Education and Training Requirements

High School

A high school student should take as many advanced science and math courses as possible. Other important areas include foreign languages, especially German, French, Russian, or Chinese, because many papers on fossils are written in these other languages. Paleontologists rely a great deal on computer programs and databases, so take courses in computers and programming. You will be preparing your findings for publication and presentation, so take English and speech classes.

Postsecondary Training

Paleontology is a subspecialty of geology or, less commonly, of botany, zoology, or physical anthropology. In college, you will major in geology or biology. The college curriculum for a geology major includes mathematics through calculus, chemistry, physics, and life sciences, with additional seminars in the specialty area and in the history of science.

Because paleontology is a specialty area encountered only briefly during the undergraduate curriculum, you should anticipate graduate training. In fact, most scientists in the field find that a doctorate is necessary simply to have time to gain the substantial knowledge base and independent research skills necessary in their field.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

There are no certification or licensing requirements for paleontologists, but some states requires geoscientists that offer their services to the public to be licensed.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Paleotologists gain experience while in college, both in undergraduate and graduate school, through courses that offer lab and fieldwork, as well as internships. In graduate school, students will conduct an original piece of research to present orally and publish in a research journal. Scientific ability is critical to paleontology as well as analytical skills. During fieldwork, individuals might have to work in remote locations with little supervision. In the process of recreating the look and historical context of the fossil, paleontologists must possess some measure of creative vision.

You should be inquisitive, with a natural curiosity about the world and its history. A desire to read and study is also important, as you will be spending many years in school. It is important to have a respect for other cultures, as you may be working closely with professionals from other countries. Good organizational skills will help you in your work with fossils and museum collections. People skills are also very important, as you'll be relying on personal contacts in your pursuit of work and funding.