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What is Zoology?
Zoology is the study of the animal kingdom. This broad-based study can include an animal's native environment, embryology, anatomy, structure, development, cellular constructs, habits, classification, distribution, and ecosystem. The analysis performed by zoologist will include both living animals and those that are extinct. A zoologist will not only study animals in the wild but also in controlled environments such as aquariums and zoos.
Zoology is as relevant today as any time in history given the confluence of technology, environmental science, and the flow of information. Animals are dealing with human threats, climate changes, and various airborne pollutants. There is a cadre of environmental scientists that believe we are immersed a phase of planetary extinction known as the Holocene Extinction. Thus making the role of a zoologist ever-more important to analyze, document, and communicate changes that affect us all.
What Does a Zoologist Do?
A zoologist is charged with studying animals along with their behavior, environment, and genetic composition. Students earning a degree in zoology can expect to be formally trained in environmental science, statistical analysis, biology, communications, and environmental policy. These core skills will help a zoologist perform the following types of tasks:
- Observe animals in a controlled environment
- Document reproduction cycles and systemic biological changes
- Gather relevant biological specimens from animals and their habitat
- Benchmark physical characteristics of animals at various developmental stages
- Investigate animal migration patterns
- Conduct a wide variety of experiments by collecting, extrapolating, and interpreting data
- Analyze animals in their native environment
- Assess animal behavior & associated interactions
- Investigate diseases, illness, toxins, and environmental changes affecting individual animals or larger populations of animals
How to Become a Zoologist
Careers in zoology start by earning a college degree. Entry-level positions will typically require applicants to possess a bachelor's degree. Applicants will most often have earned a Bachelor of Science in Zoology. However, many individuals who start a career in zoology hold an adjacent degree in ecology, entomology, wildlife biology, environmental science, wildlife management, environmental biology, or biology.
Students in a zoology major can expect to take classes in a variety of sciences. Examples of coursework include general curriculum like biology and anatomy to specific classes like virology and parasitology. Accredited universities offering degrees in zoology can provide general curriculum or specialized tracks in zoology. In either case, you will be required to understand environmental systems, statistical analysis, biological processes, anatomy, and ecology.
Degrees in zoology can be obtained from select colleges as an associate degree up through a PhD. Students that earn a doctorate in zoology will spend copious hours performing research, writing about the findings, and communicating those findings as a faculty member or publisher. The most common degree a student will earn in zoology is a bachelor's degree. To learn more about your zoology degree options and colleges that offer zoology, check out the accredited programs below.
Educational Requirements for Zoologists
Individuals enrolled in a zoology and animal biology programs will study the various aspects of animal life. From the basic physiology of a given animal to how it operates in its natural environment. Students will be learn to utilize scientific analyses and research, manipulating actual specimens to study in the wild and in a laboratory setting.
Students will also learn how to apply the information obtained from the various sciences into applicable use. It is common for zoologists to study animals at the cellular and molecular level to understand them better. Schools with programs in zoology and animal biology typically have resources such as wildlife preserves, estuaries, or other such resources.
As part of their curriculum, students will utilize each to perform tests and experiments given the constructs of each class. These resources allow students to develop practical knowledge along with hands-on experience prior to pursuing an internships or career opportunities in zoology.
Degrees in Zoology
Earning a master’s degree or PhD in zoology will help you secure a job beyond an entry-level position. An online master’s degree in zoology will typically last 1-2 years and PhD programs an additional 2-4 years depending on the number of classes taken at a given time and area of concentration selected.
A graduate degree in zoology can lead graduates into a number of exciting career professions that include: research for government agencies, college professor, non-government agencies, environmental consultants, extension specialist, research biologist, wildlife manager, wildlife services administration, and conservationist.
Careers in zoology and animal biology is a relatively narrow field of study that is predominantly occupied with research campaigns. There are job opportunities available from a variety of public agencies and private organizations both large and small. The job growth in zoology is expected to remain steady and keep pace with the national average of 6% growth rate over the coming decade according to the BLS. Careers in zoology are typically defined by the field of study.
