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Palaeontologist

Palaeontologists study the fossils of plants and animals.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £20,000 to £60,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 40 per week

1. Entry requirements

You’ll usually need: 

  • a degree in botany, Earth sciences, geology, palaeontology or zoology
  • 3 A levels, including maths and physics
  • 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) including maths, English and science

You could also do an integrated master’s qualification, like an MGeol, MBiol or MSci.

Some employers, like museums or oil and gas companies, may ask for a degree or master’s qualification.

Other employers, like universities or research institutions, will expect you to have completed, or be working towards, a PhD in your specialist area of interest.

Being able to speak a second language may also be helpful.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • observation skills
  • the ability to work with statistical and graphical information
  • scientific and technical skills
  • a methodical and logical approach to work
  • the ability to produce scientific reports for publication
  • attention to detail
  • the ability to build good working relationships with colleagues from around the world

3. What you'll do

You could work in a university, a museum, in the oil and gas industry or for a scientific magazine or TV production company.

You’ll usually specialise in a particular area of palaeontology, like:

  • invertebrate palaeontology – animals without backbones like insects
  • vertebrate palaeontology – animals with backbones such as dinosaurs, birds and fish
  • palaeobotany – plant, flower and seed fossils
  • micropalaeontology – microfossils like plankton or pollen

Your day-to-day duties could include:

  • collecting data and samples on field trips
  • managing volunteers on field trips
  • examining and testing samples in the lab
  • doing research and publishing your findings
  • planning and delivering lectures
    developing courses and workshops
  • recording and classifying samples and collections
  • giving talks and managing displays and exhibitions
  • writing articles for scientific websites and magazines
  • providing expert advice for broadcasters on programmes

As a research palaeontologist, you’ll research into subjects like the causes of mass extinction. 

In a museum, you’ll look after dinosaur and reptile fossil collections and displays.

4. Salary

Starter: £20,000 to £25,000

Experienced: £25,000 to £42,000

Highly Experienced: up to £60,000

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

Working hours, patterns and environment

You’ll usually work 9am to 5pm in an office or laboratory. You may need to work longer hours if you’re on a project with a deadline. 

If you work on an oil rig, you could spend several weeks on an offshore platform.

In fieldwork and on research trips you could work in remote parts of the world, on land or at sea. 

The work is physically demanding.

6. Career path and progression

You could work as a geological surveyor, a consultant in mining and mineral exploration, or the oil and gas industry. 

You could move into university teaching and research.

The skills you gain are also valued in the scientific media, TV and the financial sector.

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Last updated: 18 August 2017