Ecology Career Options and Requirements

Sep 20, 2019

Degrees in ecology typically cover exchanges between organisms and the environment and conservation. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for ecology graduates.

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For those who love nature and working in the outdoors, ecology might be a useful course of study. The three careers outlined below, ecologist, forester and conservation scientist, all require a bachelor's degree in ecology in order to get started.

Essential Information

Ecology is the study of living organisms and their surroundings. Careers in this field relate to ecosystems, the environment and animals. Many who work in this field seek to protect the land and ensure that it continues to grow. Ecologists, foresters and conservation scientists are all potential job titles; all of these careers options require a college education.

Career Ecologist Forester Conservation Scientist
Required Education Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Master's degree or doctorate recommended for independent research Credentialing for some states Graduate degree for teaching
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 8% for all environmental scientists* 3% for conservation scientists and foresters* 3% for conservation scientists and foresters*
Median Salary (2018) $71,130 for all environmental scientists* $61,410* $61,310*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

There are many career options that can be pursued with a degree in ecology. Among the most popular job titles are ecological scientist, forester and conversation scientist. Ecologists examine natural landscapes and work in laboratory settings to perform research and write up reports on their findings. Foresters are much more hands-on; they oversee and direct many types of activity that involve forests in order to ensure the forests stay healthy. Conservation scientists are consultants for recreational land-users, farmers and others who wish to protect the environment and improve the land.

Ecologist Career Overview

Ecologists examine the interaction and exchanges between organisms and the environment. They collect data on the quality of water, soil, food and air through examining pollutants, rainfall, population size, altitude and temperature. When possible, an ecologist works in a laboratory setting to perform this research and to write up reports. However, field studies are common in this career. An ecologist has to physically and mentally prepare him or herself for inhabiting dangerous and primitive living conditions in the wild. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that environmental scientists, such as ecologists, made a median annual salary of $71,730 as of 2018.

Education Requirements

An ecologist working in product development or applied research can usually get by with a bachelor's or master's degree. With these degrees, research assistant or research technician positions are common. However, if an ecologist wants to perform independent research or work in administrative vocations, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is normally required. Ecologists typically major in biological science or ecology. Specializations and minors need to be pursued in ecology as well.

Ecology students spend a lot of time in classroom lectures and laboratories. With lab courses, an aspiring ecologist learns how to operate important equipment and perform research into the field. Common classes include computer science, physics, engineering and mathematics. The total education for an ecologist can vary from 4-8 years. Ph.D. programs require a significant amount of independent research and the completion of a final thesis project, which must contribute to the field of ecology. This final project is presented to an educational council and defended against them.

Forester Career Overview

Foresters oversee conservational, environmental, economical and recreational activities involving forests. Forests are kept healthy and protected by foresters who survey the land. Plans are created and implemented by foresters to protect the forests from wildfires, excessive lumbering, insects and diseases. As of 2018, foresters made a median wage of $61,410 a year, according to the BLS.

Education Requirements

The minimum amount of education required for a forester is a bachelor's degree. Many majors are available including environmental science, biology, forestry and natural resource management. If a forester plans on performing research or teaching, then a master's degree or a Ph.D. is needed.

According to the BLS, fifteen states require foresters to go through a credentialing process ( Depending on the state, this process might be mandatory or voluntary. The common prerequisites for this credential are a 4-year forestry degree and a few years of work experience. Additionally, an examination has to be completed and passed prior to receiving the credential.

Conservation Scientist Career Overview

Natural resources have to be protected, managed and improved. Conservation scientists perform these duties by working with the government and landowners to protect the environment. Recreational users of the environment seek out conservation scientists for tips and assistance on improving the land. Farmers and ranchers contact conservation scientists for advice on agriculture. According to the BLS, positions for conservation scientists and foresters will increase by 3% between 2018 and 2028, slower than average for all occupations. The BLS also reports that the median yearly salary for conservation scientists as of May 2018 was $61,310.

Education Requirements

Conservation scientists can get by with a bachelor's degree in rangeland management, environmental science, agricultural science or natural resource management. A graduate-level degree is only necessary for research and teaching vocations. Conservation scientists need to enjoy working outdoors and performing physical activity due to their work environment.

Ecologists, foresters and conservation scientists all work to protect and conserve the environment. A bachelor's degree may be enough to find employment, but a master's degree can help with job prospects, and a variety of majors are available for this field.

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