crazy way.