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How to Become a Paleontologist

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Paleontologists find, study and connect fossils to the planet's history. Most work for colleges and universities, museums, government agencies or oil companies. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, most paleontologists have graduate training and jobs typically require at least a Ph.D.

Go to College

Although paleontologists with only a master's degree might be eligible for certain positions with museums or oil companies, a Ph.D. is typically necessary for most jobs. During your undergraduate years, study all facets of science, including geology, chemistry, physics and calculus. Aspiring paleontologists can major in geosciences, but the Dallas Paleontological Society suggests studying geology, biology or earth science.

Get Undergrad Experience

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't provide data specific to paleontologists, but instead groups them in with the broader job category of geoscientists. The BLS reports that employers in this field tend to prefer applicants who acquired experience in laboratories and in the field while they pursued a degree. To that end, it's a good idea to apply to summer camps and other programs that give you experience in the field. For example, the Utah Geological Survey provides a Paleontology Volunteer Certification Program that lets volunteers assist paleontologists on site. In these types of programs, volunteers learn the visual distinctions between fossils and how to help out on excavation sites and in the lab.

Complete Grad School

Paleontologists typically need a Ph.D. to be eligible for research jobs, including positions as college professors. The University of California Museum of Paleontology urges aspiring paleontologists to study ecology, evolution and systematics during their postgraduate studies, as knowledge of those topics are increasingly useful in the field. In addition, take courses or apply for internships that allow you to use computer programs for projects, such as computer modeling and digital mapping.

Find a Job

Although budget cuts to federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey might reduce the number of government positions for paleontologists, the BLS still expects employment of geoscientists to increase 16 percent from 2012 to 2022. That's above the 11 percent projected growth rate for all occupations. You can increase your chances of getting into the field by applying for the Recent Graduates Program through the Bureau of Land Management within two years of your graduation. Selected applicants receive one year of training with the bureau, which can enhance your resume when you are finally ready to seek a full-time position as a paleontologist.

Geoscientists salary

  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $201,150 ($96.71/hour)
  • Median Annual Salary: $93,580 ($44.99/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $51,890 ($24.95/hour)

Based in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, Megan Torrance left her position as the general manager for five Subway restaurants to focus on her passion for writing. Torrance specializes in creating content for career-oriented, motivated individuals and small business owners. Her work has been published on such sites as Chron, GlobalPost and eHow.

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