Palaeontology is an earth science which looks at the geological evolution and development of the earth and how its inhabitants adapted to change and the processes of life. The subject is quite broad and also involves the study of prehistoric life forms and the examination of plant and animal fossils. Contrary to popular belief, palaeontology is not just the study of dinosaurs. It is technically a biological subject, and as time has gone on has come to include other areas such as geology, geography, botany, zoology and other earth sciences.
Fossils were known by primitive human beings and today we are still studying these remains of ancient life forms. The nature of fossils and their relationship to the history of the earth and evolution became better understood in the late 18th and 19th centuries with the work of Georges Cuvier and later the theories of evolution from Charles Darwin.
Example areas of study
The subjects that you may study as part of a degree in palaeontology are listed below but these vary from institution to institution so it is best to check with them on what the focus of their course is before submitting your application to them.
- Earth history
- Evolution studies
- Magmatic and metamorphic processes
- Geophysical techniques
- Environmental geology
- Climate change
- Biological anthropology
- Geoscience information systems
- Environmental archaeology
- Marine sciences
- Human variation and adaptability
- Functional morphology
- Quaternary environments
Some career possibilities
To become a palaeontologist it is generally accepted that you will need a degree in a relevant subject such as geology, geography, earth science or palaeontology itself. Careers that you may wish to pursue range from curators or other museum personnel within the field, nature or environmental conservationists, geological surveyors within an industry such as mining or the petroleum industry, professional consultancy work or teaching. Postgraduate study is a popular choice amongst academic palaeontologists.
What do I need to get on a course?
Entry requirements for palaeontology courses vary between institutions so it is best to check with them first about the kind of grades and qualifications that you will need before submitting the application form. A general guide is listed below:
- UCAS Tariff: 220-320 points including 2 relevant science subjects
- A-levels: BBC-AAA including 2 relevant science subjects
- SQA Highers: BBBBB-AABBB including 2 relevant science subjects
- SQA Advanced Highers: BCC-AAA including 2 relevant science subjects
- BTEC National Diploma: MMM-DDM in a relevant science subject
- Irish Leaving Certificates: BCCC including 2 relevant science subjects
- International Baccalaureate: 24-38 points including relevant science subjects
- European Baccalaureate: 62-75% including relevant science subjects
For your application or interview the following may be useful:
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