How to Become a Zoologist (Duties, Pay and Steps)

Fancy becoming the next David Attenborough? Check out what you need to do to get there!

Two people wondering how to become a zoologist

If your love for animal wildlife knows no bounds, perhaps it’s time to consider a career in zoology. Maybe you’ve looked into what it takes to become a veterinarian, but at the end of the day, you’re being pulled more to studying animals rather than fixing them. If this is the case, become a zoologist!

You may think, at first glance, that working in a zoo sounds fun; what better way to marry your love for animals and your passion for research projects all in one, but what does becoming a zoologist really entail? Does it pay well? Do current zoologists enjoy what they do?

Keep reading as we walk through how to start in this career; giving you a comprehensive look at the environment, the job duties, market salaries, and the steps you need to take if you choose to embark on this zoology journey.

What zoologists do

There is a fair amount of love for animals in zoology, so you’ve got that right in your assessment, but zoologists are also scientists, so it’s a bit more comprehensive than that. To be an effective zoologist, you’ll find yourself studying animal species, their interactions with each other and the environment they live in. They will conduct research projects to broaden their learning, all while planning daily animal care; trying to dig deeper and further understand the species in question.

There are a number of different types of zoologists, so if you’re looking into a specific species or an area of specialization, look at the main types of zoologists we have listed and see if one sticks out more than the other. Let’s review the following types:

  • Wildlife biologist These zoologists can be in the field a lab or even focus on conservation or academia. They will focus on animals in their natural habitat and observe them for long periods of time.
  • Ecologist — Instead of focusing on one type of animals, ecologists study ecosystems. Sometimes specializing in a specific type of environment, like a forest or grassland.
  • Marine biologist — A zoologist that focuses on organisms that live in salt water, like oceans, tidal flats, or salt marshes is a marine biologist.
  • Primatologist — This branch of zoology specializes in primates. These zoologists focus on living and extinct primates to further understand their evolution and behavior.
  • Paleozoologist — A paleozoologist studies animal remains, such as bone, horns, hair, and soft tissues of both living and extinct animals.
  • Mammalogist — The specialty of this zoologist is in the name. A mammalogist studies only mammals and their history, systematics, anatomy and physiology and behavior.
  • Herpetologist — Zoologists who study reptiles and amphibians are herpetologists.
  • Entomologist — An entomologist will focus on the study of insects. Some can even spend their entire career on the study of just one insect entirely.
  • Arachnologist — Zoologists with a love for arachnids, such as spiders, scorpions, and pseudoscorpions, will become an arachnologist and study these for their career.
  • Conservation zoologist These zoologists would be hired to rehabilitate and release animals, conserving them for future generations.

Now that we’ve reviewed the different specialties you can have in zoology, it’s clear the range of this career is broad, from studying the ocean to the forest, but all zoologists will have a similar list of duties, perhaps tweaked to their specialty a little. Let’s look at these duties below:

  • Studying animal behaviors, habitats and characteristics
  • Planning and establishing daily animal care
  • Collecting and analyzing biological data and specimens
  • Creating research projects to further study animals
  • Publishing research reports, papers, and articles to explain findings
  • Conserving wildlife
  • Examining the relationship and interactions between animals and their environment
  • Educating the public on animal welfare
  • Assisting with captive breeding programs
  • Supervising additional personnel

What the job is like

Understanding all aspects of becoming a zoologist will better set you up for success as you dive into this career. Let’s take some time and look at the work environment of this job, coupled with the hours you may be required to work. Lastly, let’s look at how current zoologists rate their job satisfaction as you evaluate if this career is right for you.

Work environment

As we have seen, there are many specialties in zoology, and your work environment can change due to the area you’ve selected. However, for the most part, zoology can include fieldwork, which will require you to travel to remote locations to further your studies.

For this career, you’ll usually spend most of your time working independently, so keep that in mind when you’re considering the role. You could find yourself in the jungle or on a boat at sea for extended periods of time gathering data for an animal that only comes out during a specific season or at a specific time.

It’s important to take this work environment into account when selecting your specialty. If you’re looking for more of an office type environment, you won’t find it here. Zoology will require some hands-on work and travel to further your knowledge of animals, environments and ecosystems.

Work hours

Work hours for a zoologist can be excessive and fluctuate based on the project. Perhaps you’ll be studying a nocturnal animal? If so, you’ll need to be working those night shifts to garner all the information you may need from time to time. Or maybe you’re studying an ecosystem during a specific time of year; that season will be extremely busy for you. 

The hours during fieldwork can be long, and often sporadic and irregular; that’s commonplace for a zoologist. Things may even out as you take your findings back to the office to compile them in your research study. Maybe then you can establish more of a regular full time 9–5 working schedule, but it’s important to understand that as a zoologist you’ll be spending a good amount of work hours compiling your research in the field.

As we have seen, zoologists don’t really have the ability to say “no” when they’re called into work, because timing matters! This may turn into long hours, all-nighters, or even frequent, irregular hours. 

Job satisfaction

After learning about zoology thus far, you may not be surprised to know that working with animals ranks zoology as one of the happiest careers in the United States with the career happiness coming out at 4.1 out of 5 stars. If that doesn’t give you a little pep in your step when it comes to evaluating becoming a zoologist, I don’t know what will.

It’s important to understand how those actively practicing zoology enjoy what they are doing when you’re evaluating and looking for new careers. From the looks of it, zoologists have the happiness in their roles dialed in; that should be a comfort to you overall!

