How To Become a Zoologist

Last updated May 22, 2024

This fantastic animal fact may come as a huge surprise; did you know owls don’t have eyeballs?! Instead, they have elongated sclerotic rings, which help them see more efficiently in low-light situations. These rings also don’t move; hence why owls rotate their entire heads to see!

If this interesting fact makes you want to dive deeper into the animal kingdom, you may find a career as a zoologist exciting and rewarding. As a zoologist, you will enjoy observing animal behavior, their habitats and how they interact with their environments. If these activities spark your interest, keep reading to learn how to become a zoologist!

What is a zoologist and what do they do?

A zoologist is a scientist who studies animals and their behaviors. Zoologists study animals in the wild and captivity to observe behavior and interactions among their ecosystems. Some zoologists work primarily indoors, in controlled habitats, while others work outdoors and may travel often to observe animals in their wild habitats.

Among these diverse activities, zoologists conduct research, manage conservation efforts and manage habitats and wildlife populations worldwide. These scientists are essential to the entire world – not just the animal world – as they track global threats, migration, reproduction, diet, human impact and conservation.

Different fields within zoology

Within the practice of zoology, zoologists may choose to specialize in an area of study such as ethology (the study of animal behavior), ecology (the study of how organisms relate to each other and their environment) or marine biology (the study of organisms in the sea).

To become a zoologist, choosing a specialization that aligns with your interests and career goals is crucial. For example, if conservation is a cause close to your heart, specializing in conservation matters will become a rewarding career path.

Do you need a degree to become a zoologist?

The first step to learning how to become a zoologist starts with choosing a college degree. Most organizations require at least a bachelor’s degree but are flexible regarding which degree program you choose.

Bachelor’s degree in zoology or related field

To become a zoologist, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in zoology or a related field, such as biology or environmental science, which takes about four years of full-time study. These major programs provide an incredible foundation for zoologists in the real world through courses such as animal physiology, conservation biology, genetics and evolution and ecology.

Students studying to become zoologists will receive hands-on experience in the field and the lab through coursework and internships. This experience goes beyond course study material to dive deeper into observation techniques and field knowledge. Those with real-world experience will have an upper hand compared to fellow job market applicants.

Advanced degrees in zoology or specialized fields

Once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, you may pursue additional degree programs for more specialized knowledge. While obtaining a master’s degree or Ph.D. is not required to become a zoologist, it may lead to additional opportunities for research or teaching roles.

A master’s degree in a specialized field, which takes about two years to complete, will provide more profound knowledge of a chosen field, such as conservation or marine biology.  A Ph.D. is the most advanced degree program, which takes five additional years of instruction. A Ph.D. will provide an ample foundation for these roles if interested in significant research or teaching opportunities.

What experience do you need to become a zoologist?

To become a successful zoologist, practical experience plays a tremendous role in the educational experience. From internships to fieldwork and projects to published work, hands-on education furthers your understanding of the curriculum.

Internships and fieldwork

Internships and fieldwork, such as practical work experience at a zoo or zoology-related organization, provide significant real-world experience. This type of experience can also come from study abroad programs. Spending time observing and studying animals in their natural habitat allows you to become familiar with the role and responsibility of your potential future career so that you can explore specialty interests and show future employers your knowledge in a particular field.

Research projects and publications

In zoology, zoologists are constantly engaging in research projects to improve the field. Participating in research projects provides endless experience in studying, theorizing and impacting animal habitats and conservation. Similarly, as zoologists conduct research and discover new and unique findings, contributions to scientific literature positively impact careers and can open the door to immense opportunities.

What skills do you need as a zoologist?

As you learn how to become a zoologist, you’ll find specific skills essential to your career. These include observation, patience, communication and analysis.

Observation and patience

The number one skill needed to become a zoologist is keen observation. Because most responsibilities involve watching how animals behave and interact, having an eye for detail and noticing nuances is an incredible skill to hone. Further, analytical skills are necessary to document findings and explain these observations’ what, why and how. As with many roles working with other beings, patience is essential as you wait for animals to exhibit natural behaviors or new habits.

Communication and collaboration skills

For zoologists, communication skills are just as crucial as the observational skills. Communicating findings with peers during research projects and day-to-day tasks and explaining research to the public is a common, everyday task. Because of the depth of research needed, collaboration with peers, institutions and even animals is also highly essential to the job.

What kinds of jobs can you do as a zoologist?

You may be wondering how to become a zoologist in the practical sense of finding a career. In 2022, the median pay of a zoologist or wildlife biologist was $67,430 per year. So, where should you search for jobs and where can zoologists find work?

Job settings and opportunities

Zoologists can find work in popular public exhibits, such as local zoos, wildlife centers, parks and aquariums. Roles include zookeepers, researchers, trainers and caretakers, which are all important tasks to keep animals happy, healthy and comfortable.

In a more “wild” sense, zoologists may also find careers at wildlife conservation organizations, such as rehabilitation groups or non-profits, such as the popular global organization the World Wildlife Fund. Zoologists dedicate their careers to preserving and conserving habitats, environments and wildlife species in these organizations.

Environmental agencies and research institutions

In addition to hands-on habitat work, zoologists may also choose to work in office settings. Professional zoology roles exist in government agencies focusing on environmental protection and wildlife management, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There are also opportunities for zoologists to focus on research in an academic and professional setting. Zoologists contribute to university and research institutions by conducting research projects or teaching specialized courses as professors and fellows. Outside of universities or museums, zoologists can also lend their expertise to research in pharmaceutical technology or private medical research.

The perspectives and thoughts shared in the Furman Blog belong solely to the author and may not align with the official stance or policies of Furman University. All referenced sources were accurate as of the date of publication.