Of Life and History: Exploring Paleo-biology as a Career Choice

Global Ed

Think Jurassic Park. If you remember this classic movie, you already have some idea of what paleo-biology is, minus the cloned dinosaurs, of course.

Let us break it down. In simple terms, it is an interdisciplinary field that brings together the disciplines of geoscience and life sciences. In this article, we will be looking at:

  • The discipline of paleo-biology
  • Areas to specialise in
  • Scope of Study
  • Universities Offering Courses
  • Career Paths

What is paleobiology?

Palaeontology is the larger domain that is concerned with all forms of life that existed during pre-historic times. Under this domain is a specialisation called paleo-biology that focusses particularly on fossils of plants and animals to answer questions about molecular biology and fill in gaps in the evolutionary tale. The focus of this domain is on origin, genetic structures and their place in evolution.

Franz Nopsca (1877-1933) is credited as the father of modern paleo-biology. In his time, while most palaeontologists were focussed on confirming skeletal structures of dinosaurs, Nopsca was one of the first researchers who tried to deduce the physiology, musculature and behaviour of the dinosaurs he was studying.

While there are close links and coinciding areas of research between this and geo-biology, the two are not to be confused. Geo-biology focusses more on the relationships that exist between ecology and the physical earth.

Paleobiology careers - areas of specialisation

  • Paleobotany: study of flora of the prehistoric times
  • Paleozoology: study if fauna of the prehistoric times
  • Micropaleontology: application of principles of paleo-biology to microorganisms and single celled organisms of yore
  • Paleovirology: specific focus on the evolution f viruses
  • Paleo-biochemistry: is the study of ancient organisms, at the molecular level using principles of biochemistry
  • Paleoecology: the study of prehistoric ecosystems to better understand the conditions that supported life. You can also choose to study climate before the intervention of humans.

What will you be studying?

If fossils and history catches your interest, then you can go about this discipline in two ways. The first option is to study biology and/ or geography in your undergrad then specialise in palaeontology/ paleo-biology at the graduate level.

The other option would be to begin specialising in paleo-biology at the undergraduate level directly. In either case, you will be getting a firm grounding in the principles of geography, biology, mathematics, data collection and analysis and computer science (in correlation with the tech needed for you to collect, observe and study samples).

Some universities that offer undergrad programs in Palaeontology/ Paleo-Biology

What paleobiology career paths can you choose?

It is pretty natural to wonder why universities, research foundations and even governments are interested in this field. The world is progressing ahead at a ridiculously fast pace. Is this relevant in today’s day and world?

The answer is yes. Simple. Palaeontology tries to fill in the blanks that exist in the history of life as we know it. With a clearer picture of the evolutionary trends of the past, it becomes relatively easier to predict those of the future. This is particularly important as we try to assess the impact of human development in today’s world.

When it comes to Palaeobiology career paths and jobs, you can look into:

  • Teaching
  • Dedicated research
  • Curating for a museum
  • Prospector for an oil company
  • Research writer/ science journalist
  • Field technicians for archaeological research
  • Lab technician

These are only a few – there are many more, especially when combined with other fields of research.

It is one of those disciplines where your sheer passion and interest can sustain you. You get to travel around the world, finding missing pieces of history. This is an option for you to consider if the earth and biological sciences interest you.

Also find out more about careers in Biotechnology.

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Global Ed


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