Palaeontologists study the fossils of animals, plants, bacteria, fungi and other single-celled organisms. They often specialise in a particular area of palaeontology such as vertebrate or invertebrate palaeontology, ichnology, palaeobotany and taphonomy. Typical employers include museums, universities, government agencies, consulting organisations, oil and gas companies, and even TV or film productions.
- Plan and conduct geological, geochemical and geophysical field studies
- Locate fossil beds and excavate remains with tools such as chisels, brushes and drills
- Collect fossil data and samples on field trips
- Manage volunteers on field trips
- Examine and test samples in a laboratory
- Identify time period of fossils found
- Use specialist computer software to evaluate discoveries
- Report on findings by publishing research papers, attending conferences or giving presentations
- Record and classify samples and collections
- Develop courses and workshops
Skills and qualities
As you progress in your career, you could move into university teaching and research, become a geological surveyor or find work as a consultant in the oil and gas industry. You could even go on to act as a consultant for TV and film productions and other media.
Joining a professional association such as the Paleontological Society can help you stay up to date on advances within the field of palaeontology, connect with like-minded individuals and gain access to employment and professional training opportunities.
Nights, weekends, holidays occasionally
Depending on your employer, you could work in a classroom, office or laboratory environment and in the field. Fieldwork can be particularly demanding, as you will often need to hike to remote locations in all kinds of weather conditions while carrying heavy equipment.
Local and international travel is common, whether it’s to attend conferences, deliver presentations or participate in excavations. This often means spending long periods of time away from home and family.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Qualifications and training
Bachelor’s degree in palaeontology
A four-year bachelor’s degree in palaeontology, geology or a similar subject is almost always necessary for most entry-level positions.
However, if you’re serious about a career in palaeontology, then a two to three-year master’s degree (such as an MBiol, MGeol or MSci) is essential. If you would like to work as a professor or researcher, meanwhile, a PhD would be the absolute minimum requirement, which typically takes between four and six years to complete.
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022