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What Factors Affect a Paleontologist's Salary?

By Amy Rodriguez
Updated Feb 12, 2024
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A paleontologist's salary is affected by a number of key factors, including education level and work environment. Some paleontologists have a basic four year bachelor's degree, whereas other scientists may have a doctorate degree. In addition, paleontologists can work in the field, in a museum, or within a college or university; the paleontologist's salary may be determined both by the work setting and the specific duties of the position.

Paleontologists with a doctoral degree will almost always have a higher salary than those with an undergraduate degree only. As a doctor of paleontology, the scientist can oversee research and determine new areas of regional exploration. Undergraduates will mainly work with the fossils under strict guidelines from a supervising doctor of paleontology. Some paleontologists may have a master's degree rather than a doctorate; with a master's, a paleontologist's salary will be higher than with an undergraduate degree, but lower than with a doctorate.

Work place environment is another key factor that influences a paleontologist's salary. Some scientists travel to remote regions to study fossils where they were discovered; these workers are normally paid very well since traveling requires a large commitment and time away from home. Traveling expenses, such as meals, are typically covered by the paleontologist's employer, also contributing to a higher income level.

Some field paleontologists may work in a more specialized niche, looking for as yet undiscovered oil deposits. Fossil discoveries in certain areas can lead to new knowledge about oil deposits, and paleontologists in this area usually earn a high salary since oil is a lucrative commodity. Employers are normally oil business entities that supply gasoline to local subsidiaries.

Paleontologists who work in a college or university environment tend to make less money than field scientists. University level paleontologists work in comfortable laboratories during their research and examination processes; many times, they have student assistants working with them to expedite the fossil analysis procedures. These scientists may also teach college classes to gain more income and to secure rights to work within the university's laboratories.

The paleontologist's salary for museum scientists tends to be somewhat lower since their work load is generally not as large as a field or university paleontologist. This position mainly requires the scientist to organize and oversee fossils on display, such as a dinosaur skeleton exhibit. Museum scientists will conduct research to ensure that the fossil bones are placed correctly in the displays, and will handle them in such a way as to maintain their structural integrity. The scientist may also speak at museum lectures to illustrate fossil history and teach the public about paleontology.

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