Paleontologist Job Descriptions, Average Salary, Interview Questions

Paleontologists are geoscientists who study the history and process of evolution by examining fossils. They may spend their days researching, teaching, or on-site, working for universities or private research facilities. Typical duties for a paleontologist include collecting and analyzing fossils, monitoring excavations, cleaning specimens, conducting research, and translating data into reports. 

A college degree is required in order to become a paleontologist, and excellent organizational, communication, and research skills are important qualities to be successful. Paleontologists will also have the opportunity to travel, visiting places where prehistoric animals one roamed. Their work will take a lot of patience and practice, but can also be exciting and very enjoyable. 

Sample job description #1

Your opportunity

The Paleontologist is responsible for assisting Senior Paleontologists, Principal Investigators, Internal Project Managers, Project Coordinators, and Executive Staff with ensuring scientific quality and client satisfaction with paleontological resource projects.

The scope of responsibilities includes assisting with proposals and budgets, training staff paleontologists, oversight of field work as assigned, data management, QA/QC of data and laboratory work, identification and pre-curation of fossil collections, assistance with preparation of deliverables as assigned, delivery of fossil collections, and project management support as assigned. Leading field surveys and some construction monitoring is also required.

Your key responsibilities

  • Supervising and implementing survey, monitoring, and salvage procedures. Leading field surveys and some construction monitoring is required.
  • Working with our Project Coordinators to meet field schedule deadlines and staffing requirements.
  • Training and field supervision of staff paleontologists. This includes training on data collection, data management, fossil collection, and adherence to best practices in mitigation paleontology. Must be proficient with data collection technologies and field techniques in paleontology including stratigraphic documentation of project sites and fossil localities therein.
  • Performing QA and QC of field data.
  • Preparing client required daily, weekly, monthly, and annual reports.
  • Assisting with proposal scopes of works and budgets as assigned. This may include some communication with clients and agencies during scoping.
  • Working with the Principal Investigators, Senior Paleontologists, and Internal Project Managers to prepare deliverables or portions thereof as assigned. This includes paleontological technical reports, CEQA/NEPA documents, impact mitigation plans, worker environmental awareness programs, and annual permit reports.
  • Performing existing data analyses including museum and agency record searches, geologic map reviews, and literature-based research.
  • Implementing resource impact mitigation measures using appropriate fossil specimen collection and data recovery techniques.
  • Assisting with the designated timesheet reviewer and the Internal Project Manager to ensure that hours are correctly reported and billed.
  • Managing small projects or portions of projects as assigned.
  • Implementing, enforcing, and documenting ABC Company’s safety standards for self and crew.
  • Identifying a wide range of fossils to a basic taxonomic level, and a low taxonomic level depending upon specific technical expertise.
  • Maintaining a working knowledge of curation procedures for facilities that we work with.
  • Participating in scientific outreach as assigned.
  • Adhering to ethical business practices, professional standards, laws and regulations, and best practices in mitigation paleontology.

Your capabilities and credentials

  • Demonstrated professional experience and competency with paleontological resource mitigation procedures and techniques, including a working knowledge of best practices in mitigation paleontology.
  • Knowledge of how paleontological resources and their associated data are used in conducting and publishing professional paleontological research.
  • Basic level understanding of federal, state, and local laws, regulations, policies, and procedural guidelines that apply to paleontological resources.
  • Must be detail-oriented and be a motivated team member possessing good written and verbal communication skills and committed to professional excellence.
  • Data management, fossil preparation, and museum curation experience.
  • Ability to work independently and as an integral part of a team.
  • Proficiency with Microsoft Office and experience with database software, and general competency with technology.
  • Must have a good driving record and valid driver’s license.

Education and experience

  • A Master’s degree or PhD in paleontology and sedimentary geology with a minimum 1 – 2 years of professional experience or a Bachelor of Science degree with 5 years of professional experience.
  • Must have prior paleontological and geological field experience working in North America.
  • Must have the experience necessary to be approved as a Field Monitor on a BLM Paleontological Resource Use Permit.

Sample job description #2

ABC Company is seeking a Lead Paleontologist to oversee paleontological technical studies and related project permitting documents for public and private sector clients on a flex basis. The individual would report to our Senior Cultural Resources Group Manager located (city, state) office. The position is largely remote but may require travel to other offices, primarily in the Los Angeles area.

Key responsibilities

  • Conduct paleontological record searches, surveys, fossil salvage/data recovery, laboratory and analysis, curation preparation and submittal, and technical reports.
  • Prepare and implement paleontological monitoring and/or data recovery programs
  • Work closely with other archaeologists, biologists, and environmental planners.
  • Provides technical guidance to less experienced staff.
  • Provide enthusiasm and commitment to client service and technical excellence.
  • Successful candidates will be familiar with working within a fast-paced consulting environment and help to develop effective solutions to both expected and unexpected project challenges.

Requirements and qualifications

  • MA/MS (PhD preferred) in geology, earth sciences, paleontology, or closely related field
  • Meets or exceeds Society of Vertebrate Paleontology qualifications.
  • Minimum 10 years’ experience as lead paleontologist within California.
  • Experience in successful coordination and report approval with state and federal agencies.
  • Ability to be listed on BLM State-wide permit as a Lead Paleontologist.
  • Excellent interpersonal communication and management skills.
  • The ability to work closely with clients, engineers and other technical specialists as part of a larger combined project team.
  • Familiarity with digital field technology (GPS, total station, etc.) and GIS applications and software.
  • Technical report and proposal writing experience.
  • Candidates must occasionally be able and willing to travel and work outdoors in remote locations and for extended periods under all weather conditions, sometimes traversing rugged terrain.
  • Valid driver’s license and good driving record required.

Sample job description #3

What you will accomplish:

ABC Company paleontologists assist with field surveys, construction monitoring, excavations, fossil salvages, and other field tasks as needed. We place an emphasis on thorough, accurate and efficient collection and recordation of paleontologic, lithologic and stratigraphic data. Field techs may also be required to assist with laboratory fossil preparation, data entry and management, and data analysis.

Experience and qualifications for success:

  • Education and professional experience in paleontology – possession of B.S. or B.A. degree with an emphasis in paleontology or geology or demonstrated equivalent experience is required.
  • At least two years of experience monitoring in the state of X or geologic province of a specific project.
  • Knowledge of basic field geology skills, such as rock descriptions, measuring stratigraphic columns, and recognizing fossils including trace fossils. Monitors must demonstrate proficiency in recognizing various types of fossils, in collection methods, and in other paleontological field techniques.
  • Ability to conduct fieldwork for long hours in sometimes inclement weather conditions, including walking up to 10 miles per day often in rugged terrain; must be able to carry various types of field equipment and supplies
  • Must have the ability to use excavation tools
  • Must have a valid driver’s license and a good driving record; and must comply with ABC Company safety policies

In addition, the following skills are preferred:

  • Fossil preparation and/or museum curation experience.
  • Data management and GIS experience.
  • Prior experience with paleontological mitigation projects including construction monitoring is highly desirable.

Sample interview questions

  • How did you become interested in paleontology?
  • What are some of the most important skills for a paleontologist?
  • How do you think the field of paleontology will change in the next ten years?
  • Provide an example of a time when you had to overcome a challenge while conducting research.
  • If you could bring one dinosaur back to life, which would it be and why?
  • What would you say is your greatest accomplishment as a paleontologist so far?
  • When is the last time you updated your knowledge of paleontology?
  • Describe your research process when you start a new project.
  • We want to increase our outreach to local schools. How would you go about doing that?
  • There is a disagreement in the team about how to interpret a discovery. How do you handle it?

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