I am a professor of paleontology at a university, teaching and researching on prehistoric life. I have studied paleontology for over twenty years now, and have worked as a professor and research for the past fifteen years. The main body of my work consists of giving lectures on the many topics within paleontology. I teach classes that cover a wide variety of subjects, from history to science.
In addition to my teaching, I also work as a researcher at the university. This work is a little more varied, consisting of various research efforts. These efforts can be as simple as reviewing the work of colleagues’ or as complicated as traveling overseas to view new digs and evidence. While teaching is usually the same every year, the research always has something new for me to handle.
On a scale of one to ten, I must rate my work happiness at a nine or so. I do what I truly love, something I have been interested in since I was a child. I always found dinosaurs fascinating, and this lead to a career studying dinosaurs and other prehistoric subjects. Occasionally, classes are tedious, grading assignments or preparing notes or the like. However, I certainly cannot complain.
There are also several times when my job moves my heart and helps me to reaffirm why I do what I do. Whenever a particularly eager student goes out of the way to work with me or to learn a topic is always particularly satisfying. Also, whenever a new site is found or a new piece of evidence is confirmed as true is a hugely exciting time for paleontologists in general, but if I am personally involved in the project it is unspeakably wonderful.
Discoveries, large or small, are what make all of the work and studying worth it! The students and the research are what keep me going back to work everyday, hands down.
There are challenges, of course. One of the biggest ones always revolve around research funding. I write a good number of grant proposals and stress about the finances of certain projects. Like any scientific field, our department is completely dependent on research grants to supplement our regular budget. It is a worry that you learn to live with, however.
Despite the occasional stress of finances, my job is otherwise very free of stress. I teach around fifteen hours worth of class per week, prepare lectures and grade homework for about ten more hours, and then spend the rest of my time handling my research as I see fit. This allows me a lot of flexibility in my scheduling, and I appreciate this greatly. Because of this I am able to enjoy my life and other hobbies as I desire to, while still getting lots of work done.
Pay is not as generous in paleontology as it is in some fields, however I am satisfied given with how much I enjoy my work. With a Ph.D and my experience, you could reasonably expect a salary of between $75,000 and $90,000. Some paleontologists supplement this with consulting work in the petroleum industry and can make much more income that way.
There are other perks not necessarily related to salary, however. I do not teach classes during the summer or during the month of December due to academic holidays. I do continue my research during these times, but there is less pressure and deadlines involved. I also have the privilege of being able to cancel class if I cannot attend for whatever reason. It is frowned upon to do so regularly, but nonetheless it is an option if a personal day is needed.
To work in this field, you absolutely need a Ph.D. This is a lot of schooling, but fortunately the doctoral part of it is not unlike what you do in the job: perform research, teach some classes, and work in a university setting. You need strong writing and analytic abilities, as well as some chemistry and mathematics coursework. Depending on your subdiscipline, you may need to know a considerable amount of chemistry.
I would instruct people looking at this line of work to schedule an appointment with a professor in the paleontology department in order to learn more about the program at his or her school. I also would suggest taking a strong science and math curriculum to give one an edge in graduate school and job applications. It would be even better to minor in chemistry or mathematics; this is rarely required by a program, but it opens many opportunities for graduate school and research.
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