What is a zoologist?
A zoologist is a scientist who studies animals, an animal’s origins, genetics, diseases, behaviors, and more. With over 1.3 million identified animals in the world so far, it’s not surprising that zoology is a very broad field.
A zoologist typically devotes their time to studying one specific species or group of species, although some do more general work. They work in the field studying animals in their natural environment or captivity in zoos and aquariums. zoologists observe animals, take meticulous notes, and conduct experimental studies in controlled or natural surroundings. Some zoologists manage wildlife reserves where they keep count of animal populations and study animal behavior.
Duties and responsibilities
On any given day, a zoologist may be designing or conducting research, studying animal behaviors and characteristics, collecting and analyzing biological data and specimens, writing papers, reports, or journal articles, giving lectures, or educating the public on animal welfare and wildlife conservation.
Zoologists work in a variety of environments. They can be professors teaching at universities and colleges where they are either in the classroom or conducting research in a lab setting. Aside from giving lectures and presenting research, they write papers and journals for publication. Other zoologists work exclusively in lab-based environments performing experiments and conducting research. They spend some of their time writing reports and papers. Many zoologists spend at least part of their time outdoors, studying animals on wildlife reserves or in their natural habitats. Often they endure various environmental and weather conditions while in the field. They may also only have limited comforts. Field zoologists can sometimes work in remote areas and be away from friends and family for days, weeks, or months at a time.
Some zoologists work at zoos or aquariums, observing and caring for animals. Others are employed at museums where they set up and maintain exhibits and educate the public on different species of animals. Other environments zoologists work in include marine parks, state or federal governmental agencies, environmental conservation groups, and consulting companies.
Typical work hours
The work and the hours can be unpredictable. zoologists working in the field often work long hours, which may include nights and weekends. They can spend days, weeks, or even months in the field, which may be remote locations.
Professors tend to have more flexible hours since classroom schedules change each semester. They spend some hours of their day in the lab conducting research, and they typically don’t work weekends but can work nights in the classroom.
zoologists in labs generally work traditional 40-hour weeks during normal business hours. Consultants for private companies also work 40-hour weeks from Monday through Friday.
How to become a zoologist
Step 1: High school preparation
If you’re still in high school, this is the time to concentrate on the classes that will help you get into college and lay the foundation for much of your college work. Focus on biology and chemistry courses. Take all you can. Volunteer or find a part-time job at a local zoo, aquarium, or animal sanctuary. Get all the experience you can.
Step 2: Get a bachelor’s degree
Most colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in biology, and many also have a zoology degree program. Most programs include core courses in general biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Some university programs have specialized courses you can take, including marine biology, wildlife ecology, mammalogy, herpetology, ornithology, and animal physiology.
Step 3: Gain experience
Beyond your education, you will need hands-on experience even for an entry-level zoologist position. While working on your bachelor’s degree, you can find opportunities for volunteer work, co-op programs, and internships. Some of this work may count for college credit, but they all provide valuable experience, whether that includes fieldwork, research, writing papers, or more. Experience can also be beneficial in gaining acceptance to a graduate degree program. Some of the top internships for undergraduates students in 2022 include:
- SCA Biological Technician Internship-Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
- Student Conservation Association Gopher Tortoise Biological Monitoring Internship
- Curi Bio Research Associate Internship
Step 4: Get a master’s degree
A master’s degree program is where you might specialize in a particular branch of zoology and generally assist research professors in their specialties as teacher’s assistants or research assistants. Master’s programs may consist of a thesis or non-thesis option.
Step 5: Get a doctoral degree
If you are interested in teaching at the university level or want to conduct your own independent research, you will likely need a doctorate in zoology. zoologists focus on a specific sub-discipline of zoology while working on their doctorate. It is critical to apply to doctorate programs at universities where at least one professor specializes in your desired area of study.
Step 6: Participate in ongoing learning and professional development
Zoology is a constantly evolving field. Stay current with the latest research and trends by attending scientific conferences, participating in webinars, or joining professional organizations, such as the American Society of Mammalogists or the Animal Behavior Society. These opportunities allow for networking and can lead to collaborations or job opportunities.
