Paleontologists use fossils to understand what life on Earth was like thousands of years ago. While many people associate paleontology with dinosaur bones, professionals in this area also use rock formations, plant fossils and remains from other animals. Breaking into this field requires specialized training and higher education.
Colleges for paleontology in Texas offer students in the Lone Star State chances to gain hands-on experiences with the area's fossils as they learn about paleontology around the world.
University of Texas at Austin
The paleontology/geobiology program at the University of Texas’ Jackson School of Geosciences takes advantage of a 3D tomography scanner to create virtual dinosaurs from skeletal remains. Faculty members in the University of Texas paleontology program have particular expertise in echinoderm fossils found in the Rocky Mountains and the relationships between ancient creatures in long-vanished reef systems.
The school’s non-vertebrate paleontology lab has about 4 million specimens, including invertebrates, plants, microfossils, rocks, minerals, meteorites and tektites. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in geosciences. Graduate students can apply to help the university’s Gulf Basin Depositional Synthesis, a long-term study of the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M offers degrees in geology with research concentrations in paleoclimates and climate change, paleobiology and paleoecology. The university offers one of the few paleontology undergraduate programs in the state. Faculty evaluate each student's need to improve foreign language skills, depending on the student’s area of interest. After all, paleontologists work around the world and may work in different areas depending on their specialties. This requirement ensure that candidates can adjust appropriately.
The school has extensive fossil collections; an evolutionary geobiology laboratory with microscopes, a walk-in freezer and centrifuges; and a micropaleontology laboratory. Faculty research projects include how sea levels affected prehistoric mollusks and how climate has affected evolutionary turnover in ancient marine life.
University of Texas at El Paso
Students of paleontology at UTEP have access to the Centennial Museum and its paleontological gallery. The collection includes fossils from the El Paso area, such as a seaweed sample estimated at 2 billion years old and a cast of a 75-million-year-old pterosaur.
The school’s advanced degree program in geological science features a handful of classes in paleontology, including paleobiology, advanced topics in geological science and advanced vertebrate paleontology techniques. The university offers doctoral degrees in ecology and evolutionary biology, geologic sciences and biological sciences.
Southern Methodist University
The Dedman College at SMU offers Master of Science and doctoral degrees in earth science with a concentration in paleontology. Students are encouraged to tackle the subject matter globally, studying in Antarctica, China, the Republic of Congo and Pakistan in 2014. The school houses the Shuler Museum of Paleontology, which includes laboratories for fossil preparation and high-tech microscopes. In 2014, faculty and students in the program were researching mosasaurs, Oligocene plant fossils from Ethiopia and a hominoid fossil site in Kenya.
Texas Tech University
Students in Texas Tech’s paleontology division work alongside faculty investigating the fossil-rich deserts within an hour’s drive of the campus in Lubbock. In 2014, researchers pored over fossils from the Late Triassic Dockum Group of Texas and also studied Antarctic bird fossils.
University researchers have uncovered new prehistoric species, documented the specimens and shared information with colleagues. Students have an opportunity to mold and cast fossils for display for university collections and elsewhere. Texas Tech offers master’s and doctoral degrees in geosciences.
Rudy Miller has been writing professionally since 1996. Miller is a digital team leader for lehighvalleylive.com, a local news website and content provider to the Express-Times newspaper in Easton, Pa. Miller holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Miami.