Should I Become a Zoologist?
Zoology is the study of living organisms, specifically animals. Zoologists study multiple species in a certain ecosystem, population interactions, and specific species or behaviors. They collect and analyze data in labs or outdoor environments. Many conduct research and teach at universities, while others are employed at zoos or federal agencies with a concern for wildlife. Travel might be required, and work is often accomplished in challenging weather conditions.
Zoology degrees are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. A bachelor's degree is the minimum education required for jobs in the field, while a master's degree qualifies an individual for higher-level positions with more pay and responsibility. A Ph.D. is needed for positions involving original research and developing plans for conservation or management.
To become a zoologist, you need a college degree in the field of zoology. Depending on where you work, this could be a bachelor's, master's, or Ph.D. Experience is also required to advance in the field, and employers look for skills in:
- Critical thinking
- Complex problem solving
- Decision making
- Active learning
- Proficiency with Microsoft Excel, Word, and scientific software
As for the typical salary, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual salary for all zoologists and wildlife biologists in May 2015 was $59,680.
How to Become a Zoologist
Here are four steps to take if you want to become a zoologist.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Zoology
Some bachelor's degree programs in zoology allow for specialization and others are more generalized. Core courses for most programs are general biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Sometimes the biology requirement is divided into courses in molecular and organismal biology. If specialization is allowed or required, options are marine biology, ecology, genetics, animal behavior, or zoo and aquarium science. You can create a specialization by taking certain elective courses in the subject.
With a bachelor's degree in zoology, you can get an entry-level job as a zoologist or wildlife biologist, since there are minimal education and experience requirements. Once you gain more experience, you can move up to higher paying positions. While some entry-level zoologists and wildlife biologists conduct research, the majority of professionals need a graduate degree.
Get involved in volunteer work or internships. Not only can volunteering and interning count for college credit, these experiences provide networking opportunities, which help with finding future employment. Spots for internships are limited, so you can boost your chances of being selected by doing volunteer work. A few internships offer a stipend or paycheck to participants.
Step 2: Obtain Employment with a Bachelor's Degree
This step is optional because you may decide to enter a graduate program immediately after graduating from a bachelor's program. Working in the field is beneficial when applying for and completing a graduate degree program. On the other hand, you may find employment and remain in your position without earning a graduate degree.
While zoologists are employed at zoos, they don't do the same job as zookeepers. Zookeepers focus on the care and feeding of zoo animals rather than animal research. Zoologists can also work for conservation organizations and federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree in Zoology
Master's and Ph.D. programs in zoology consist of coursework that is similar in subject matter to a bachelor's program, especially if they are offered through the same university. However, graduate-level courses are more advanced and research-oriented. Students may be taught in seminars.
Master's degree programs have a thesis and non-thesis option. In a non-thesis degree program, students need to pass an exam instead of completing a research project. The dissertation is the main focus of a doctoral program. Students are required to carry out original research, record and write about it, and orally defend the research to peers and department faculty members. Examples of research dissertations include wolf spider foraging behavior, toxicity effects of certain chemicals on rainbow trout, and how nutrient availability affects phytoplankton communities.
Step 4: Work as a Zoologist
After completing a master's degree in zoology, you might qualify for a higher-level job with more pay and research opportunities. Teaching and research opportunities are open for those with doctoral degrees. Research at this level is used to develop new ideas and plans for conservation of certain animal species.
Consider joining a professional organization in the field of zoology. Many specialized branches of biology and zoology have societies and associations in which a professional in the field can be a member. As a member, you can read papers written by other professionals, make connections, and learn about workshops or classes for continuing education.