Examples of specialized degrees in zoology include a range of options for qualified candidates. Career paths can be focused on reptiles, birds, fish, and more. The formal name of each is listed below for reference:
- Ornithologist (Birds)
- Mammalogist (Mammals)
- Herpetologist (Reptiles)
- Paleozoologist (Extinct Animal Scientist)
- Cetologist (Marine Animals)
- Parasitologist (Parasites)
- Ichthyologist (Fish)
- Entomologist (Insects)
- Ethologist (Animal Behavior)
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Employment Opportunities in Zoology
Given the specialized nature of zoology, the job opportunities tend to be highly competitive. Graduates may be required to start as interns before being hired as a full-time employee. Zoology graduates will typically begin their career via a defined research initiative. Research positions may be part of an existing agency or a brand new project.
Research projects and longitudinal studies may be funded by the federal government, universities, non-profit organizations, private business or a combination of these. Many individuals will work in parks, incorporating study opportunities into a preservation work, often identifying changes in patterns or behaviors in animals that may adversely affect the environment or animal populations.
Zoology Job Titles
When looking for jobs within the zoology sector, you will need to get familiar with common titles used to describe similar jobs. Below we have detailed a cross-section of the most common job titles in zoology and animal biology to help you with your quest towards a gratifying career in the field.
- Aquatic Biologist
- Wildlife Manager
- Assistant Research Scientist
- Fishery Biologist
- Environmental Consultant
- Animal Biologist
- Fish and Wildlife Biologist
- Research Biologist
- Conservation Resources Management Biologist
- Environmental Specialist
- Fisheries Biologist
- Wildlife Biologist
Zoologist Job Duties
A current Department of Labor survey revealed a great deal of insights from zoologists working in the United States. Digging deep into the daily activities and job responsibilities of a zoologist will help college-bound students grapple with a vocational path more efficiently. Below you will find a list of the most popular job duties of a zoologist as provided in the DOL survey. Zoologists will typically be responsible for:
- Studying specific animals a controlled environment or in a natural habitat via first-hand assessment and data collection. Efforts will be placed on understanding the human and environmental effects on that species along with remediation options
- Consulting organizational stakeholders to make policy recommendations of management systems for wildlife habitat and wildlife populations
- Collecting information on targeted wildlife populations and collecting data on animal inventories
- Organizing experiments with specific animals in controlled environment
- Publishing research papers, internal reports, external white papers, and articles
- Creating presentations for targeted trade organizations, schools, interest groups, schools, and environmental clubs
Top Employers of Zoologists
- State Government
- Federal Government
- Scientific & Technical Consultants
- Science Research & Development
- Local Government
States with the Highest Employment of Zoologists
- California 2,200
- Washington 1,990
- Florida 1,750
- Oregon 920
- Alaska 730
Top Paying States for Zoologists
- District of Columbia $106,820
- Maryland $94,270
- Rhode Island $86,590
- Connecticut $85,410
- Massachusetts $83,340
Zoologist Salary & Job Funding
The average salary of zoologists and animal biologists is $60,520 per year. The primary employer of zoologists is the federal government via targeted research grants. Obtaining grant money can be highly competitive given the sheer number of proposals submit. This trend is likely to continue given increased focus on the environment and technological advances.
Grants are typically long-term projects with budgets allocated for the award year. Unlike other industries, zoology grants do not seem to be affected by the economy. Rather, they can swell and dip based on federal funding and administrative policy. Individuals employed by state or federal agencies that are working in non-research positions may be subject to budgetary constraints. Zoologists in the private sector typically earn higher incomes and have greater job security.
Additional Resources for Zoologists
- Zoology Association of America
- US Fish and Wildlife Services
- US National Parks
- The Wildlife Society Working Groups
- Wildlife Damage Management Working Group
- Wildlife Management Institute
- The Wildlife Society
Those interested in a degree in zoology and animal biology may also wish to consider a degree in biology, wildlife biology and animal behavior and ethology. As an additional resource, you can also read our blog post titled Top College Degrees for Animal Lovers for more information.