Job Description:

Palaeontologists study the history of life on Earth through fossils.

Job Category:

What you will do:

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.


You’ll need:

  • maths knowledge
  • knowledge of geography
  • science skills
  • knowledge of physics
  • knowledge of chemistry including the safe use and disposal of chemicals
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages confidently

As well as:

  • analytical thinking skills
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • excellent written communication skills
  • organisational skills
  • the ability to build good working relationships with colleagues from around the world (teamwork skills)
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become a Palaeontologist, you typically need to pursue higher education in the form of a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or even a Ph.D. in Palaeontology or a related field. While specific subjects may not be required for entry into a Palaeontology program, having a strong foundation in certain subjects can certainly be beneficial. Here are some suggested qualifications that can help you on your path to becoming a Palaeontologist:

  1. Sciences: biology, chemistry, and physics are highly recommended. Palaeontology involves the study of ancient life forms, and a strong background in the natural sciences, including an understanding of biological, chemical, and physical principles, is essential.
  2. Mathematics: Mathematics skills, particularly in statistics and data analysis, are important in scientific research.
  3. Geography or Geology: These subjects provide a foundation in Earth sciences, including the study of rocks, fossils, and the Earth’s history. They are directly related to Paleontology.
  4. English or Communications: Strong written and verbal communication skills are important for documenting research findings and presenting them to others.
  5. Computer Science: Palaeontology often involves data analysis and modelling. Basic computer science skills can be valuable for data management and analysis.
  6. Additional Sciences: If available at your school, subjects like environmental science or Earth sciences can provide additional relevant knowledge.

Post School

You could do a degree in:

  • botany
  • Earth sciences
  • geology
  • palaeontology
  • zoology

Some employers, like museums or oil and gas companies, may ask for a postgraduate qualification like a MGeol, MBiol or MSci.

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.

Career tips
You may find it helpful if you can speak a second language because you’ll often be working with colleagues from around the world.

Working Hours 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.

Career Path & 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.