Become an Entomologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Should I Become an Entomologist?

Entomologists are scientists who specialize in the identification, classification, observation and conservation of insects and arthropods. They might find employment with colleges and universities, government agencies, industrial companies, agriculture and research institutes. This profession may be physically demanding, and entomologists may deal with the strain of inclement weather conditions or research assignments in remote areas.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree for entry-level positions; master's or Ph.D. may be necessary for advancement
Degree Field Entomology, biology, zoology
Experience 1-3 years of work experience in the field is required for certification
Key Skills Strong writing and speaking skills, critical-thinking skills, observation and problem-solving skills, Proficiency in operating computer database systems, geographic information systems and modeling software
Salary $60,182 (2015 median)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Entomological Society of America (ESA), North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research, PayScale

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is the minimum level of education needed to obtain an entry-level position in this field. Aspiring entomologists can pursue bachelor's degrees in biological sciences, though some universities offer programs specifically in entomology. An entomology program will likely cover a variety of topics, including insect biology and physiology, aquatic entomology, pest management, insect-borne diseases, morphology, insect taxonomy and veterinary entomology.

Success Tips:

  • Participate in an internship. Schools can usually assist students in finding internship opportunities to extend their education outside of a classroom environment. Interns have the opportunity to work for college research departments, private companies, national parks and professional organizations. Interns may assist in lab or fieldwork, insect identification, insect trapping and a variety of other tasks depending on where the internship is conducted.
  • Join a student entomology club. The ESA reports that many universities have student entomology clubs that aspiring entomologists can join. Student entomology clubs can provide students with work experience and additional educational opportunities. For example, members of a club might host educational programs for children or attend seminars hosted by notable entomologists.

Step 2: Consider an Advanced Degree

An advanced degree might expand career opportunities because higher positions in the field typically require a graduate degree. For example, a Ph.D. is necessary to work in research or academia, according to the BLS. Several entomology programs can be found at the graduate level. Students in these programs often can choose concentrations in pest management, evolutionary biology, insect pathology or population dynamics. Typical coursework includes biology of immature and adult insects, toxicology, insect morphology, insect ecology and pest suppression. Some master's programs offer thesis and non-thesis options, but doctoral programs almost always require a dissertation.

Step 3: Pick a Specialization

Entomologists can work in numerous areas, including education, research, government and industry. They might observe and chart the growth of insect populations, teach at universities or research pest control methods. Some educate the public about insects at zoos or through university-sponsored cooperative extension services. Additionally, they could become forensic entomologists, assisting police who find insects at crime scenes. Other opportunities include consulting and insecticide sales.

The federal government hires entomologists for many reasons, such as inspecting ports for foreign pests and quarantining areas with non-native insect infestations. They could research insect-related health hazards for municipal, state or national public health agencies. The military hires entomologists to help with parasite prevention and pest control on military bases. Entomologists also offer pest control services to protect crops or forests.

Step 4: Consider Certification

Entomologists can earn voluntary professional certification to stand out as a professional in the field. The ESA Certification Corporation offers the Board Certified Entomologist (BCE) credential for entomologists who have a formal education in the field. Eligibility requirements are based on the level of education and amount of work experience an entomologist has. Bachelor's degree-holders must have at least 3 years of work experience, master's degree-holders must have at least 2 years of work experience, and Ph.D.-holders must have at least 1 year of work experience in order to qualify. The certification process involves passing a general exam and at least one specialty exam that covers topics in medical and veterinary entomology, urban/industrial entomology, plant-related entomology or pesticides.

Step 5: Continue Education

BCEs must complete 120 continuing education and professional participation credits every 3 years to meet recertification requirements. Continuing education requirements are broken down into various categories, including reading, training, attending conferences and taking college courses. Continuing education can not only help an entomologist retain certification, but also stay current on industry trends, innovations and discoveries.

Step 6: Join a Professional Organization

A professional organization, such as the ESA, can provide an entomologist with access to continuing education options. Additional benefits of membership include opportunities to present and publish research, network with other professionals and access professional development resources.

Step 7: Gain Experience for Career Advancement

Entomologists can assume more leadership and research responsibility as they gain experience. Experienced entomologists can become team and project leaders, professors or executives within their firms. Gaining experience offers the contacts, knowledge and opportunity to advance.

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