Neal Woodman was born on July 8, 1958, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and grew up along the Delaware River in rural, northern Bucks County. He spent his undergraduate years at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, where he lettered in soccer and earned a bachelor of arts degree in geology in 1980. Much of his time at Earlham was spent topping off bottles of fluid-preserved mammals and reorganizing the collections of fossils, minerals, and rocks in the Joseph Moore Museum, a small, on-campus museum that was founded in the late 1800s. Many free hours were also spent collecting Ordovician fossils from local road cuts and natural outcroppings and participating in various other field excursions. In the winter of 1976 to 1977, Neal helped with a study of bat populations in southern Indiana, and in the summer of 1978, he participated in the excavation of the Overmyer Mastodon in northern Indiana. Upon graduating, he pursued graduate work in the Department of Geology at the University of Iowa, where he completed a thesis under Holmes Semken on the paleoecology of a late Pleistocene site he excavated in northeastern Iowa. This work documented the presence of a subarctic fauna of mammals, including collared lemming, singing vole, and arctic ground squirrel, in the region during the late glacial.
Graduating from the University of Iowa in 1982, he eventually made his way to the Illinois State Museum, where he pursued back-to-back internships. His first project was the identification of animal remains (primarily fish) from a Mississippian-age archeological site and from Modoc Rock Shelter in Illinois under the direction of Bonnie Styles. He subsequently worked with Russell W. Graham, identifying paleontological remains from the False Cougar Cave site, Montana.
In 1984, Neal entered graduate school at the University of Kansas to pursue a PhD in vertebrate paleontology under the supervision of Larry Martin. For support, however, he worked as a curatorial assistant in the Division of Mammals under Robert Hoffmann, then Curator of Mammals in the Kansas University Museum of Natural History. Intending to do a dissertation on a Sangamon-aged vertebrate fauna from Illinois, Neal was ABD (all but dissertation) when he took an official leave-of-absence from the University to spend a year in Costa Rica on a United States AID-funded faunal and floral survey of the northern border region. During his absence, Bob Hoffmann moved on to the Smithsonian, and he was replaced at the University by Robert M. Timm. Arriving back at Kansas University, Neal switched dissertations and dissertation advisors. He completed his dissertation on Costa Rican Soricidae under Bob Timm in 1992. In the meantime, he also participated in three Kansas University-sponsored expeditions to the lowland tropics of Peru. From 1993 to 1995, he honed his teaching skills at Longview Community College, Missouri, and Johnson County Community College, Kansas, while completing three manuscripts resulting from the field work in Peru as well as publishing material from his dissertation.
From 1995 to 1997, Neal was an assistant professor at Southwestern College, in the southern Flint Hills of Kansas. During this time, he spent parts of his summers working as a field resource person in support of Organization for Tropical Studies field courses in Costa Rica. He also met his wife, Sandy Feinstein, a PhD in Medieval Literature, at Southwestern, and eventually induced her to move back east and take a job as the honors coordinator at Penn State University, Reading, Pennsylvania. From 1997 to 2000, Neal was an assistant professor at East Stroudsburg University in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. During this time, he led summer field courses back to Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
In January 2001, Neal was hired by the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center as a research zoologist and curator of mammals with the Biological Survey Unit in the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C. His research continues to include the taxonomy, systematics, and anatomy of shrews, but he also has published on bats and mastodons, and he has carried out field work in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Peru, and Syria, in addition to parts of the United States, including Alaska. He continues to have interests in Pleistocene mammals and tropical faunas, and he also has studied the history of the collections made by Thomas Say and Titian Ramsey Peale while participating in Major Long’s Expedition to the Rocky Mountains (1819–1820).
Neal lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife Sandy, and they enjoy hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail and biking together. They also enjoy traveling to new countries. Neal was nominated to join the Washington Biologist’s Field Club by Walter Bulmer, and he was elected to membership in 2009.