Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Overview

The typical minimum degree requirement for zoologists and wildlife biologists in independent research is a Ph.D., however a bachelors degree is sufficient for some jobs in applied research. It is common for them to have temporary postdoctoral research positions. A much faster than average employment growth is expected as biotechnological research and development continue to flourish, although competition for independent research positions is projected.

Nature of the Work for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoology and wildlife biology are subfields of biological science, which studies living organisms in relation to their environment. In order to develop new products or processes, zoologists and wildlife biologist perform research to gain a better understanding of fundamental life processes. The two general categories of research are basic and applied. The goal of basic research is to simply expand on human knowledge, while the goal of applied research is directed towards solving a particular problem.

Developing solutions to human health problems and improving the natural environment can be achieved through basic research, as it advances our knowledge of living organisms. Zoologists and wildlife biologists who perform basic research usually work in a university, government or private industry laboratory. It is common for them expand on specialized research began in college.

Usually zoologists and wildlife biologists employed in basic research must submit grant proposals in order to obtain funding for the research. Such funding can be gathered from private foundations, colleges and universities and Federal Government agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. These organizations look for proposals that have the potential to advance new processes or ideas while remaining financially feasible.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists who work in applied research or product development use the knowledge gained in basic research to create new treatments, drugs and medical diagnostic tests; develop new biofuels; and increase crop yields. Those in applied research generally have less flexibility on the subject they are researching and are more concerned with meeting the marketing goals of their employer. They often work in teams, interacting with business managers, scientists of other disciplines, engineers, and technicians. In the private industry, zoologists and wildlife biologists might be required to describe their results or research plans to nonscientists who have the power to approve or disapprove their ideas.

Often scientists conduct research in laboratories using a variety of equipment. For example, zoologists sometimes conduct experiments involving animals. Other research takes place outside the laboratory.

Recent advances in genetics and organic molecules have created a growth in the field of biotechnology. Zoologists and wildlife biologists can now manipulate the genetic material of plants and animals. They do so with the goal of making organism more resistant to disease or more productive.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists specialize in the study of the origin, diseases, behavior and life processes of animals and wildlife. Some dissect dead animals to study their structure, while others experiment on live animals in natural or controlled settings. Usually, zoologists are identified by the type of animal they study. For example, a herpetologist studies reptiles and mammalogist studies mammals.

Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically work a 40-hour or longer work week and spend most of their time in laboratories conducting research or in offices writing up the results of the research. Strenuous field studies in primitive living conditions for extended periods of time is usually required for a zoologist.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

A bachelors or masters degree is sufficient for some jobs in product development, management, applied research or inspection, while a Ph.D. is generally a requirement for independent research, particularly in academia.

Undergraduate students majoring in zoology and wildlife biology typically take courses in chemistry and biology, physics, engineering, computer science and mathematics. Because some modeling and simulation of biological processes is necessary, computer courses are beneficial to a zoology and wildlife biology student. Environmental studies courses will help them become familiar with applicable regulations and legislation.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelors degrees in zoology or bachelors degrees in wildlife biology. Most of these programs are found in larger universities. An advanced degree usually includes fieldwork and classroom, laboratory research and a thesis. A doctoral degree usually take five to six years of a full course load, while a masters degree only takes two years.

With a Ph.D., zoologists and wildlife biologists usually take postdoctoral positions that provide specialized research experience. A permanent position in research is earned through a solid record of published research.

Clear oral and written communication and the ability to work independently and in group settings is necessary for this career. Strong business skills and a familiarity of regulatory issues, management techniques and marketing are encourages for those working in the private industry, especially in management or administrative positions. Physical stamina, patience and self-discipline are also prized qualities of those doing field research.

Typically, zoologists and wildlife biologists who gain a sufficient amount of experience, also gain greater control over their research and have the chance of advancing to lead researchers, directing a team of technicians and scientists. Some work as independent consultants to government agencies or businesses. Because much of the research funding is dependent on grants, they may spend a good amount of time writing proposals. Others may choose to pursue management positions to become natural science managers. These people spend most of their time on schedules and budgets. Still, others leave biology for nontechnical managerial positions.

Top 10 Most Popular General Zoology/Animal Biology Schools

1. Miami University, Oxford (Oxford, Ohio)
2. Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan)
3. University of Oklahoma, Norman Campus (Norman, Oklahoma)
4. University of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, Wisconsin)
5. Ohio State University, Columbus (Columbus, Ohio)
6. North Carolina State University at Raleigh (Raleigh, North Carolina)
7. Washington State University, Pullman (Pullman, Washington)
8. North Dakota State University (Fargo, North Dakota)
9. University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida)
10. Ohio University-Main Campus, Athens (Athens, Ohio)

See All General Zoology/Animal Biology Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow much faster than average (increase 20% or more).

Employment of zoologists and wildlife biologists is expected to grow 21 percent over the next decade, which is faster than average for all occupations. Job growth continues to be spurred by biotechnological research. A very rapid employment gain is expected over the next few decades, partly because of the growth of the biotechnology industry. As biotechnology matures, it will somewhat moderate employment growth. A significant amount of basic research has resulted in new, groundbreaking knowledge. This research will need to be taken to the next stage, which will create opportunities for zoologists and wildlife biologists.

A greater number of biological scientists will be needed to prevent or correct environmental problems and understand the environmental impact of government and industry actions. Some zoologists and wildlife biologist will find opportunities in lawmaking on legislation to save environmentally sensitive areas, while others will find opportunities in environmental regulatory agencies.

Although there will be a continued demand for zoologists and wildlife biologists, opportunities will be limited because of the small size of the field.

Keen competition is expected for doctoral degree holders for basic research positions in academia. Applicants for research grants are likely to face even more competition because the number of advanced degrees continues to grow. The current statistic for approved grant proposals is one in four. Employment in applied research that is usually easy to obtain may become more competitive if a larger number of zoologists and wildlife biologists have difficulty finding a position in colleges and universities.

Due to the fact that many are employed in long-term research projects that have already been funded, zoologists and wildlife biologists are less likely to lose their jobs. Although, an economic recession may influence the amount of money given to new research and development efforts, especially those that are risky or innovative.

Earnings and Salary for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

The median annual wages of zoologists and wildlife biologists is $56,500. The highest 10 percent earns more than $93,140, while the lowest 10 percent earns less than $35,280. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,830 and $71,990. In the Federal Government, zoologists earn $116,908.

Annual Salary for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

On average, Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists earn $56,500 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $35,280/yr $44,830/yr $71,990/yr $93,140/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook