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what do I need to be to be a paleontologist?

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John’s Answer

What Geoscientists Do - Paleontology is a category of this field. See below.

Petroleum geologists (a type of geoscientist) search for oil and gas deposits that are suitable for commercial extraction.

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.

Duties
Geoscientists typically do the following:

Plan and carry out field studies, in which they visit locations to collect samples and conduct surveys
Analyze aerial photographs, well logs (detailed records of geologic formations found during drilling), rock samples, and other data sources to locate deposits of natural resources and estimate their size
Conduct laboratory tests on samples collected in the field
Make geologic maps and charts
Prepare written scientific reports
Present their findings to clients, colleagues, and other interested parties
Geoscientists use a wide variety of tools, both simple and complex. During a typical day in the field, they may use a hammer and chisel to collect rock samples and then use ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for oil or minerals. In laboratories, they may use x rays and electron microscopes to determine the chemical and physical composition of rock samples. They may also use remote sensing equipment to collect data, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and modeling software to analyze the data collected.

Geoscientists often supervise the work of technicians and coordinate work with other scientists, both in the field and in the lab.

Many geoscientists are involved in the search for and development of natural resources, such as petroleum. Others work in environmental protection and preservation, and are involved in projects to clean up and reclaim land. Some specialize in a particular aspect of the Earth, such as its oceans.

The following are examples of types of geoscientists:

Geologists study the materials, processes, and history of the Earth. They investigate how rocks were formed and what has happened to them since their formation. There are subgroups of geologists as well, such as stratigraphers, who study stratified rock, and mineralogists, who study the structure and composition of minerals.

Geochemists use physical and organic chemistry to study the composition of elements found in ground water, such as water from wells or aquifers, and of earth materials, such as rocks and sediment.

Geophysicists use the principles of physics to learn about the Earth’s surface and interior. They also study the properties of Earth’s magnetic, electric, and gravitational fields.

Oceanographers study the motion and circulation of ocean waters; the physical and chemical properties of the oceans; and how these properties affect coastal areas, climate, and weather.

Paleontologists study fossils found in geological formations in order to trace the evolution of plant and animal life and the geologic history of the Earth.

Petroleum geologists explore the Earth for oil and gas deposits. They analyze geological information to identify sites that should be explored. They collect rock and sediment samples from sites through drilling and other methods and test the samples for the presence of oil and gas. They also estimate the size of oil and gas deposits and work to develop sites to extract oil and gas.

Seismologists study earthquakes and related phenomena, such as tsunamis. They use seismographs and other instruments to collect data on these events.

For a more extensive list of geoscientist specialties, visit the American Geosciences Institute.

How to Become a Geoscientist

Laboratory experience is important for prospective geoscientists.
Geoscientists need at least a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions. However, some workers begin their careers as geoscientists with a master’s degree.

Education
Geoscientists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions. A geosciences degree is generally preferred by employers, although some geoscientists begin their careers with degrees in environmental science or engineering. Some geoscientist jobs require a master’s degree.

Most geoscience programs include geology courses in mineralogy, petrology, and structural geology, which are important for all geoscientists. In addition to classes in geology, most programs require students to take courses in other physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, and computer science.

Some programs include training on specific software packages that will be useful to those seeking a career as a geoscientist. In addition to classroom and lab courses, most degree programs also include summer geology field camp courses that provide students with practical experience before graduating.

Important Qualities
Communication skills. Geoscientists write reports and research papers. They must be able to present their findings clearly to other scientists and team members as well as clients or professionals who do not have a background in geoscience.

Critical-thinking skills. Geoscientists base their findings on sound observation and careful evaluation of data.

Outdoor skills. Geoscientists may spend significant time outdoors. Familiarity with camping and hiking and a general sense of comfort being outside for long periods is useful when performing fieldwork.

Physical stamina. Geoscientists may need to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment when they conduct fieldwork.

Problem-solving skills. Geoscientists work on complex projects filled with challenges. Evaluating statistical data and other forms of information in order to make judgments and inform the actions of other workers requires a special ability to perceive and address problems.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Geologists are licensed in 31 states. Although a license is not required to work as a geologist in many cases, geologists that offer services to the public in these states must be licensed. Public services include activities such as those associated with civil engineering projects, environmental protection, and regulatory compliance. Applicants must meet minimum education and experience requirements and earn a passing score on an exam. All states that license geologists use the National Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG), Fundamentals of Geology Exam (FGE).

Contact your state board of registration of geologists for more information.
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Diarmait’s Answer

Hi, an Earth Science or Geology degree would be the way into paleontology. It may be a module of that course or perhaps part of "stratigraphy" or sedimentology, where really the focus is on how to use fossils as a means to date the rocks rather than studying the evolution of the species etc. i.e. as a tool rather than "studying dinosaurs". I would recommend starting with a general science / geology / earth science degree and then specialising later.
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