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Field Research Biologist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Field research biologists may require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and necessary skills to see if this is the right career for you.

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A field research biologist works in diverse natural environments, collecting data and analyzing it. These professionals require at least a bachelor's degree in a life science, though many research jobs demand a graduate degree. A willingness to travel and work outdoors is necessary.

Essential Information

Biologists who primarily conduct research on animals or plants while outside in natural environments are called field researchers; they differ from other biologists who work in an indoor laboratory. Field research biologists work in many different environments, such as deserts, mountains, jungles, oceans and grasslands. Although those with bachelor's degrees in biology can find entry-level field research jobs, conducting independent research typically requires a doctorate.

Required Education Bachelor's degree at minimum; doctorate for independent research
Other Requirements Outdoors skills
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all zoologists and wildlife biologists
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $59,680 for all zoologists and wildlife biologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Field research biologists spend extended periods of time outdoors observing subjects and collecting data and information in the environment. Depending on the job, work may be done near to the laboratory or assignments may be located in faraway locations. Information gained in the field is applied to research with diverse applications, such as wildlife conservation, farming and medicine. As with other researchers, an important aspect of the job is writing proposals and communicating results effectively in order to receive continued funding for research projects.

Field research biologists focus on one of many distinct subjects; they are typically classified by their area of study. Common specializations include, but are not limited to:

  • Zoologists, who study animals
  • Botanists, who study plants
  • Ecologists, who study the structure and elements of environments as a whole
  • Marine biologists, who study both plants and animals living in saltwater environments

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for wildlife biologists and zoologists should increase by 4% during the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). Based on BLS figures from May 2015, these professionals earned a median salary of $59,680.

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Job Duties

Field research biologists must travel to various locations with the necessary equipment for recording accurate data and taking proper samples. Once the data or physical samples are taken from the environment, they must be carefully cataloged for later analysis.

Data and physical samples are taken to a laboratory for thorough analysis in a controlled setting. Field research biologists use a variety of laboratory equipment to analyze physical samples as well as computer software and tools for evaluating data. The information gained from these analyses must be compiled and applied to the research project.

Field research biologists often need to write and submit grant proposals outlining exactly what they want to study in order to receive funding for projects. Organizations who grant funding sometimes require progress reports as well as a report on the results when the project is complete. Field research biologists write detailed scientific papers on their research findings for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

High-level research positions may involve the tasks of supervising and managing entry-level researchers on multiple projects.

Job Requirements

A bachelor's degree in one of the life sciences is the minimum requirement for a job in research. To carry out research investigations independently, a doctoral degree is usually the necessary requirement.

An ability to travel, be outdoors for long periods of time and deal with uncomfortable environments is also required for field research. Field research biologists must also be organized, precise and honest with the data they record in order to achieve accurate and reliable research results.

Field researchers can specialize in a certain area or work generally in a number of environmental settings. These biologists should possess a relevant degree, preferably at the graduate level.

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