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Which school to go to if I want to enter paleontology?


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Hey all. I'm in my last year of high school in brooklyn and I am extremely passionate about paleontology, but I don't know which school in NYC would be able to cater to my aspirations. There are a couple of cunys with geology but I cannot find any with programs in paleontology. 

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Many (most?) paleontologists do not get undergraduate degrees in "paleontology." The more common fields of training are either biology or geology, either of which I would recommend more. You do not want to narrow your options too much off the bat in case you change your mind on your career direction.

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that list above missed a big one, esp if you want to stay in the city... Columbia, which has some sort of programs in cahoots with the AMNH.  I might be wrong,  but it is worth looking into. 

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BellamyBlake

It's great to be passionate, but it's best not to limit your possibilities as was suggested above. These passions can change. It doesn't mean they will, but they can, and that's not a bad thing.

 

I discovered my passion in history in my 4th year of undergrad, and at that point it really helped me to talk to a few profs who I saw as mentors about how I might pursue graduate school in my area of emphasis. I suggest you do the same. This isn't my field - not even close - so I can only speculate about these things, but there's no harm in reaching out to a few profs in the field. Take the University of Alberta for instance, which has paleontologists among its faculty though they seem to teach in broader departments like Biology: https://www.ualberta.ca/science/dinosaurs/index.html. They have at least three profs there specializing in paleontology there who you might reach out to with these inquiries. You might ask them what they pursued in undergrad to get to where they are. Can you do an undergrad in Paleontology specifically, or would a paleontologist do a biology degree before specializing in paleontology at the graduate level? If these are both possibilities, which one would be more beneficial? These are great questions to ask these folks who have been in your shoes before. You might similarly ask profs at other universities. Asking doesn't necessarily imply you're interested in that university's program, but rather you're expressing interest in the expertise that these folks possess and want to have a conversation with them about their experiences. And when you have the information needed to make an informed decision, that choice is yours to make.

 

Above all, remember that it's okay to contact these folks with your inquiries. Advising is in the job description, and aside from that in my experience many of them are passionate about imparting their knowledge to those interested in their fields. It's how I became inspired to pursue graduate school!

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As said before, very few schools (I'm not aware of any) offer paleo as an undergrad degree. A degree in geology, ecology, biology, etc would give a lot of good foundational information to pursue a PhD in paleo (most programs want to see you have a masters before pursuing your PhD, though not all). If you can manage your time well and keep up, a double major is an even better choice for undergrad as you could do geology and another course, giving you even more background information. 

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hadrosauridae
24 minutes ago, Allosaurus said:

As said before, very few schools (I'm not aware of any) offer paleo as an undergrad degree. A degree in geology, ecology, biology, etc would give a lot of good foundational information to pursue a PhD in paleo (most programs want to see you have a masters before pursuing your PhD, though not all). If you can manage your time well and keep up, a double major is an even better choice for undergrad as you could do geology and another course, giving you even more background information. 

This.

 

Paleontology isnt really a stand-alone thing.  Its an inter-disciplinary field, and you really even have get even more specialized in the late stages and decide which aspect of paleo you want.  But you will need a solid background with topics above, and more.  It would help a lot to have some training and skill in drawing and clay modeling.  You need to have extreme patience and and love of puzzles for fossil prep work. Having some skills in wood work, welding, 4x4 vehicles and offroading would be darn handy as well.

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Oh, and take computer science classes. Maybe math and stats classes as well. A lot of paleontology is becoming quite quantitative and you’ll invariably need to learn such skills.

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UC Berkeley has a Department of Paleontology, plus a Museum of Paleontology for researchers. 

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Look into UC Berkeley.  They are highly recommended and have been around for a long time.  You can get degrees up to PhD.  They have some of the most esteemed faculty, including Dr. Padian, Dr. Jere Lipps, and many others.  I volunteered in their paleo prep lab for awhile.

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I am not sure how they handle undergrad degrees in their department nowadays, but I was able to study paleontology there as an undergrad in the 1970's.  Doesn't hurt to find out. 

:thumbsu:

 

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Hope you are still following your threads.  Upon thinking about it a bit more, I would like to add some ideas based upon my personal academic and life experiences. 

 

Being an undergrad is a time for exploring different fields, and of course, fulfilling requirements. Introductory courses in many different disciplines are especially good for rounding you out.  The higher level courses have prerequisite courses you need to take before you advance in a field.  This, undoubtedly, involves the basics, such as statistics, calculus and higher math, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biology, zoology, maybe even some foreign languages (in the field of research you are interested), even English in the form of journalism and scientific writing. As mentioned by others, computer science is a real must in your researches nowadays.

