BSc (Hons) Palaeontology - University of Portsmouth
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BSc (Hons)


UCAS codeF641

full time3yrs

Answering questions about the Earth’s past

Course Overview

Why take this course?

As a palaeontologist, you will study ancient life in the context of the geological and fossil record - how did life on Earth arise and evolve, and how can we apply data from fossils to solve real-world geological problems?

Our course places great emphasis on practical learning and developing the transferable skills for employment as a professional palaeontolgist/geoscientist. You will learn in a friendly and supportive environment with a structured tutorial programme across all three years, excellent fieldwork opportunities, student-led extra-curricular activities, refurbished and re-equipped teaching facilities, and strong links with industry. All of these provide a broad-based degree experience that maximises career opportunities.

What will I experience?

The course covers all aspects of palaeontology, underpinned by general geoscientific and analytical principles. The school has extensive collections of fossil and geological specimens, and excellent teaching and analytical laboraties supported by recent investment.

On this course you can:

  • Get involved with recent and exciting dinosaur/fossil finds on the Isle of Wight and elsewhere
  • Find, extract and examine fossil remains in the field and laboratory
  • Reconstruct the lives of fossils with the other organisms that shared their time on our planet

What opportunities might it lead to?

You will develop important problem-solving, communication and IT skills which will make you an excellent candidate for a wide range of careers. Recent graduates have been employed in the oil and gas industry, museum curation, teacher training, and progressed to Master's-level study and PhD research.

This course is accredited by The Geological Society. Accredited status provides added assurance to prospective students that a department's teaching is of the highest quality, and has been approved by an independent body of academics and industrialists. An accredited degree will reduce the amount of experience required for applications for Chartered Geologist and Chartered Scientist.


Daniel Pedrosa, geology student 2012

The University of Portsmouth has many opportunities for fieldtrips, with the Jurassic Coast a stone’s throw away.

Daniel Pedrosa, geology student 2012



Find out what our students say about studying at Portsmouth, including:

  • Fieldtrips in the UK and abroad providing invaluable practical skills
  • The open-door approach of the lecturers, many of whom have industry experience
  • Superb careers advice and support that is part of your course

Browse all courses in Earth and Environmental Sciences

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Structure & Teaching

Year one

You will receive a comprehensive introduction to all aspects of geoscience.

Core units in this year are:

  • How the Earth Works
  • Mineralogy and Petrology
  • Sedimentology and Palaeontology
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Science for Earth Systems
  • Biodiversity and Evolution

Year two

Specialise in the more applied areas of the subject and benefit from fieldwork – a vital component of any geoscience degree.

Core units in this year are:

  • Vertebrate Palaeontology
  • Sedimentology and Palaeoenvironments
  • Palaeontological Techniques
  • Palaeobotany, Micropalaeontology and Project Preparation
  • Palaeontology
  • Professional Skills for Palaeontologists

Year three

Customise and consolidate your studies. In this year you can go on an optional fieldtrip overseas to visit come of the most exciting paleontological sites in Europe.

Core units in this year are:

  • Palaeontology Project and Study Tour

Options to choose from in this year currently include:

  • Taphonomy and Biostratigraphy
  • Vertebrate Palaeontology 2
  • Evolution and the Fossil Record
  • Basin Analysis and Petroleum Geology
  • Oceans, Climates and Environments

We use the best and most current research and professional practice, alongside feedback from our students, to make sure course content is relevant to your future career or further studies.

Therefore, some course content may change over time to reflect changes in the discipline or industry and some optional units may not run every year. If a unit doesn’t run, we’ll let you know as soon as possible and help you choose an alternative unit.


The course provides a balanced structure of lectures, tutorials and laboratory work. You will generally be taught in small classes, providing an informal, friendly and supportive atmosphere for your studies.

