Average Salary: $91,920
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $3,837,000
The world is full of jobs with well-defined pay scales. In other words, if you're a corporate staff accountant or an astronaut, you can pretty well scope out your pay range. Alas, a paleontologist career sends you on multiple career paths, each with its own salary expectations.
Let's start with an academic career path. Yes, we know you've got a newly minted PhD in paleontology (and yes, in this case it really does stand for "piled higher and deeper"). You'll start as an assistant professor, which means you've got to handle all the distasteful tasks the tenured professor would rather not deal with. You might have to teach, ream out slacking grad students, and maybe even take out the trash. For your Herculean efforts, you'll pull in about $50k for a nine-month stint. Not too bad, unless you've racked up way more than that in student loans. Of course, full professors will make more, but that depends on the university, the professor's experience, yada, yada, yada. Let's just say a paleontology professor will average a mid-$50s salary, which takes into account the bottom scrapers and overpaid professors at the top.
Next, let's scope out museum paleontologist, or museum curator, salaries. You sure won't make a mint as a museum curator, but you're probably doing it because you love playing with fossil exhibits. You could make a bargain basement salary of about $25k per year, up to a stratospheric salary of almost $90k annually. Most museum curator salaries fall within the $35k to $65k annual range. Obviously, your salary will depend on the museum's budget and reputation, and your pay might vary in different parts of the country, too.
Now let's shift our focus to industry-based paleontologists' salaries. Here's where you can really rake in the big bucks; in fact, industry-based paleontologists make the best salaries in the entire field. If you're lucky enough to land a gas and oil extraction gig, you'll bring in almost $140k per year. You'll probably find most of these guys in Texas, followed by California, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Don't forget about Alaska, either, although you'd probably have to like cold weather, and a lot of it.
Also, remember you'll become a more accomplished, valuable employee over time. As you develop more skills, you'll work on more difficult projects, which will (hopefully) lead to promotions and professional recognition. In a perfect world, of course, these accolades lead to more money as well.
Will you get bennies along with your salary? Since paleontologists generally work as employees rather than lone wolf professionals, you'll probably be eligible for any benefits your employer offers. You'll want to nail down the benefits' value before you evaluate the total compensation package.