Research Zoologist: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for research zoologists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, salary and employment outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Research Zoologist?

Research zoologists conduct field observations and scientific laboratory studies to learn more about the physical features and behaviors of animals. They study things like how one species interacts with another, mating rituals, movement patterns, population dynamics, how an animal interacts with its ecosystem and more. Often their work is used to develop or improve breeding programs, monitor populations and otherwise manage for the conservation of a particular species. Research zoologists present their findings through scientific articles and papers, and may give public presentations on various topics. They may also present their work to organizations or policymakers who have influence on conservation and environmental policy. They may conduct their research in a lab or in the field. The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's for entry-level positions; master's degree for non-university research; PhD for independent or academic research
Education Field of Study Zoology
Key Skills Conduct field &/or lab research; interpret data; write scientific reports
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 4% increase (for zoologists and wildlife biologists)*
Average Salary (2015) $64,230 (for zoologists and wildlife biologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Research Zoologist Do?

As a research zoologist, you'll use laboratory research and field studies to learn new information or confirm existing theories about animals. Depending on your employer, you may study mammals, reptiles, marine creatures or all of the above. Some research zoologists exclusively study one type of animal, and their job title often reflects that; for example, if you specialize in reptilian research you'd be known as a herpetologist.

Research zoologists may conduct behavioral studies, which often entail monitoring animals' demeanors and behaviors in their natural habitats or in an altered environment. They also conduct physical research, which can involve dissecting an animal for anatomical studies or studying a live animal's reaction to natural or man-made events or stimuli.

Where Will I Work?

Although you'll probably spend some time in an office environment writing reports that summarize your research, research zoology isn't the typical 9-to-5 office job. Many positions for research zoologists are in academia or with private medical, pharmaceutical or biotechnological research companies.

Regardless of employer, much of your work will typically be done in a laboratory setting, where you may observe animals, run tests and analyze study findings. You may also embark upon occasional field studies to observe animals in their natural habitats. Fieldwork can be lengthy and physically taxing, and you may be exposed to extreme environmental conditions.

What Type of Education Will I Need for This Position?

According to the O*Net Resource Center, you'll need some sort of an advanced degree for most zoologist positions (www.onetcenter.org). This is particularly true if you wish to work as an independent researcher or in academic research, which typically requires a PhD. However, a master's degree may be sufficient for some non-university research positions. Numerous schools offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in biology, zoology or both.

What Will I Learn in a Zoology Program?

As a student in a bachelor's degree program, you'll learn the basic concepts of zoology and other life sciences, including anatomy and physiology, cell and molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry and immunology. At the graduate level, you can study either zoology or biology, although the latter program type is more common.

Some programs offer optional concentrations in cellular, molecular or behavioral biology. Topics frequently covered in biology master's or doctoral degree programs include neurobiology, molecular genetic recognition, endocrinology and nervous system development. Master's and doctoral programs require completion of a thesis or dissertation, which typically must be based on an original research zoology topic.

What Is My Earning Potential?

As of May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that zoologists and wildlife biologists earned an average annual salary of $64,230 (www.bls.gov). The top-paying jobs for these scientists during the same month were in the federal government, with an average annual pay of $80,710 per year. In addition, states paying the highest average salaries to zoologists and wildlife biologists included Maryland ($93,070) and Connecticut ($91,240).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Postsecondary teacher is a related position that may require a master's or Ph.D. These teachers educate students at the university level in a variety of subject matters. They also typically conduct research. Biochemists, biophysicists and veterinarians are some other related options that require a doctoral or professional degree. Biochemists and biophysicists study living things, focusing on their chemical make-up and physical properties. Veterinarians diagnose and treat various animals for injuries or illnesses, as well as provide preventative health care.

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