A paleontologist is a geoscientist who specializes in the study of the evolution of life millions of years ago by analyzing the fossils of plants, animals and microbial life. Some paleontologists have an academic background in geology and others in physical anthropology, but they all use various technologies to analyze fossils and their placement in geological strata to increase our understanding of the history of life.
Education of a Paleontologist
All paleontologists have at least an undergraduate degree. According to O*Net Online, 57 percent of geoscientists (including paleontologists) had a bachelor’s degree and 42 percent had a master’s degree as of 2009. The average education level for paleontologists is probably even higher given the relatively high percentage employed in academia (almost all of whom will have a master’s or PhD).
Annual Median Salary of Paleontologists
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary of a paleontologist in 2009 was $81,220. Over 34,000 people were employed as paleontologists in the U.S. in 2009.
Annual Median Salary of Paleontologists by Industry
The BLS lists the oil & gas industry as the highest paying industry for paleontologists, with an annual median salary of $127,560. Paleontologists employed by architectural, engineering, and related firms earned a median salary of $66,770. Paleontologists working for the federal government earned a median salary of $90,220, and those working for state governments earned $57,770.
Employment prospects are good for paleontologists. The BLS projects that paleontologist jobs will grow by 14 to 19 percent between 2008 and 2018, slightly faster than average job growth.