How Much Does a Paleontologist Make? Average Salary, Skills Needed and FAQs

By Indeed Editorial Team

February 22, 2021

Paleontologists are professionals who work to better understand the past by studying fossils and other clues that give insight into the history of the earth and life on it. These individuals are highly trained scientists who may work within several areas of study within the field of paleontology. Paleontologists can make an average of $90,000 per year and must undergo extensive training in addition to completing a doctorate level of education. In this article, we explore the salaries of paleontologists, what these professionals do and the common skills needed to pursue a career as a paleontologist.

How much does a paleontologist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for geoscientists, which includes paleontologists, is $91,130 per year. A paleontologist's salary can vary based on several factors, including where they live and the environment in which they work.

The industry in which a paleontologist works also affects their salary. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, paleontologists working in the coal and petroleum manufacturing industry make the highest salary, whereas paleontologists who teach at universities typically make the lowest average salary.

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What is a paleontologist?

A paleontologist is a scientist who studies the history of the earth and how evolution has affected life through the examination of fossils and other historical data. These professionals may find and preserve animal and plant traces, fossilize bones and other data and use these findings to make conclusions about the evolution of life and the history of our planet. They often spend their time at worksites where they perform fieldwork projects to uncover fossils or collect samples that they study in a laboratory.

Common duties that a paleontologist may perform include:

  • Discover the location of fossils

  • Perform excavations to uncover fossils

  • Gather information about fossils found during excavations and digs

  • Use specialized computer programs to analyze discoveries made

  • Compare new data to existing information

  • Perform various tasks within a laboratory setting related to analyzing fossils and other related findings

  • Determine in which time period fossils originated

  • Communicate findings to colleagues and other individuals within the scientific field

There are several fields within paleontology that an individual can choose to work in. The most common areas of study within paleontology include:

  • Taphonomy: The study for how fossils form and are preserved

  • Micropaleontology: The study of the fossils from single-celled organisms

  • Biostratigraphy: The study of how fossils vertically distribute in rocks

  • Vertebrate paleontology: The study of fossils from animals that have backbones

  • Invertebrate paleontology: The study of fossils from animals that have no backbone

  • Paleobotany: The study of fossils from plants

  • Paleoecology: The study of ancient ecosystems and how they came to be

A paleontologist may work in various environments. The most common places of work for these professionals include colleges, universities, gas and mining companies, museums and historical exhibits. They may also travel throughout the country and even around the world to uncover fossils and preserve and study them.

Common skills for a paleontologist

The following are common skills that most successful paleontologists have:

Communication

Paleontologists must have both written and oral communication skills to excel in their careers. These professionals frequently must write down their research findings as well as communicate these findings with others in their field. They may also have to present findings at conferences or other professional gatherings.

Critical thinking

Paleontologists often uncover ancient remains and fossils that they must study and decipher. Using their findings, paleontologists must then conclude and present them to other professionals within the field. Being able to think critically about findings as well as what they may represent is an important component of this job.

Interpersonal

Paleontologists often work as a team or with other professionals in the field. Having good interpersonal skills and being able to work well with others is often an important skill to have as a paleontologist.

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Job outlook for paleontologists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of geoscientists including paleontologists is projected to grow an estimated 6% between now and 2028. This is on par with the growth rate of other occupations in the United States. The growth of paleontologist jobs may be due in part to the increased need for environmental protection and energy management in the United States.

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Frequently asked questions about being a paleontologist

The following are common questions related to pursuing a career as a paleontologist:

1. What is the work environment like for paleontologists?

Most paleontologists spend time both indoors in an office or laboratory as well as outdoors performing fieldwork and investigations. Paleontologists may also frequently travel to remote locations to search for fossils.

2. What education is required to become a paleontologist?

Most paleontologists hold a minimum of a master's degree. Some universities may offer master's degrees in paleontology; however, a degree in geology may be sufficient for this career choice. Many paleontologists also pursue a doctorate in paleontology, especially if they plan to teach at a university or work in a leadership position.

3. What are other careers related to paleontology?

There are several careers in which an individual can study and employ knowledge of paleontology. These careers include professors, museum employees, science journalists, television researchers and stratigraphers.

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