Ethology Graduate Programs: Curriculum Overview

Graduate-level study of ethology, also known as animal behavior, is available at the master's or the doctoral level. Find out more about these programs and what students can do with their degrees after graduation.

Essential Information

Ethology is the study of animal behavior in the natural environment. Students who are interested in this field can enroll in master's or doctoral degree program in animal behavior. These programs integrate studies of biology and psychology. Master's degree students spend most of their time observing and analyzing animal behavior. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in animal behavior involve in-depth research in a specialized area, such as animal ecology, and take an average of five years to complete. In order to apply, students must hold a bachelor's degree with relevant undergraduate coursework and submit GRE scores.


Master's Degree in Animal Behavior

Master's degree programs in animal behavior may be offered by either the biology or psychology department at a university. Students learn to apply psychological principles to the cultural and social interactions of humans and animals. In some programs, students perform live observations of animals in zoos, laboratories or wildlife sanctuaries. These programs include extensive psychology coursework and coursework that applies psychological principles to the study of animals. Often featuring laboratory components, courses may include the following:

  • Behavioral psychology
  • Comparative psychology
  • Mammalogy
  • Ornithology
  • Behavioral ecology

Ph.D. in Animal Behavior

Graduate animal behavior programs at the Ph.D. level develop students' research skills in analyzing and interpreting the actions of domestic or wild animals. Students may focus their studies on certain types of animals, such as birds or mammals. Often, they specialize in a particular facet of animal behavior, such as foraging, domestication or evolution, and write their dissertation on this focus area. Common courses include:

  • Animal behavior analysis methods
  • Neurobiology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Evolution
  • Animal ecology

Popular Career Options

Master's degree graduates often go on to careers such as wildlife biologist or field researchers, while Ph.D. graduates usually work in research or teaching at the university level. Possible job titles for graduates include the following:

  • Wildlife biologist
  • Zoologist
  • Conservation biologist
  • Field researcher
  • Animal curator
  • Teacher
  • Professor

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), zoologists and wildlife biologists held almost 18,000 jobs in 2015 (www.bls.gov). Between 2014 and 2024, this number was expected to grow just 4%, due in part to the budget restrictions on governmental agencies. Zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median annual salary of $59,680, according to the BLS.

In summary, graduate-level programs in animal behavior provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the psychological and biological aspects of ethology. With this knowledge, students can pursue careers working with animals, conducting research, or teaching.

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