STEM Career Inspiration for Kids: Paleontologists

We're highlighting awesome STEM careers that inspire kids! Learn more about what paleontologists do, how to become an paleontologists, and more!

We’re continuing our series highlighting awesome STEM careers that inspire kids! For our second spotlight, we’re choosing a fascinating career...paleontology!

Read this article learn more about what a paleontologist is and what they do, the steps to become a paleontologist, and fun paleontology-related activities for kids! Read to the end to find our second printable poster, perfect for a child’s bedroom wall or a classroom.

Understanding Paleontologists

When you hear paleontology, your first thought might be - dinosaur fossils! You would technically be right, but paleontology encompasses a lot more than just finding and studying dinosaur fossils! According to the Paleontological Research Institute (PTI), “Paleontology is the study of the history of life on Earth as reflected in the fossil record.”  

There are a ton of different types of organisms that are found in the fossil record, like plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and other living things. Because of this, there are different divisions of paleontology that study these different types of organisms.  

Overall though, paleontologists are “people consumed with a passion to understand the history of life on earth.” They study fossils to find what they tell us about “the ecologies of the past, about evolution, and about our place, as humans, in the world” (UCMP Berkley).

And yes, you can choose to study dinosaurs if you become a paleontologist!

Paleontologist Job Duties

Some basic duties as a paleontologist include planning digs, directing and conducting fieldwork projects to search for fossils or to collect samples (EnvironmentalSciences.org). The paleontologist documents the work they do, digs up the fossils, or takes samples of the earth from the place they are studying.

After finding fossils or taking samples, paleontologists work to preserve the samples and prepare them to be taken to an institution where they can be studied and cleaned (EnvironmentalSciences.org).

After they arrive at the place where they can be studied, paleontologists analyze the fossils and look for information about the earth’s past. They write about what they found from doing their research and then share their findings with other paleontologists and magazines!

Some paleontologists work at colleges or universities, some work at museums, and a handful work for the government!

How to Become a Paleontologist

If you’re looking to be a paleontologist, you’ll most likely need a Doctorate degree. In general, this is the highest degree you can get from a college or university. Pretty exciting, right?

To get this degree and to work as a paleontologist, there are key steps you’ll need to take. These steps include include:

  1. Taking as many science and math classes in school as you can.

  2. Reading about paleontology and visiting museums that have fossil displays.

  3. Choosing and attending a college that offers great science education. You’ll most likely want a degree in biology or geology (or both!), but be sure to keep other areas strong as well, like reading and comprehension, solid computer skills, and math.

  4. Seeking out experiences that allow you to work in the field! Find a paleontologist at a nearby museum or college and see what volunteer opportunities there are to learn more to discover fossils yourself!

  5. Last but not least, getting your doctoral degree at a university that offers a degree in paleontology.

Whew. That sounds like a lot, and it is! But if paleontology is something that you’re passionate about, you’ll be excited and interested at every step of the way.

You can find more information about this on the Paleontological Research Institution website.

Fun Activities for Interested Paleontologists

So what can a parent do for a tiny fossil fanatic? We’ve put together a list of fun activities that encourage a love of science, geology, and fossil exploration and also helps build skills that are critical for a future in STEM learning!  

Make Your Own Dinosaur Fossils- Fun at Home With Kids shares about an amazing set of dinosaur bones she found on Amazon and how you can use them to make fossils at home!

Visit a Museum That Has Great Fossils - Check out the Travel Channel recommendations for America’s Best Dinosaur Exhibits! Some of these museums also display plant fossils. You can look at plant fossils virtually by clicking here.

Learn About Specific Dinosaur Fossils - With this free printable card set from In Our Pond, you can learn about and identify specific dinosaur fossils from their skulls!

Create Your Own Dinosaur Dig Activity - Fun Learning for Kids knows just what you need to create your own dinosaur dig excavation activity! (Hint: it’s only two ingredients and some sunny days.)

Read a Book About Paleontologists and Fossils - There are some great options for kids to learn about Paleontology, like Encyclopedia Prehistoric Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up! You can check out a list of book options by clicking here.

Attend a Fossil or Natural Sciences Focused Summer Camp - On MyFossil.org you can discover several Summer Camps and K-12 Experiences that teach children about basic geology, the natural sciences, outdoor investigations, dinosaurs, fossils, and more! Click here to learn more.

Get inspired with our Paleontologist Printable!

This one-page printable is a fun summary of this blog post and lists a checklist of the activities for young paleontologists. Download it here! 

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