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Program Description

Just the Facts

Paleontology. A program that focuses on the scientific study of extinct life forms and associated fossil remains, and the reconstruction and analysis of ancient life forms, ecosystems, and geologic processes. Includes instruction in sedimentation and fossilization processes, fossil chemistry, evolutionary biology, paleoecology, paleoclimatology, trace fossils, micropaleontology, invertebrate paleontology, vertebrate paleontology, paleobotany, field research methods, and laboratory research and conservation methods.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Master's degree

High School Courses

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Additional Information

Do you want to know when dinosaurs roamed the Earth? What kinds of species were alive tens of thousands of years ago? How mammals evolved? These questions can be answered by studying paleontology.

Paleontology involves knowing things from many different sciences, including biology, botany, chemistry, physical science and geology. There are many different subfields of paleontology as well:

  • Vertebrate paleontology: the study of fossils of animals with backbones
  • Invertebrate paleontology: the study of fossils of animals without backbones
  • Micropaleontology: the study of fossils of single-celled organisms
  • Paleobotany: the study of the fossils of plants
  • Taphonomy: the study of how fossils form
  • Biostratigraphy: the study of fossils in rocks
  • Paleoecology: the study of prehistoric ecosystems and their development

Paleontology programs are offered mainly at the master's and PhD levels, so you'll usually have to get a bachelor's degree in another field. Students usually get an undergrad degree in biology, geology, physical science or environmental science.

The University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, is one of the few schools in North America to offer an undergraduate specialization in paleontology.

At the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the department of earth sciences offers courses in paleontology at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

"At the graduate level, we look for evidence of motivation and commitment,...intellectual ability, writing skills, any prior research experience, and initiative and creativity," says Patricia Kelley, chair of the department.

Paleontology may be offered by different departments. It's usually a specialty of earth sciences or geology, but it might also be found in biology, botany and archeology departments.

Expect to gain important hands-on experience and knowledge in all facets of paleontology.

According to Kelley, students in the program at UNC can expect to be involved in cutting-edge research. The program takes a hands-on, field-oriented approach.

Although high school science and math courses are essential, communication and English are extremely beneficial as well. Students must be able to convey their findings in an organized, plausible manner.

Try to get some hands-on experience. Museums most often are a place where students can learn while earning money for college. Science clubs and archeological digs sponsored by local colleges and universities are also options.

Science books are generally more expensive than books in other types of curriculum. Other expenses can include lab fees and equipment, field trips to museums or memberships in societies or organizations.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Environmental Scientists and Geoscientists

A Career in Paleontology
Information from the University of California -- Santa Barbara

Check out the world's first dinosaur skeleton


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