According to National Geographic, Paleontology is the study of the history of life on Earth based on fossils. These occur when rock material replaces the remains of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and single-celled living things. Fossils may also refer to the impressions of organisms preserved on rock.
One reason Paleontology is still important to learn today is that it’s a central part of Geology. By identifying layers of Earth based on the fossils they contain, Scientists are able to determine when the layer was developed. These geological time stamps help us answer complicated Earth Science questions, from where we can find natural resources to how our continents broke apart, as well as how life developed on this planet.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes Paleontologists as Geoscientists, which also includes Geologists, Geochemists, and Seismologists. Most Paleontologists have master’s or Ph.D. degrees in Paleontology, and in May 2012, they earned annual salaries of $106,780. Other roles available for those with an education in Paleontology include Professor, Museum Worker, Television Researcher, Science Journalist, Palynologist, Paelobotanist, Paleoecologist, and more.
Paleontology courses offered through Coursera cover dinosaur paleobiology, ancient marine reptiles, the origin of birds, evolution, and other related subjects. Lessons show the anatomy, origins, and extinction of prehistoric life, as well as lectures on ancient primordial life before the first cell evolved. Discussions on geological time and the formation of Earth are available as well, in addition to fossilization and other Geology-related topics.
Whether you enjoy learning about the history of the planet, people, animals, plants, and other organisms for personal pleasure or you want to turn it into a career, learning paleontology may be right for you. Perhaps you've always been fascinated by dinosaurs and their lives, or you have an interest in the history of other classes of animals, like mammals, birds, or fish. Maybe you're interested in evolution or natural history. Perhaps you'd like to become a professor or researcher and create a life working in academia. These are all great reasons to study paleontology.
People who are highly curious, particularly about how animals, organisms, and plants lived on the Earth many years ago, are well suited for a role in paleontology. If you enjoy reading about the history of the planet and its inhabitants or you enjoyed taking natural history, archaeology, and paleontology classes in high school, you may be a good fit to work in this field. People who enjoy exploring historic sites, national parks, and places where fossils and artifacts have been found may discover that they have a knack for the field as well. You'll also need to be a good communicator, an analytical thinker, a person who doesn't shy away from reading or research, and someone who is confident in their math and science skills.
You'll need to have a passion for history and general understanding of the subject if you intend to learn about paleontology. However, if you have any type of background in biology, chemistry, archeology, geology, Earth science, physics, math, or computer science, you may have a leg up on anyone who doesn't. You can also gain experience by volunteering or working at a museum of geology or Earth science lab. Also, there are programs that allow you to volunteer to participate in real archeological digs. These will help you gain experience and potentially work with paleontologists so you can get a better idea of what they do.