Job market

Understanding the market of your chosen career can impact your decision greatly. Is the field getting traction? Are there going to be new job openings for this role when you’re ready to jump into this career?

When it comes to zoology, there are projected to be about 1,700 openings in the field each year from 2020 to 2030, with a 5% growth over the decade. It’s comforting to know that there will be jobs available in zoology as you pursue this career further.

Salary

The real question on everyone’s mind when evaluating a career is the salary. You might be wondering if zoology is one of the highest-paying jobs in science?

So, let’s look at the salary of a zoologist to put this question to rest. In the field of zoology, the median wage for the U.S. comes in at $64,650 putting the lower 10% at $42,420 and the highest 10% at $103,900.

While it’s important to know the range and the spectrum of salaries for zoology, if you’re considering this for a career it’s best to calculate your lifestyle based on the median or below to make sure you’re going to be able to live comfortably in the field.

While that might be the median, there are states that could pay higher for zoologists, and if you’re open to a geographical change, perhaps consider looking at those that pay higher! The top paying states for zoologists are Massachusetts with an annual mean wage of $92,830, New Jersey with $85,730, then Alaska at $82,450, followed by Washington state at $81,310, and lastly Maryland at $81,170.

To be successful in zoology, you don't necessarily have to move to one of these states, but if you’re wondering how to earn more in this field, considering these states as a home base should be one of your options.

Zoologist salary infographic

Essential skills and qualities

So, at this point you know you want to become a zoologist, the work environment, job outlook, salary, and requirements all sound like something you are ready to commit to, but do you have the essential skills and qualities every zoologist should have to become successful?

Let’s look at a few professional skills you should ensure you’re perfecting on your journey to become a zoologist:

Steps to become a zoologist

In conjunction with the hard skills, soft skills and qualities needed to become a zoologist, there are some essential steps you should be taking to become one as well. Let’s look at the tangible steps you can take right now to pursue this career.

Step 1: Determine if it’s the right job for you

After going through this article, you may be fully committed to zoology and ready to jump in, but are you the right fit for this career? Figuring out what career you’re going to commit to can be overwhelming, and even when you think you’ve considered everything, maybe you’re missing some important aspects you need to consider.

That’s where CareerHunter can help! Allow the tests, crafted by experienced psychologists, psychometricians, career experts and researchers, to help direct you towards your career in zoology or show you another route you may not have considered.

When it comes to finding the right career, there are so many variables, like considering your interests, evaluating your personality type, and looking at your values, so we recommend receiving all the help you can get to make the right choice!

Step 2: Focus on the right subjects at school

To become a zoologist, schooling (and a lot of it) will be in your future. It’s best to focus on the areas that can not only fuel your passion for zoology, but help you better understand this field as a whole. Focus on taking classes like biology, physics, botany, physiology, chemistry, ecology, and of course zoology itself (if it’s offered by your school).

You now know the skills and the requirements it takes to become a zoologist, so take those and tailor your studies accordingly. Perhaps you’re going to go into studying ecosystems specifically; ensure you’re taking enough botany and ecology courses to support you in that specialty. Beginning your career plan early makes it much easier when you leave school.

Step 3: Earn a bachelor’s degree

At the bare minimum, to become a zoologist, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree — not necessarily in zoology, but in an applicably relevant field.

Some degrees you can consider for zoology are botany, biology, microbiology, ecology, wildlife biology, wildlife management, or zoology specifically. If you’re going to specialize in conservation of wildlife, perhaps consider a degree in wildlife management.

Don’t underestimate the power of your degree when it comes to zoology; it’s needed for most entry-level jobs in this field. Take the time to evaluate which bachelor’s degree would make the most sense and dive in full force!

Step 4: Pursue volunteering and internship opportunities

The available volunteering and internship opportunities to ramp up your knowledge and resume in zoology are many! You can consider an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and spend your time helping them meet their conservation goals. Or consider an internship abroad with a Zoology and Wildlife Science Internship, where you can watch your passion for animals and nature grow!

This step will not only provide you with networking connections of those in the field of zoology but will also give you a look into the research and skills needed for your chosen career. The internships or volunteer opportunities will make you a well-rounded zoologist and help you boost your résumé.

Step 5: Obtain a graduate degree

If you’ve achieved a bachelor’s degree and have some volunteering experience up your sleeve, perhaps a graduate degree isn’t necessary for your field. Master’s degrees will be required if you’re investigating higher-level scientific work, such as wildlife biologists or conservation zoologists; just consider that degree your ticket in.

It’s important to note that for most jobs in zoology, a doctoral degree shouldn’t be necessary, but a Ph.D is almost always required for university or independent research positions. If it’s your dream to work at a national lab studying something astounding you’ve discovered in your undergraduate work, you’re going to need a graduate degree, no question.

Advanced degrees in zoology can only better prepare you for the uncontrollable world of science, nature and animals that you’re about to enter. Take the time, put in the work, and set yourself up for success with these degrees!

Final thoughts

Becoming a zoologist requires hard work, dedication, scientific knowledge, and a substantial amount of school, but it’s worth it! As you’re walking through this journey to your dream career, remember no matter what career you choose, it won’t be without work, so give it your all! Other things to consider when becoming a zoologist are:

  • Pursuing further qualifications in accordance with your specialty.
  • Becoming a member of an industry association.
  • Gaining experience wherever you can.

At the end of the day, if your hearts in it, you shouldn’t fail. Do what it takes and follow your dream to become a zoologist.

Are you considering this as a career? What makes you want to pursue being a zoologist? Let us know in the comments!