Become an Animal Biologist
Animal biologists study the habitats, histories, and current issues of different animal groups. These professionals are also known as wildlife biologists or zoologists. They are responsible for studying animals, collecting data, and making presentations on their findings. Animal biologists work in academic institutions, zoos, government agencies, non-profit organizations, environmental consulting firms, and museums.
Animal biologists who focus on research may travel to visit wildlife sites to collect samples, determine animal populations, study animals in their habitats, and analyze ecosystems in areas where few modern amenities exist. Precautions must be taken when working in the presence of wild animals who may be scared or feel defensive. Job conditions might be emotionally challenging, since contact with other people may be minimal. Key skills for this job include knowledge of different types of animals, observation, critical thinking, problem solving, research, and communication skills. Additionally, the ability to use computer software such as geographic information systems or modeling software is crucial. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $59,680 as of May 2015.
Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Entry-level animal biologists need at least a bachelor's degree. Animal biologists can major in biology, zoology, ecology, animal science, or a related field. Some biology bachelor's degree programs offer an animal biology track. In this type of program, students take classes in ecology, cellular processes, diversity, genetics, anatomy, and physiology. Other available degree specializations include marine biology, animal behavior, or environmental biology.
The following are success tips:
- Research schools. Before beginning an undergraduate degree program, it is important for aspiring animal biologists to research potential schools. Since there are several different majors and specializations available in this field, time should be spent evaluating the different programs and deciding which one is the right one for that person.
- Take computer classes. Animal biologists use specific computer software to track their work, so knowledge of computer science is necessary. While in college, potential animal biologists should be sure to take computer courses and study different types of modeling software.
Animal biologists are expected to have a good amount of experience and skills related to their job. In some cases, up to 5 years of experience could be required, according to O*Net Online. There are many ways that these skills can be developed, including through internships and volunteer work. Undergraduate students may also consider seeking research opportunities while in school.
- Hone important skills. Work-related skills include active listening, critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making. Participating in extra-curricular activities, internships, or field-based programs can help potential animal biologists sharpen these skills.
Consider a Graduate Degree
For advancement and higher level positions, a master's degree is generally required. Master's degree students may be able to choose between a research-intensive or coursework-intensive degree, depending on the type of job they wish to secure upon graduation. Master's degree programs in this field are generally interdisciplinary and may cover such areas as genetics, ecology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience.
- Find the right program. Because graduate programs can be tailored to fit a student's career objectives, it is important for animal biologists to know what they want to do before enrolling. Once they know what their intentions are, they can search for programs that best fit their purpose, such as programs that offer appropriate concentration areas or faculty specializing in broad research categories.
Evaluate Advanced Career Options
Research and academic positions offer animal biologists additional opportunities for growth. For those who wish to conduct independent research, a PhD is generally required. These programs allow students to focus on both applied and basic research. Individuals in these positions of high responsibility should be proactive and possess excellent leadership skills.
Aspiring animal biologists must earn a bachelor's degree, gain experience in the field, and should consider a graduate or master's degree for further career advancement.