A person who makes a living studying dinosaurs is called a paleontologist. But there is much more to being a paleontologist than just studying dinosaurs. People who work in the field of paleontology also study the fossils of plants, animals, and other organisms that died long ago or before the start of the Holocene Epoch. By studying these fossils and clues from ancient plants and animals, paleontologists can learn about the Earth's history, how various organisms from the past relate to those of the present, how evolution works, and how the organisms reacted to their environments.
A Day in the Life of a Paleontologist
One thing is certain: working as a paleontologist doesn't mean sitting around an office all day. Many of them travel the world, visiting fossil sites, collecting records, taking water and soil samples, and preserving specimens to take back to the lab. Once they return to their home base, they must clean and study the fossils they've discovered as well as write notes and articles about their findings. Some may present their findings to their colleagues at meetings and large conferences, and some may teach college courses on paleontology and related subjects. Curating and maintaining fossil collections may also be part of the job.
Who Hires Paleontologists?
A majority of paleontologists work in colleges and universities, where they conduct research and teach classes while others work in museums. Sometimes, the government or a private company will hire a paleontologist to help map out a job site or identify fossils found on a worksite.
The Essential Traits of a Paleontologist?
Curiosity and an investigative nature a paleontologist must possess. You must have a desire to understand how the world works and how it relates to science and history. Paleontologists must also be logical, analytical, and methodical. Communication skills are also important for reporting your findings with an audience, whether it's your colleagues or the entire world.
What Subjects Should You Study to Become a Paleontologist?
Young people who want to become paleontology should start studying as much science and history as they can in middle school and high school. More specifically, geology, Earth science, physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, anthropology, archaeology, chemistry, computer science, and mathematics are all subjects that can help you gain a better understanding of your future career path.
Advanced Educational Requirements to Become a Paleontologist
Paleontologists typically attend college and earn advanced degrees. Your science or geology department can help you set up a path toward your career during your undergraduate studies. You'll then need to go on and earn a master's degree or Ph.D. in paleontology or a related field like geology.
Gaining Paleontology Experience Beyond School
The bulk of your experience required for becoming a paleontologist will come from your college education, but there are ways to expand your experience. Look for volunteer opportunities and internships in local natural history museums. Look into joining a fossil club in your area and seek out guidance from people who currently work in the field. If possible, visit sites where fossils are discovered and observe and learn as much as you can.
Subdisciplines of Paleontology
Most paleontologists end up specializing in one of its subdisciplines. Knowing which one interests you the most can help you better choose your educational path. Micropaleontology is the study of the smallest fossils discovered, while those who study paleobotany study the fossils of plants, algae, and fungi. Palynology is the study of pollen and spores, and invertebrate paleontology is the study of invertebrate fossils. Those who prefer to study fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals may study vertebrate paleontology while paleoanthropology is the study of prehistoric humans. Taphonomy looks at the preservation of fossils, ichnology is the study of footprints and tracks and paleoecology is a look into the climate and ecosystems of the past.