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Become an Environmental Biologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an environmental biologist. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career as an environmental biologist.

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Should I to Become an Environmental Biologist?

Environmental biologists, also referred to as ecologists, are scientists who study how living organisms interact with each other and their environments. Field work often includes the observation of plants and animals in their natural environments as well as the documentation of findings. While some environmental biologists work in a laboratory setting, many work directly in the field. As a result, work environments can vary drastically and include extreme weather conditions, harsh environments and dangerous landscapes. Those who work in the field may be more prone to illnesses and injuries as a result. Biologists who focus their research in a lab setting must be careful to protect themselves from exposure to dangerous toxins and chemicals.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; Ph.D. required to conduct independent research
Degree Field Biology, ecology or related field
Experience 0 to 3 years for entry-level positions
Key Skills Active listening, speaking, critical thinking, writing, complex problem-solving, coordination, good judgment and decision-making skills
Salary $72,050 per year (2014 average salary for all environmental scientists and specialists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

Step 1: Complete an Undergraduate Program

Students pursuing careers in environmental biology can earn a bachelor's degree in biology, ecology or a related field. A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum educational requirement for biologist positions. In addition to taking life science courses, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) recommends undergraduates enroll in courses like chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, social science and geography.

Success Tip:

  • Develop verbal and written communication skills. Environmental biologists will need to present their ideas and findings to other people. For this reason, cultivating strong communication skills, especially in the written form is important.

Step 2: Gain Experience to Prepare for Employment

Methods of gaining field experience include working as a research or teaching assistant for a professor, interning for an environmental organization or volunteering at a field station. Students may also seek out summer ecology jobs with government agencies or local nature centers. After gradation, individuals can find entry-level employment as biologists. However, some environmental biology graduates may start out as field analysts or technicians.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree for Advanced Career Opportunities

For biologists working in the field, a master's degree may be required for advancement. However, those seeking the highest level of education to prepare for advanced research or academic positions can complete a Ph.D. program in environmental biology or another life sciences field. Students can apply to doctorate programs immediately after earning their bachelor's degrees. Graduates of environmental biology Ph.D. programs are qualified to work as professors, research scientists, research administrators or natural resource managers at universities, government agencies and private firms.

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