You can also find a variety of online courses through Udemy and Coursera to continue learning. Here are some great options:
- To gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the incredible diversity of life and the interdependence of all living things, consider the Introduction to Biology: Ecology, Evolution, & Biodiversity Specialization course. In this 3-course specialization on Coursera, you will learn to see nature the way a biologist does.
- Learn the basis of classification, the classification of animals, salient features of different phyla in the animal kingdom, and the comparison of chordates and non-chordates in this Biology course found on Udemy.
- For an introduction to ecology and ecosystem dynamics using a systems thinking lens, check out Ecology: Ecosystem Dynamics and Conservation on Coursera. This course will explore how scientists study ecosystems and investigate the complex array of factors that inform management efforts.
- Taught by a marine biologist, this Marine Biology 101 course is an excellent choice for those wanting to learn more about the basic concepts of marine and freshwater biology. You will gain insight into many marine mammals, conservation measures, and endangered species.
How much do zoologists make?
Many variables go into determining how much a zoologist makes, from company size to experience and education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest-paying industries for zoologists are (shown in annual mean salary)
Highest paying industries
- Federal government – $81,890
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences – $64,420
- State government – $63,580
- Management, scientific, and technical consulting services – $61,920
- Colleges and universities – $61,780
Highest paying states
- Tennessee – $57,065
- Massachusetts – $56,019
- Hawaii – $55,844
- Minnesota – $55,610
- Connecticut – $55,143
The average national salary for a zoologist is:
Types of zoologists
There are many different types of zoologists because the animal kingdom is enormous. While some study only a species or subspecies, others might study a broader, more generalized group, such as mammals. Some common branches of zoology include:
Ethology is the study of animal behavior, typically in the animal’s natural habitat. These scientists observe animals and study their findings to learn about the animals’ social interactions, communication, and other aspects of their lives. They also conduct experiments to test hypotheses regarding animal behavior.
Primatology is the study of primates, including gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and lemurs. It incorporates field, laboratory, and semi-free range study (a natural habitat replicated in a captive setting).
Wildlife biologists observe and study animal behavior to maintain and conserve wildlife populations. They track things like disease and nutrition and monitor endangered populations. Wildlife biologists may specialize in entomology, ornithology, herpetology, marine biology, or other branches of wildlife biology.
Paleozoologists study extinct and surviving animal remains, including bone, horn, hair, and soft tissues. They may work alongside paleontologists at archaeological sites.
Mammalogy is the study of mammals. This may include the natural history, taxonomy, systematics, anatomy, physiology, and behavior of mammals. With over 4,000 species of living mammals and many extinct species, mammalogists have a wide range of animals to study and typically specialize in one species. They may work in the field, zoos, natural history museums, or in research labs at colleges, universities, or other educational institutions.
Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians, such as snakes, frogs, turtles, salamanders, crocodiles, and iguanas. Herpetologists study these animals in their natural environments, assess any possible threats from disease and pollution, and study their behaviors, physiologies, development, and genetics. They also work for museums and zoos.
Ornithology is the study of birds. There are over 18,000 species of birds, allowing ornithologists to generalize or specialize in a specific bird species. They study bird behavior, flight, migration patterns, habitats, and physiology.
Entomology is the study of insects. This is by far the broadest branch of zoology as insects make up approximately 80% of the animal population, and well over 1 million species have been identified. Most entomologists focus on a specific type of insect, such as bees, beetles, or butterflies. Some entomologists look at ways to control insects.
Arachnology is the study of arachnids, including spiders, scorpions, and Opiliones (or daddy longlegs). This is another vast group of animals as there are over 45,000 species of spiders alone. Arachnologists study everything, such as arachnid populations, evolution, diversity, venom, webs, and predatory tactics.
