Palaeontologists study the remains, or fossils, of plants and animals.

What does a palaeontologist do?

Palaeontologists use their knowledge of fossils to get a better idea of how life on Earth has changed over different periods of time. Most palaeontologists specialise in one particular area, such as invertebrates, vertebrates, palaeobotany, or micropalaeontology.

Duties might include collecting data and samples, examining and testing samples in a laboratory, recording and classifying samples, as well as writing articles for scientific publications.

Research palaeontologists may do research into subjects such as the causes of mass extinction. This could include making dinosaur models using computed tomography (CT) scanning and 3D printing.

In a museum this role would involve looking after dinosaur and reptile fossil collections and displays. This could range from small bird fossils to large displays of Tyrannosaurus Rex or Triceratops skeletons.

In the gas and oil industry the role could involve working all over the world, looking for microfossils in rock samples from onshore and offshore drilling sites. These would provide clues about the type and age of the rock and the conditions it was formed under; helping to determine if the site is likely to contain oil or gas. Palaeontologists that work in the gas and oil industry are often known as biostratigraphers.

What do I need to do to become a palaeontologist?

You will need strong scientific skills and the ability to handle data for reports. You will also need to be a good communicator to present and publish your findings.

Related skills

  • Analytics
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Organisation
  • Physical fitness
  • Technical ability

Academic route

  • Five GCSEs (A-C), including maths, English and science
  • Three A levels, including maths and physics

Related subjects

  • Maths
  • Physics

Desirable qualifications

  • BSc Hons degree in palaeontology, geology, botany, zoology or Earth sciences

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

You would probably start your career in research palaeontology, with a number of fixed-term positions working as a postdoctoral researcher or research fellow. These paid positions usually last between one and three years. They are normally within a university or research institution and give you an opportunity to complete more independent research, publish scientific papers and gain more experience.

Palaeontologists often find employment as geological surveyors and consultants in mining and mineral exploration, as well as the oil and gas industry. Many also choose to complete further study or move into university teaching and research.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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