Ecologist: Job and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for ecologists. Get the facts about the job duties of an ecologist, places of employment, degree programs that can prepare one for this career and salary information to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Ecologist Do?

Ecologists study various factors that affect the environment, in particular the ecosystem, or the relationship between organisms and their surroundings. They seek to sustain ecological health, and conserve wildlife and their habitats. Ecologists use computer software to analyze data in addition to performing tests and experiments. They also organize research and awareness initiatives. Most of their work is conducted in the field.

The following chart gives a quick overview of this scientific career.

Degree Required Bachelor's or higher
Education Field of Study Ecology, biology, geology, environmental science
Key Responsibilities Collecting and analyzing data, applying mathematical models, maintaining habitats
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% for all zoologists and wildlife biologists
Median Annual Salary (2016)** $51,397

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com.

What is an Ecologist?

When you work as an ecologist, your main goal is to study the effects that industrialization, mankind and other organisms have on the environment. In the larger sense, this might include studying the effects pollution, rainfall or climate change. Your day-to-day duties most likely include collecting and sorting through data. You might perform fieldwork in the open environment in order to collect data, but typically analyze data in a laboratory space.

Another large component of your job as an ecologist is to apply mathematical models to the data you have collected. You use those models to form reliable conclusions that correlate a particular action with its effect on the surrounding environment. You should have an analytical mind and a strong interest in research.

Where Might I Find Work as an Ecologist?

As an ecologist, you could find work as an environmental researcher for a not-for-profit association. Your duties for such an organization might entail compiling scientific reports and papers that can then be used to lobby the government on behalf of environmental protection. You might also work as a scientific researcher for a college or university. Some large corporations and government agencies might also hire you to perform studies into the effects that certain industrial factors may have had on the environment.

What Educational Programs Are Available?

If you are interested in starting a career as an ecologist, your first step might be to complete an undergraduate program in a field such as biology, geology, environmental science or statistics. However, employers may expect you to have at least a graduate degree. A Master of Science in Ecology should teach you how to perform a scientific research project that analyzes the effects that a particular interaction can have on the environment. Such programs typically take 1-3 years to complete and cover advanced ecology, biological research, field ecology, plant ecology and statistics.

If you are interested in pursuing an advanced position as a researcher or scientist in the field of ecology, you might also consider completing a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program. A Ph.D. in Ecology should provide you with a setting in which to perform your own dissertation research on a particular ecology-related subject. Such programs can also prepare you for a position in academia.

What Salary Could I Expect to Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have data related specifically to ecologists, but did relate that biological scientists in general held nearly 21,300 positions across the country as of 2014. In October 2016, Payscale.com reported that ecologists working in the U.S. earned between $35,187 and $72,903 per year in total pay.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Someone concerned with the environment may also consider a career as a microbiologist, conservation scientist/forester, or a general environmental specialist/scientist. Microbiologists study the processes and interactions of microscopic organisms. Conservation scientists and foresters maintain public land quality. Environmental scientists and specialists lead various cleanup and restoration projects for the environment. All of these occupations require bachelor's degrees for entry-level employment.

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