Cetology is the study of sea mammals, including whales, dolphins, and porpoises. They study the behaviors, habitats, and interactions between these creatures. Cetologists in the field often spend hours or days in boats observing these animals in their natural habitat. They often use tagging and tracking systems to monitor the movements and migrations of sea mammals.
Ichthyology is the study of fish, including their behavior, development, and reproduction. There are about 34,800 species of fish to study, and most ichthyologists study only one species. Some ichthyologists work in museums, while others work in the field, often conducting underwater research.
Top skills for zoologists
A zoologist is a scientist who studies animals and their behavior, habitat, and interactions with other species. They must have strong scientific, observational, and communication skills.
One of the top skills desired by employers is strong scientific skills. zoologists must have a solid understanding of scientific concepts and methodologies and be able to conduct experiments, analyze data, and draw conclusions based on scientific evidence. They should also be knowledgeable about animal anatomy, physiology, and behavior.
Observational skills are essential for a zoologist to observe animals in their natural habitats, document their behavior, and collect data on their interactions with other species and the environment. This includes using scientific equipment, such as binoculars, cameras, and GPS devices, to gather data and conduct field research.
A zoologist must be a strong communicator to effectively share scientific information with other team members, clients, and external stakeholders, both verbally and in writing. Research findings and conclusions should be presented clearly and concisely, feedback and concerns should be listened to actively, and communication should be open and effective at all levels.
Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential for a zoologist. They need to identify and respond to potential research issues and challenges, including identifying and resolving research obstacles and implementing solutions to improve research quality and efficiency. zoologists must be able to think critically, evaluate options, and make informed decisions based on available information.
Finally, they must be adaptable and work well under pressure to handle multiple research projects and tasks simultaneously, prioritize work effectively, and be available to conduct research outside of regular business hours if necessary. A zoologist should also be committed to ongoing professional development to stay current with evolving research technologies and industry best practices.
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The animal kingdom is as massive as it is diverse. As a result, zoology encompasses a wide range of studies. Your career path as a zoologist will depend on your education, experience, interests, and opportunities.
Individuals entering this field typically have a degree in zoology, biology, or a related field. Entry-level roles may include working as a research assistant or a zookeeper, caring for animals, and assisting with research. As they gain experience, they may advance to a more senior role, conducting research projects, publishing scientific articles, or moving into a specialized area such as marine biology or wildlife management.
As zoology continues to evolve, zoologists may specialize in specific areas such as animal behavior, genetics, or conservation biology. Advancement opportunities in this field include becoming a research coordinator, project manager, or moving into related fields such as wildlife biology or environmental consulting. zoologists may also have opportunities for advancement into management roles, overseeing research teams or conservation programs, or collaborating with cross-functional teams to ensure successful project delivery.
Similar job titles
Position trends and outlook
Zoologists and wildlife biologists will be needed to study the impact of disease, habitat loss, pollution, and other factors on wildlife as the human population grows and expands, reducing animal habitats. The demand for zoologists is expected to grow steadily in the coming years with the growing interest in wildlife conservation and the preservation of endangered species. Many zoologists work for government agencies or non-profit organizations that protect wildlife and preserve habitats.
Another area of growth for zoologists is in the field of biomedical research, where they may work on developing new treatments and therapies for human diseases based on their knowledge of animal physiology and genetics.
Employment projections for zoologists
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is projected to grow 5% from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for other occupations. Most job openings are expected to result from workers who transfer to different occupations or retire.
Zoologist career tips
Develop strong technical skills
As a zoologist, you’ll need to be proficient in the technical skills required for zoology research, such as data analysis, research design, and animal behavior observation. Consider taking courses in biology, ecology, animal behavior, and statistics to develop your skills.
Build a strong knowledge of zoology
Zoologists must have a strong understanding of zoology to conduct research and analyze data. Develop a deep understanding of animal physiology, ecology, taxonomy, and conservation biology to help you make informed research decisions.
Build a professional network
Building a professional network can help you stay up-to-date on industry trends, expand your knowledge, and connect with potential clients or employers. Consider joining professional organizations like the American Society of Mammalogists or the International Society for Behavioral Ecology. Attend industry conferences or networking events to meet other professionals in the field.
