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The Breakdown

Maybe you first became intrigued when you learned of the ferocity of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Or perhaps you were captivated by the Stegosaurus’ armor.  Then again, maybe you just have a passion for digging in the dirt.  No matter your reasoning, you’re contemplating a major in paleontology.   

Before you fully commit, we figure it’s our duty to inform you that paleontology is not solely the study of dinosaurs (though that’s certainly part of it).  Indeed, in the grandest (and perhaps most general) definition, paleontology is the study of the histooury of the planet.  In other words, paleontologists focus on evolution and the ecologies of the past.  Therefore, as a paleontology student, you’ll find yourself taking a combination of geology, evolutionary biology, chemistry, botany and ecology crses (with perhaps the occasional anthropology class thrown in for good measure).  

More specifically, you will learn all about fossils, from their chemical make-up and how they form to how to identify them and what they reveal to scientists.  In addition, you’ll study how various ecosystems (on land and within the sea) formed, evolved and in some cases disappeared.  And you’ll do this through a variety of classroom, laboratory and field work.  

If you decide to study paleontology, you will discover it’s rather important to be detail oriented.  Moreover, you’ll find that strong analytical and observational skills will come in handy.  It also helps to have a firm handle on all things quantitative.  Finally, you must promise to never attempt to open your own, real life version of Jurassic Park.


Nuts and Bolts

As a paleontology major, you’ll be forced to reckon with such challenging and fascinating classes as: Paleontology and Geochronology, Evolutionary Biology, Evolution of the Earth, Petrology and Petrography, Invertebrate Biology, Biostatistics, Fluvial Sedimentology, Biogeography, Principles of Biological Diversity, Global Tectonics, Mineralogy, Dinosaur Paleontology, Paleontology Lab Techniques, Macroevolution/Fossil Record and Taphonomy: Fossil Preservation. 

Decisions, Decisions

Paleontology majors are curious about the past and the development of the earth.  Therefore, it’s highly likely they’ll also enjoy studying geology, evolutionary biology, archeology, anthropology, ecology, environmental science, chemistry, biology, geological engineering, marine science, geography and oceanography.

What's Next

If you want to pursue a life in paleontology, an undergraduate degree is really only the first step.  Indeed, in order to have a lasting career in the field you must attend a graduate program.  After earning their degree, many paleontologists teach at the university level and continue to conduct research.  Some also work or consult for museums, helping to create and curate exhibitions.  Others might pursue careers in evolutionary biology or geology, eventually becoming paleoecologists, marine geologists, exploration geologists or planetary geologists.  Truly, studying the past can lead to great things for your future! 



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Don Munce