Taxonomy is the classification of plants, animals and other living organisms. Taxonomists are the scientists tasked with studying all types of living organisms and classifying them according to their characteristics. If you have a background in biology and possess excellent research skills, you could become a competent taxonomist.
What Do Taxonomists Do?
The work of taxonomists primarily revolves around field and laboratory research. Their specific duties include:
- Conducting fieldwork to collect specimens – This involves visiting the natural habitats of living organisms, or museums
- Conducting laboratory experiments to study these specimen – Involves dissecting the animals and drawing sketches
- Operating laboratory equipment such as electron microscopes
- Giving presentation to educate other people on their findings.
Taxonomists may choose to practice as plant or animal taxonomists.
Like many scientists, taxonomists work full-time. However, their work schedule is defined by long and irregular hours.
Although they spend most of their time conducting field or laboratory work, they often retreat to their offices to compile their findings
While in the field, they wear protective clothing, such as boots and hand gloves.
The following table highlights the average annual salaries for all biological scientists, including taxonomists:
Technical consulting firms
Colleges and universities
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
To become a taxonomist, you must complete the following steps:
- Complete high school –Strive to excel in math, English, biology and other science subjects
- Earn a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, ecology, marine biology, forestry or zoology – At this level, you are not yet ready to work as a taxonomist, but you can secure research jobs that could be a stepping stone to taxonomy
- Complete a master’s degree in a specialty field, such as plant taxonomy, animal science or entomology – With this credential; you are fully qualified as a taxonomist.
Some of the universities that are renowned for offering competent graduate degree in taxonomy include:
- University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
- Delaware State University, Dover
- Rutgers University, Rutgers
- Strong research skills
- Strong outdoor skills
- A good level of manual dexterity
- Strong analytical skills
- An awareness of environment-friendly research practices
- A good level of manual dexterity
- An interest in the living sciences
- Good observation and attention to detail skills
The career progression opportunities for taxonomists often depend on their places of work. The advancement avenues are similar though! Apart from gaining vast experience, you can follow these paths to enhance your chances of moving another step ahead:
- Pursue a PhD in taxonomy
- Obtain a professional certification in your area of specialism, such as the Society for Fresh Water Science’s certified taxonomist credential.
- Join a relevant professional association, such as the International Association for Plant Taxonomy.
The employers of taxonomists include:
- Research firms
- Museums and Zoos
- Environmental consulting firms
- Colleges and universities
- Government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of agriculture or Environment Protection Agency.
After following the career advancement paths listed above, you can progress to become a research manager. Those working in universities as lecturers can become faculty heads. If you wish to be self-employed, you can establish your own research firm.
Although the BLS doesn’t provide job outlook statistics for taxonomists, their demand is low. It takes determination and a love for science to succeed in this profession. Good luck!