The time you spend in teaching activities may depend on the units you select. As a guide, students on this course last year typically spent their time as follows:

  • Year one students: 30% in lectures, seminars and similar learning activities, 70% studying independently and 0% on work placement
  • Year two students: 33% in lectures, seminars and similar learning activities, 67% studying independently and 0% on work placement
  • Year three students: 34% in lectures, seminars and similar learning activities, 66% studying independently and 0% on work placement


Assessment is a mix of coursework and exams, roughly 50:50. However, your coursework can take a variety of forms including:

  • laboratory reports
  • oral and poster presentations
  • reports on field-based projects
  • computer-based assessment

The way you’re assessed may depend on the units you select. As a guide, students on this course last year were typically assessed as follows:

  • Year one students: 55% by written exams, 13% by practical exams and 32% by coursework
  • Year two students: 29% by written exams, 8% by practical exams and 63% by coursework
  • Year three students: 39% by written exams, 9% by practical exams and 52% by coursework

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Facilities & Features


You will have access to modern, petrology and palaeontology teaching laboratories stocked with a wide range of hand specimens of rocks, minerals and fossils. There are also transmitted light binocular microscopes and polarizing petrological microscopes for detailed analyses of rocks, minerals and some fossils in thin section.

Field Trips

Fieldwork is an important part of our courses. From excavations to palaeobiological data collection, current trips are to:

  • the Isle of Wight
  • Lulworth Cove
  • Lyme Regis
  • Barton-on-Sea
  • Osmington Mills
  • Beer
  • Wales
  • Germany

University Library

Modern, comfortable and a great learning environment, our library offers a wealth of information including 400,000 books, DVDs, maps and thousands of online ejournals and newspapers. Many electronic resources are available anywhere, 24/7 and our friendly staff are always on hand to help.

Budgeting for your studies

There are extra costs associated with studying, which you will need to consider when planning your expenditure.

Recommended texts:
If you wish to purchase recommended texts, rather than borrow from the University Library, the average price is £50-£60. You may be studying up to 6 units a year, each with a standard recommended text.

General costs:
We recommend that you budget £75 a year for costs of photocopying, memory sticks, DVDs and CDs, printing charges, binding and specialist printing.

Final year project:
If your final year includes a major project, there could be cost for transport or accommodation related to your research activities. The amount will depend on the project you choose to develop.

Other costs to consider

The cost of travel or accommodation for compulsory fieldwork is included in the course fee. But travel costs will be incurred on the Mapping Training Field Course, which takes place at locations within the UK in the summer between course years 1 and 2 of study. This will be around £100. You will be expected to pay for meals and other subsistence costs associated with compulsory fieldwork.

For compulsory project work, normally in the UK or Europe, costs for travel and accommodation can be from £0 - £1000.

For optional fieldwork, costs of travel, accommodation, meals and other subsistence are around £1200.


In addition, you will be expected to buy field equipment, (e.g. compass, clinometers, hammer, hand lens, notebook) at the start of your first year. These costs are £130.

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Careers & Opportunities

Career prospects

Career prospects
Where next?

You are eminently employable and as a leading provider of palaeontology graduates we have an enviable employment record. Job opportunities include roles in museums, as wardens on the Jurassic coast of Dorset, in teaching, building models of pterosaurs for science exhibitions, on television and in the oil industry.

Postgraduate study is also a popular choice for many of our graduates.

Work experience

Work experience
Employment boosting opportunities

We feel it’s very important for you to gain first-hand experience of the variety of geological techniques you will be learning throughout your course. Although field-based learning is intensive, needing you to draw on a wide range of theoretical and practical knowledge, it is immensely rewarding and, above all, fun.

You’ll get the chance to visit come of the most famous sites in Europe such as the Solnhofen quarries where Archaeopteryx was found and the World Heritage Site at Messel to collect in strata containing 40 million year old horses, pythons, bats and birds.

Career planning

Career planning

To make sure you take the right steps on your career path, we’re here to give you help, support and advice throughout your study. Even after you’ve graduated, we continue to give you support for up to five years.

Employers tell us that they want graduates to be able to demonstrate certain skills when they come out of university. Our courses take account of this. We make sure we prepare you for employment through work-related learning, projects, placements and working in simulated environments that are designed to prepare you for the working world.

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Apply now or visit us

Apply for 2018 entry

To apply, you'll need this course's UCAS code, which is at the top of this page, and the University of Portsmouth institution code – P80.

Apply now

After you apply, we'll invite you to an Applicant Experience Day where you’ll get to speak to lecturers and meet your future classmates.

Open Days for courses starting in 2019

Come to an Open Day and explore our course facilities, tour the campus and have a look around our halls of residence.

Book your Open Day

Admissions terms and conditions

When you accept an offer to study at the University of Portsmouth, you also agree to our terms and conditions as well as the University’s policies, rules and regulations. You should read and consider these before you apply.

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