 

This is all in preparing you to be a scientist in your field of choice.  This gives you a chance to see where your true interests, strengths, and weaknesses are, and if you are willing to improve upon your weaknesses to get to where you want to go.

 

Next, you need to do well in your courses.  BUT that is still not enough. I know of many students who got straight A's in their courses, then hoped to get advanced jobs in their fields of study when they graduated.  NOT!  You need to show your esteemed faculty that you have a passion for your field, let them get to know you as a person.  Volunteer to get involved in at least one of their many research projects.  Jump into the field before you reach your undergraduate degree.  You, as well as the people who can help move you along toward your goals, will realize if this a great fit for you.

 

This is what happened to me, the word got around, and I was involved in several research projects under several scientists before I graduated.  I even got credits or paid towards my financial aid as I was doing so.

 

I am not telling you this to discourage you, but to encourage you to fully express your passion and follow it.  Being a Paleontologist, or an Archaeologist (as I became), fully functional in the field and top notch, involves not only your mind and academic prowess (plus PhD), but your physical stamina, and grueling hours in the heat, cold, and other elements, with a shovel in your hand, lifting, stabilizing, sorting (glorified ditch digging), and finding yourself at the end of the day covered in dirt, sand, mud or gravel (even between your teeth and in all orifices - I kid you not!).  If you think that's fun, as I did, then welcome to the earth sciences and all related disciplines!

 

And after or during all of this, your health or life circumstances may change, or you may change your mind as to how you need to make a living,  it's always great to develop skills along the way that you can fall back on.  There is absolutely nothing keeping you from studying, and participating in, Paleontology in your spare time, even when you are retired.

 

My sentiment comes from my heart, and I wish you the best.

 

 

Edited by Paleome
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Speaking for myself, I would think geology, with an emphasis on sedimentary rocks (sedimentology-stratigraphy), with supporting subjects like biology (some mentioned above). Paleontology can range from the field to the lab, from dinosaurs to forams, from museums to oil companies. There are so many possible career directions. (To be honest, I'm not familiar with the current state of opportunities in paleontology.) Once you get started and proceed, your interest may carry you down one path or another, or you may ultimately decide to pursue paleontology as an avocation rather than an occupation (my eventual path).

 

In any case, good luck, and enjoy the journey.

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There are many niches you can find for yourself, depending upon your personal talents and training, without having to get your PhD and follow postdoctoral work, although the more educated you become, the more useful you become in the field. 

 

Let's say you have artistic or graphic abilities;  you can pursue scientific illustration and get involved in graphic depictions of stratigraphy, mapmaking, and site layouts.  All of this, and more, is important in publishing results of research, and scientists need people like you to help them convey their messages.  Photography is also very useful, and even then, it may not always be sufficient to show what is needed.  Help develop technology in those fields!  

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  • 10 months later...
Suraget

I don't know if any universities provide this kind of studies, but my 11-year old daughter is going to a daycare in Indiana and from what she told me, there are a lot of interesting topics including paleontology too! They are combining history, biology and geography lessons so it seems interesting at the first view. She is so excited to come home and reveal some history secrets and fun facts about plants and dinosaurs that I had no idea about. Maybe they got some partners that can recommend you some good universities as I see you have a passion for this field.

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Of the different paleontologists I have met over the years they generally break down into two groups:  

 

Biologists that are more focused on the fauna or flora they specialize in. Their research has an emphasis on the organism itself and that organism's evolution over time.

 

Geologists who are interested in studying ancient ecosystems and how those ecosystems changed over time and the effect it had on evolution of biological communities.

 

One has an emphasis on biology, anatomy, morphology, etc. while the other has a greater understanding of stratigraphy, tectonic evolution, ecology, etc. If you have an idea what appeals to you more that would say a lot about what your undergraduate studies might be.

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Kind of late for OP, but for anyone else stumbling on this thread I'll like to re-iterate the earlier message not to pursue paleontology as an undergrad. Not only does a BS in science not mean a whole lot on the job market, pursuing a bachelor's in, say, paleontology and then realizing halfway through it's not for you will set you back years and thousands of dollars. Frankly I'd caution against biology and geology too from a strictly utilitarian point of view, but I understand if you plan on pursuing a graduate degree in them later. One solution is double majoring if that's a route you want to go, in which case I'd recommend knocking out as many college credits as you can in high school. 

 

Also, yes, computer/statistical skills are always good to have. I don't know what paleontologists use so I won't give specific classes to take, but I know GIS was big in geology, so it might be something to look into. Some colleges offer special workshops in things like GIS apps/coding, which allows you to get those skills without paying to take a full class. 

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