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Paleontologist Job Description, Career as a Paleontologist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Master’s degree or doctoral degree in paleontology preferred; for entry levels, bachelor’s degree in geology or earth sciences is mandatory

Salary Median: $67,470 per year

Employment Outlook: Excellent

Paleontologists unearth and study fossils of extinct species of plants and animals. They conduct research on prehistoric life forms and the evolution of plant and animal life. Some paleontologists work on-site, unearthing fossils. They have to study and preserve those fossils for transportation to museums and research institutes. The process is very delicate, since fossils that are thousands, or even millions, of years old are quite fragile. Other paleontologists serve as faculty members in universities or study the evolution of plants and animals in private research facilities. Experienced paleontologists with leadership capabilities often work as project managers or senior researchers on various government-funded or privately financed research projects.

Education and Training Requirements

Paleontologists need to have a master’s or doctorate in paleontology. Bachelor’s degrees in geology or earth sciences may allow them to get an entry-level job, but advancement in this scientific field will be impossible without postgraduate qualifications.

Paleontologists who are involved in fieldwork need hands-on training regarding the proper usage of research equipment. They usually receive this training at their university. Additional training on the usage of sophisticated field equipment may be provided at research institutes or by employers while a paleontologist is on the job.

Getting the Job

Paleontologists with master’s degrees often are hired right after passing the final examination. Universities or research institutes almost always offer employment assistance, or absorb the candidate directly as a faculty member. Government-funded or privately financed research firms are also on the lookout for paleontologists who have some amount of real-world experience in paleontology. Such employment news is available both through Internet job sites and newspaper advertisements. Additionally, professional associations of paleontologists offer information regarding suitable job opportunities in this science.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Paleontologists need a good amount of experience in order to advance in their field of work. In the initial stage of employment, they are often assigned basic fieldwork. They may also be employed as research assistants or technicians in laboratories. As paleontologists gain experience, these scientists can be promoted to the position of senior researcher or project leader.

University graduates with doctorates in paleontology will have excellent employment opportunities. The number of available job openings will exceed the number of applicants by a good margin from now until 2016. However, those who wish to work in research facilities can expect stiff competition, as the number of positions available there is usually fewer than the number of eligible and interested candidates.

Working Conditions

Paleontologists who engage in fieldwork may have to endure extreme weather conditions. They may be required to travel frequently to remote locations and carry lots of research equipment in backpacks, which is likely to make the task physically strenuous. Paleontologists who are employed as faculty members at universities or research institutes have regular 40-hour weeks in a comfortable environment.

Where to Go for More Information

International Paleontological Association
Paleontological Institute
1475 Jayhawk Blvd.
Room #121, Lindley Hall
University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS 66045
Phone: 785-864-3338
http://ipa.geo.ku.edu/index3.html

The Paleontological Society
Department of Earth and Environment, Franklin and Marshall College
Lancaster, PA 17604-3003
http://www.paleosoc.org/

Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences
96 East 700 South
Logan, UT 84321-5555
Phone: 435-752-7145
http://www.aaps.net/

Northwest Paleontological Association
15428 62nd Ave. NE
Kenmore, WA 98028
http://www.nwpaleo.org/

The Paleontological Research Institution
1259 Trumansburg Rd.
Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: 607-273-6623
http://www.museumoftheearth.org

Salary, Earnings and Benefits

The average annual salary for paleontologists in the United States is $67,470. Entry-level salaries for these scientists are around $36,580 per year, while experienced paleontologists can earn as much as $133,310 annually.

Paleontologists employed in government-funded institutions, universities, and private research firms can expect good perks, including paid leaves, medical and life insurance, and other allowances.

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