Become a Herpetologist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Aug 28, 2018

Learn how to become a herpetologist. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in herpetology.

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  • 0:00 Herpetologist Career Info
  • 0:55 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:03 Earn a Graduate Degree
  • 3:18 Gain Experience

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Herpetologist Career Info

Degree Level Majority of professionals in this field hold a PhD; entry-level positions require at least a bachelor's
Degree Field Biology with courses or thesis in herpetology
Experience Research and other work in the field; varies with job position
Key Skills Strong skills in science, writing, organization, communication, and active learning; use of Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Excel, and scientific software used to analyze data
Salary $59,680 (2015 median for zoologists and wildlife biologists)

Sources: American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, O*Net OnLine

Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians and is generally known as a specialization or sub-field of biology. As a type of wildlife biologist, herpetologists might spend time in offices or in labs. A great deal of their time could be spent outdoors in the field, in possibly remote areas and in all types of weather and living conditions. In addition to working directly with reptiles and amphibians or performing research, herpetologists may also find employment as specialized writers and photographers. These professionals should have strong writing skills, organizational skills, communication skills, and active learning skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, zoologists and wildlife biologists in general earned a median annual pay of $59,680 in 2015.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

For those interested in finding employment before (or instead of) completing a graduate program in the field, the recommended education is a bachelor's degree. The degree needs to be in a field that provides students with a solid knowledge of biology, specifically with a focus on animals and ecology. Aspiring herpetologists must choose their biology program with care, because not every program offers courses related to herpetology. Course titles to look for include 'Herpetology' and 'Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles.'

The National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management commonly employ those with a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field. Preference may be given to those who completed coursework in wildlife biology, zoology, or rangeland management.

Participation in field courses or internships that advance a student's knowledge of and experience with reptiles and amphibians will help him or her become more competitive when applying for entry-level jobs and for graduate programs in the field. Taking courses in writing and photography could help develop a possible career as a herpetological writer or photographer.

Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree

Depending on career goals, a student who has completed a bachelor's degree program could then choose to complete a master's or a Ph.D. in the field. A master's degree program with a thesis option in herpetology would be a good choice. Likewise, an independent research project for a Ph.D. program may be completed in a herpetology subject. Those with a master's degree in the field may choose to work as research assistants at universities or acquire advanced positions with zoos, museums, and wildlife management organizations. Additionally, some teaching positions require only a master's degree.

Although someone with a Ph.D. in the field would qualify to apply for the same jobs as those with a master's degree, most people with a doctoral degree choose to teach at a university and/or conduct independent research in herpetology. Those who possess a Ph.D. may teach courses in herpetology, biology, anatomy, or other related subjects in which the person might have an educational background. Prospective students might find it helpful to choose a graduate program that is known to have a large faculty involved in herpetology as well as high numbers of successful herpetology graduates.

Step 3: Gain Experience

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that zoologists and wildlife biologists, including herpetologists, need to accumulate experience before they can gain greater direction over their own research and more advanced duties.

One way of gaining experience is by joining a university lab. Some university research laboratories allow researchers from a variety of educational institutions to participate in their herpetological research projects. One such laboratory is the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory that belongs to the University of Georgia. Participants come from many educational backgrounds, but all have some sort of specialization or qualifying experience that is related to amphibians and reptiles.

Herpetologists are wildlife biologists, and as such, they must generally complete a master's or doctoral degree before they can go on to work in research, wildlife management, or education.

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