How to Become a Zoologist in 5 Steps
Explore the career requirements for zoologists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, employment outlook and salary to determine if this is the right career for you.
What Does a Zoologist Do?
Zoologists study animals, including their habitats, diseases and characteristics, both in natural and laboratory settings. Their goal is to understand how species function, behave and interact with other creatures through conducted experiments. They also evaluate the impact of human life on nature. Their findings enable them to develop programs that support healthy breeding and present them to public. The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know to enter this profession.
|Degree Required||Bachelor's and/or master's degree; PhD for research positions|
|Education Field of Study||Zoology, biology|
|Key Skills||Observe/study animal behavior, life cycles, environment, health/diseases; write research papers|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||5% for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists*|
|Median Salary (2018)||$63,420 for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What is a Zoologist?
A zoologist is a biological scientist who studies the origins, life cycles, behaviors, environmental interactions and diseases of animals. As a zoologist, you may spend time working in nature as well as in a laboratory. You may choose a specialization, such as ornithology, mammalogy, ichthyology, herpetology, taxonomy or ecology.
Step 1: Research Career Options and Education Requirements
For some positions as a zoologist, you may need only a bachelor's degree, while others may require you to earn a master's degree or a PhD. If you are interested in applied research, teaching or product development, a bachelor's or master's degree may be sufficient. However, if you are more interested in independent research, you will most likely need a PhD.
Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
You will need to earn a bachelor's degree no matter what type of work you plan to do. If you plan to go on to earn an advanced degree, you do not necessarily need to major in zoology, but a strong science background is required. Graduate programs may require that you take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, biochemistry and calculus.
If you plan to stop at a bachelor's degree, you should major in zoology or another biological science. Bachelor's degree programs may offer a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in Zoology. The BA option may prepare you for study in medical or veterinary school, while the BS option is the preferred degree if you're considering earning a master's or PhD, or if you want to find work as a zoologist. Both degree options include classes in animal physiology, animal ecology and parasitology. However, the BS option allows you to enroll in a wider selection of zoology elective courses.
Step 3: Gain Experience
Practical experience in zoology can be helpful whether you plan to seek employment after earning your bachelor's degree or go on to graduate school. To gain experience, you may participate in internships, research or co-op programs during your undergraduate years. Gaining experience can help you hone the skills necessary to work as a zoologist, such as writing research papers and proposals, working independently and as part of a team, working with computers and paying attention to details.
Step 4: Earn a Graduate Degree
Depending on the type of work you are interested in, you may need to earn a master's degree or a PhD in zoology. Some master's degree programs require that you conduct research and complete a thesis, while others are coursework-based. PhD programs require that you conduct research and prepare a dissertation. Some PhD programs allow you to choose an area of specialization, such as ecology or marine biology. In some cases, you may need to earn a master's degree before you may enroll in a PhD program.
Step 5: Find a Job
A number of careers are available in the field of zoology. Some of the jobs that you might qualify for include researcher, university professor, teacher, zookeeper, wildlife educator and wildlife rehabilitator. You may find employment with government agencies or with private companies. You may also find work that is not directly related to zoology. For example, you may advise companies on how to operate in an environmentally friendly manner, or you may help regulate environmental laws.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
Related careers that only require a bachelor's degree include agricultural/food scientists and conservation scientists/foresters. Agricultural and food scientists discover ways to improve plant growth, food products and farm crops. Conservation scientists and foresters focus on land quality and natural resources.