Ethologist: Salary and Career Facts

Ethologists work with animals to learn about their behavior. Read on for information on education requirements and possible degree programs, essential skills and salary figures. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is an Ethologist?

Animal lovers have the perfect career field in ethology. Ethologists study the behavior of animals in their natural settings and look for patterns in behavior. From livestock to wildlife, animals have certain innate and instinctual behaviors that can be scientifically studies in a myriad of ways. Jane Goodall, who studied chimpanzees for decades in their native forests in Tanzania, is a famous ethologist.

Usually these professionals work in research centers or universities and spend time in rugged areas studying animals in their homes. Some ethologists become biologists, zoologists and wildlife biologists. Most ethologists will specialize in certain animal studies. Ethologists can work at colleges and universities, research institutions and more. Many are involved in work that requires them to be in an animal's natural environment while others work in labs. For information on becoming an ethologist, refer to the table below.

Degree Required Doctorate is typically required
Education Field of Study Animal science, animal biology, biology, genetics, evolution
Key Duties Studying animal behavior, running experiments, doing field research, writing and reporting findings, teaching
Job Growth (2014-2024) 4%* (zoologists and wildlife biologists)
Median Salary (2015) $59,680* (zoologists and wildlife biologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Education Do I Need?

If you want to be an ethologist, you can start by getting a bachelor's degree in fields such as animal behavior, animal science, zoology or veterinary science. Many schools offer combined degree programs where you can follow one singular course of study to earn both a Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). These programs teach the fundamentals of animal science, biology, physiology, genetics, biochemistry and behavioral science. You spend a considerable amount of time in student labs, examining specimens under microscopes and conducting experiments. Most schools offer internship opportunities, wherein you would work directly with animals.

Because most jobs in ethology require job candidates to have graduate degrees, you should consider enrolling in a Master of Science in Animal Science or Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) in Animal Biology program; other potential majors include biology, genetics or evolution.

What Skills Do I Need?

Because ethology is a scientific field that requires an advanced degree, you should be proficient in math, science and biology. You should also have respect for animals and be comfortable working with them, often under dangerous or physically demanding circumstances. Ethology is also a research-intensive field, so you should have good research and writing abilities as well as cognitive skills. Most Ph.D. programs have a student-teaching component, so you should have a desire to teach and be comfortable speaking in front of others.

How Much Can I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median salary $59,680 in 2015; the lowest ten percent earned slightly less than $39,180 and the highest ten percent earned slightly more than $97,390. Your salary depends on the level of education you complete and your work experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those unwilling to invest significant time and money into higher education may work as animal care and service workers. These jobs only require a high school diploma and workers provide care for animals by feeding, grooming or exercising them. Environmental scientists and specialists need a bachelor's degree, and they help protect the environment and health of humans and animals. Also with a bachelor's you could become a conservation scientist or forester to work in land management for parks, forests, or rangelands.

At the graduate level of education, more advanced careers are available. Veterinarians provide diagnosis, emergency surgery, and basic health care for pets, farm animals, and exotic wildlife. Postsecondary professors conduct and publish research and typically must possess a doctoral degree, regardless of field. Microbiologists are advanced scientists who conduct independent research involving microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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