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Paleontologist by Lydia Cates
Transcript of Paleontologist by Lydia Cates
Paleontologists can specialize in the fossils of vertebrates (animals with backbones) or invertebrates (animals without backbones), in paleobotany (the study of plant fossils), or in taphonomy (the study of how fossils form).
What is a Paleontologist?
Paleontologists study plant and animal fossils, piecing together the history of the natural world.
A Day As a Paleontologist
9:00 am – 10:00 am
Checking email to see if anything needs to be done right away. Setting up volunteers and answering their preliminary questions. Some volunteers might be putting labels on samples of bones. Others might be updating records of samples in the database. Still others might be taking the meat off a frozen animal to make a skeleton.
10:00 am – 11:00 am
Answering public inquiries. One person thinks he found a fossil on the beach. I ask him to send the object, or a photo of it, so I can make an assessment. Another person found a tooth near her house. I tell her it’s from a horse.
11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Editing specimen records about to be uploaded to a computer database. Printing out labels for specimens that need new labels.
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Checking on volunteers and answering more questions. Sending letters to museums that I will visit next month as part of my research.
2:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Organizing group tour for new dinosaur show. I will be showing tour guide companies some of the highlights of the new exhibit so that they can inform their clients who are considering a visit to the museum.
2:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Responding to public inquiry from someone who thinks he has found a mastodon tusk.
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Getting a price quote on a new shelving unit for the collection room. Trying to solve a cataloging problem discovered by a volunteer.
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Trying to solve several different inventory problems discovered by the volunteers. For example, two specimens have the same number on them. I have to figure out whether one of the specimens has been mislabeled, or if both pieces are part of the same specimen. I don’t want to leave until I’ve figured it out and while the problem is fresh in my mind.
6:00 pm – 6:30 pm
Doing some email correspondence before going home
Most paleontologists spend far more time in a lab or a museum than they ever do at dig sites, but locating fossil beds and excavating remains is still an important part of the job. Technological advancements in radar scanning have made finding fossils easier, but excavations still require painstaking and laborious work to keep fossils protected from damage during excavation and in transit to a laboratory.
At the bachelor’s level, aspiring paleontologists usually major in geology, biology, or a related area. It’s important to get a good grounding in both of these fields, as well as in ecology, evolution, zoology, and chemistry.
Identification of fossils is done by determining the age of fossils through radiometric dating, then gathering data about the organism's past environment, diet and skeletal structure based on available remains. Once identified, it is usually a paleontologist that assembles the fossil for display.
A master’s degree will qualify you for some private sector, government, and museum jobs. With a PhD, however, you will have a higher starting salary and be more likely to be promoted to senior positions.
#1 University of Chicago
#2 University of California—Berkeley
#4 University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor, MI
#3 Yale University
New Haven, CT
Average starting salaries for full-time college positions range from $40,000 to $50,000 a year, depending on the quality of the paleontologist’s research and the wealth of the institution.
By mid-career professors typically make between $50,000 and $70,000 a year.
After many years in the field, they can earn between $80,000 and $130,000 a year.
Paleontologists working on taking a plaster cast of a bone.
Without paleontologists, we wouldn't know anything about dinosaurs or other organisms that lived millions of years ago.
A group of paleontologists working on an excavation site.
A paleontologist slowly uncovering some bones.
A little dinosaur joke.
This is the fossilized remains of a baby dinosaur before hatching from its egg
A stegosaurus skeleton display discovered and put together by paleontologists.
A paleontologist putting a skeleton together. More often than not, paleontologists will only find bits and pieces of a skeleton and will have to create plaster copies of the missing pieces.