Become a Wildlife Scientist: Education and Career Roadmap

Jul 17, 2018

Research the requirements to become a wildlife scientist. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in wildlife science.

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  • 0:00 Becoming a Wildlife Scientist
  • 0:47 Career Requirements
  • 1:39 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 2:13 Step 2: Gain Employment
  • 2:46 Step 3: Pursue an…
  • 3:24 Step 4: Earn Certification

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Becoming a Wildlife Scientist

So you think you might like to become a wildlife scientist? Wildlife scientists, also referred to as wildlife biologists, often work with animals in their natural habitats. These professionals focus on animal behavior and environmental effects on wildlife populations. They should be comfortable working out of doors with animals, though they may also spend time in laboratory and office environments. Some may be required to travel to various parts of the world to work with certain types of animals, sometimes in remote conditions or bad weather. On the plus side, these scientists get to experience nature and wildlife up close. However, this type of work can be both physically and emotionally demanding.

Career Requirements

So what are career requirements? Starting with the right education is important.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is required; advanced and research positions require graduate degrees
Degree Field Wildlife sciences, wildlife biology, or a related area of study
Certification The Wildlife Society offers voluntary certification as a Certified Wildlife Biologist
Experience Five years' experience needed for voluntary certification as a Certified Wildlife Biologist
Key Skills Outdoor and observational skills; ability to work alone for lengthy periods of time; scientific reasoning, problem solving, decision making, communication, and critical thinking skills
Salary $59,680 (median for zoologists and wildlife biologists)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Wildlife Society, O*Net Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that wildlife scientists need to complete at least a bachelor's degree program in wildlife sciences or a related subject to enter the field. These four-year programs provide aspiring wildlife scientists with general and fundamental knowledge in wildlife biology, as well as offer additional specializations, such as marine biology or zoology. Common courses in a wildlife sciences program include:

  • Fisheries management
  • Wildlife management
  • Resource conservation
  • Ecology

Step 2: Gain Employment

Wildlife scientists' job duties may be split between working in wildlife environments and laboratories. They typically are employed by local, state, or federal government agencies, in addition to private industry firms. These scientists conduct regular research on both animals in captivity and in their natural environments. Research may include estimating wildlife population sizes or analyzing the effects of rural development on animal habitats. They also might give presentations on their findings.

Step 3: Pursue an Advanced Degree

Completing an advanced degree program can prepare wildlife scientists for more career opportunities. Colleges and universities offer both master's and doctoral degree programs in wildlife studies and related subjects. As educational programs become more advanced, they become more specialized and focused, with an emphasis on conducting research being a common trait. For example, while students in a master's degree program in fisheries and wildlife sciences may take some courses on wildlife research methodologies, those in doctoral degree programs typically conduct field research projects on wildlife populations.

Step 4: Earn Certification

The Wildlife Society (TWS) offers several voluntary certifications for wildlife scientists based on their education and experience. Those who have completed a bachelor's degree program and TWS-approved classes can become Associate Wildlife Biologists. Earning the title of Certified Wildlife Biologist requires at least five years of experience in the field. Candidates who have completed an advanced degree program may receive some credit toward this professional experience requirement.

Earn a bachelor's degree, gain employment, pursue an advanced degree, and earn certification are the steps to follow to make the most of a career as a wildlife scientist.

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