Professional associations and networks for zoologists:
- American Society of Mammalogists
- International Society for Behavioral Ecology
- The Wildlife Society
- Society for Conservation Biology
- Animal Behavior Society
Hone your communication skills
As a zoologist, you’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with other researchers, stakeholders, and the general public. Develop strong communication skills, such as technical writing, public speaking, and science communication, to help you share your research findings with others.
Stay up-to-date on industry trends
The field of zoology is constantly evolving, with new technologies and research methods emerging all the time. To be a successful zoologist, it’s important to stay up-to-date on industry trends and developments. Subscribe to industry publications, attend conferences and webinars, and participate in online forums and discussion groups to stay informed.
Continuous learning is crucial to keeping up with industry trends and regulations, as well as developing new skills. Consider pursuing additional certifications or advanced degrees to demonstrate your expertise and stay competitive in the job market. Look for opportunities to attend workshops, webinars, and other training events to improve your knowledge and skills.
Where the jobs are
- National Institutes of Health
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Smithsonian Institution
- Wildlife Conservation Society
- San Diego Zoo
- New York
- Animal Care
What are the on-the-job requirements for zoologists?
You will need at least a bachelor’s degree in biology, zoology, or a similar field to work as a zoologist. A master’s degree is highly preferred and required for most positions. Hands-on experience is also essential, whether through internships or volunteer work. You should also be familiar with the specialized equipment used in the field and know how to observe animals in the wild or controlled settings. You will also be required to analyze and report on your data and communicate your findings through presentations, written reports, and articles.
For those working in the field, you should be prepared to work hours, days, weeks, or more in remote areas under varying environmental conditions. You’ll need excellent observation, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills.
How long does it take to become a zoologist?
You will need a bachelor’s degree in biology, zoology, or a related field, which takes about four years to complete. Most jobs require a master’s degree, typically taking two years to complete. University professors and lead scientists on research projects require a doctorate, which can take three to five years.
Do I need a college degree to become a zoologist?
Yes, a bachelor’s degree is necessary to work as an entry-level zoologist. However, most positions will require a master’s degree or a doctorate.
How do I create a resume for a zoologist?
When writing a resume for this position, try to match your experience with the job post as closely as you can. Include any internships, summer camps, and volunteer work you’ve done. If you have experience in the field or lab experience not related to zoology, you should highlight that. Some important things to include in your zoologist resume are:
● Field experience – let your potential employer know you have hands-on experience in the field, whether it’s related to the position or not.
● Education – list all the degrees you’ve earned, as well as any clubs you belonged to and your GPA (especially if it’s high). Include internships, teaching assistant positions, or research assistant positions you held. List relevant courses you’ve taken.
● Your skills – list all the relevant skills you have and put the skills that match the job requirements at the top of the list. Some examples might include:
● Communication skills
● Physical stamina
● Interpersonal skills
● Observation skills
● Outdoor skills
● Problem-solving skills
● Relevant publications, reports, or papers – include any papers you’ve written, especially published works in scientific journals, to showcase your writing skills.
What associations exist for zoologists?
Here are some of the top national associations:
● Zoological Association of America (ZAA)
● Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)
● Animal Behavior Society
● American Institute of Biological Sciences
● World Wildlife Fund
● Wildlife Conservation Society
● Association of Zoological Horticulture
● American Association of Zoo Keepers
Do zoologists receive insurance?
They are typically offered insurance through their employer, whether it is the government, an educational institution, or a private company.
Do zoologists require continuing education?
Those who have completed their bachelor’s degree and wish to advance their careers typically will need to pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate. Those who wish to teach at the university level or head research projects will need a doctorate. Beyond formal education, there are no requirements for continuing education.
Do zoologists require business licenses?
Zoologists do not need certifications or licensing. There are no national certifications for these professionals in general, however, some fields of zoology may have certifications, such as a zoologist working as a marine biologist may consider earning their SCUBA certification.