How to Prepare and What Preparations to Make for a Future Career in Paleontology?
First off, take away the notion that the job is all about looking for dinosaur remains, lest you get derailed by wrong expectations. If you are still in your high school year, it would be best if you apply full concentration on your science and math subjects. You may be able to find jobs related to paleontological expeditions and field work, as long as you have the patience, the curiosity, the imagination and most of all, the analytical mind in studying fossils and in learning how to determine the time period they belong to.
However, if you’re aiming to land some high-paying jobs as a paleontologist, it would be to your advantage to prepare as early as high school. You have to manifest your aptitude and knowledge in science and math subjects through your overall high school grades. Universities and colleges usually require GPA’s between 3.00 to 3.50, or better in all science subjects.
Nonetheless, there are about 2,953 universities and colleges offering course work that leads to a paleontology career but only a few universities offer the programs that will earn you a diploma in paleontology as a degree. It would be best therefore, if you will be discerning with your choice of an educational institution. The top three universities named in the 2010 US News and World Reports as the highest rating educational institution when it comes to paleontology programs are Yale University – Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Chicago - Dept. of Geophysical Sciences and University of California – Berkeley, Dept. of Earth and Planetary Science.
Seek out recommendations on where you can get the best science education, particularly biology and geology curricula. As a future professional paleontologist, you will choose a major area of concentration either in geology or biology. However, successful professionals in the field, recommend a double major if possible. If not, decide on one, let’s say geology, and then take up additional courses to enhance your knowledge regarding biology, or vice versa.
Math and computer skills will likewise prove to be essential, inasmuch as statistical analysis is an absolute requirement in paleontology work. There will also be reading requirements that involve foreign languages like Russian, German or French and others that are known in the academic world as modern languages. These courses are usually offered in graduate schools, but based on the experiences of those who were able to advance well ahead, taking them up during undergraduate years will give you more opportunity to hone your skills at an earlier stage.
Make the most out of your field work experiences by venturing into research work as early as you can. Look for volunteer opportunities in local museums, in your state or local geological offices or checkout paleontological organizations and institutions like the Paleontological Research Institute (PRI) and Paleoportal.org. These aforementioned offices as well as the United States Geological Survey (USGS) can furnish you with resources on where to find fossil sites nearest your location.
In addition, research the net, the bookstore of a natural history museum or you local library about published guidebooks about fossil sites and the types of fossils existing in said areas. These materials will come in handy in case you intend to make independent research projects.
Please proceed to the next page for information about the career outlook in paleontology and where to look for related work opportunities.