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Paleontologist


How to Become a Paleontologist
Paleontologist Job Description
Skills and Qualities of Paleontologists
Paleontologist Salary
Influential Professional Paleontologists
Leading Paleontologist Organizations
Top Cities for Paleontology Jobs
Other Careers of Interest

How to become a Paleontologist

Paleontologists study and research forms of life from prehistoric or geologic times; they perform these studies through the examination of fossils of plants, animals and other organisms.

Most entry-level positions in paleontology require a master's degree in geology or earth science. There are a few positions that will accept a bachelor's degree in these fields of study for such entry level positions. If one is seeking a high-level research or wishes to teach paleontology at a University, a PhD is a necessity.

The aspiring Paleontologist will need to master areas such as classical geologic methods and topics which are mineralogy, petrology, paleontology, and structural geology. Those that are educated in other areas such as physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering, or computer science may also qualify for positions in Geosciences providing that their studies included course work pertaining to geology.

What does a Paleontologist do?

Paleontologist are scientist whose main purpose is to study fossils of living organisms and animals for the purpose of learning what the earth was like years and years ago. They are responsible for finding the fossils and identifying pertinent facts about the fossils using scientific techniques. Generally the fossils are located by excavating layers of sedimentary rock. Once they are found, some of the information the paleontologist will want to discover includes the age of the fossil and whether the fossil was formed on land or under water. The information that they gather is used to discover about the history of the earth.

There are several tools that paleontologist use to perform their work, such as picks, drills, chisels, drills, shovels and brushes. Another important instrument that is used is a magnifying glass which enables them to get a good close look at the fossils they are examining. Lastly, they utilize computers to evaluate their discoveries and compare what they have found to scientific data that already exists.

While most of the work that paleontologist do is performed outdoors at excavation sites, they also spend a lot of time in their laboratories analyzing, studying and comparing their results with the findings of their colleagues. Another task that is completed in their labs is researching and identifying different time periods that their fossils might have been from.

What skills or qualities do I need to become a Paleontologist?

If you are considering becoming a paleontologist there are several skills and qualities that you must possess. First it is paramount that you have vast knowledge of computer modeling, data analysis and integration, digital mapping, remote sending, and Geographic Information Systems, (which is a locator system that utilizes satellites). Many potential employers also require field experience so it will be beneficial for you to participate in an internship program.

Other notable skills that one must possess are oral and written communication skills and good interpersonal skills. This is due to the fact that you will be most often be required to work with a team of professionals such as other scientist, engineers, and technicians.3 You will also be responsible for preparing scientific reports and proposals that will explain your research and findings.

Considering that many positions require travel it may be beneficial if you are fluent in a second language. It is a must that you are able to think logically and critically, be inquisitive and extremely analytical. Aside from these mental capabilities, you will also have to have endurance if you are going to participate in fieldwork as the excavation processes are physically demanding.

How much does a Paleontologist make?

According to the US Department of Labor the median annual earnings of paleontologist is $72,660 and the middle 50 percent earn between $51,860 and $100,650. The bottom ten percent earned less than $39,740 and the highest 10 percent more than $135,950. Naturally as one advances through experience and knowledge they will be assigned more difficult projects and can even be promoted to project, program manager, or to a senior research position which will yield them a higher salary.


Who are some influential professionals in this field?

Perhaps the most influential individual in the field of Paleontology would be Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873), who is noted as the founder of study of Paleolithic Ages. He formulated the theory of the Ice Ages and encouraged and mentored many scientists to challenge the theories of Darwin through investigative science that we know as Paleontology.

Neil H. Landman, a modern day Paleontologist is holds a PhD from Yale University. His main focuses have been on the study of ammonoids and nauiloids and how this information can be used to reconstruct the development of this group. His interest include evolution and life history among other things. He has many significant publications and is an accomplished professor at City and Brooklyn College and holds a position as a Curatorial Affiliate at the Yale/Peabody Museum of Natural History. Other accomplished Paleontologists to mention are Niles Eldredge, PhD, John J Flynn, PhD and Jin Meng, PhD. You can find more information on accomplished and influential Paleontologists at: http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/fossilhalls/personalities/

What are some leading organizations in this field?

The lion's share of paleontologists in the US are employed as college and university professors in the geology departments. Generally they teach and consult on projects and exhibits. The lowest percent of paleontologist work for the government in the area of surveying, mapping and other problem solving areas. In the past paleontologist where employed for major oil companies but this trend is not as prevalent as it once was.

Uinta Paleontological Associates, Inc is a leader in the field and was established in 1992 as a parent organization for research and consulting performed by Sue Ann Bilbey, PhD the company's president. This company focuses on completing projects in as little time as possible and has been affiliated with industry, academia, museums, and the consulting community. They are known for working with professionals that produce quality reports and do their work as efficiently as possible.

Triebold Paleontology, Inc is another leader in the industry. They are broad based and focused on the preservation of fossils. They employ a full time staff to engage in the exploration and collection of dinosaurs, marine, reptiles and giant fish for the purpose of restoration and casting. The company has been offering services for over two decades and is currently headed up by Tracie Bennitt. They work with top scientist around the globe and they work with museums, exhibitors and universities around the globe. They are currently designing a new exhibit called "Bringing Dinosaurs to Life...How Art and Science Shape Our Image of the Past," that they are taking bookings at this time for 2010 and beyond.

What are the top cities for Paleontology jobs?

According to the US Department of Labor the top three paying areas for Paleontologist are Midland, TX with a median salary of $128,040, Lafayette, LA with a median salary of $124,200 and Huston-Sugarland-Baytown, TX with a median salary of $117,000.

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