Dr Rich trained as a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University, New York. As a student of Prof Ruben Arthur Stirton at the former, he became aware of the potential in Australia to make fundamental discoveries on this continent about mammalian evolution.
When an opportunity to gain his present position at Museums Victoria arose, he immigrated to this continent to pursue that area of interest. Twenty-three years after starting a research program with the goal of acquiring Australian Mesozoic mammals, he finally obtained his first specimen. Subsequently, another 48 have been found.
The National Geographic Society recognised Dr Rich’s professional contributions along with those of his wife, Prof Patricia Vickers-Rich, when they were awarded the Committee for Research and Exploration Chairman’s Award for 2000, which reads in part as follows:
"In their investigations of vertebrate paleontology in Australia, Dr Thomas Rich and Dr Patricia Vickers-Rich have accumulated an extraordinary record of life from the Age of Dinosaurs in Australia ranging from dinosaurs to mammals. This has completely revised our understanding of Mesozoic life at high latitudes.
"In recognition of their tireless and virtually superhuman efforts to gather and interpret fossils of great significance, this award is given."