Picking a career isn't always easy. You want to balance your interests and talents with the ability to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. If you're fascinated by living things, don't want to spend all of your time in an office and don't need to make a six-figure income to feel comfortable, working as a zoologist might be for you. Zoology is a big field, encompassing everything from single cells to large animal populations, so you'll have plenty of options when it comes time to specialize.
Research is one of the biggest components of a career in zoology. From investigating the causes of animal diseases and if they can spread to humans, to observing the behavior of wolves in the wild, you'll have plenty of opportunities to satisfy curiosity about what makes the animal world tick. You might discover new species, particularly if you study insects as an entomologist. As an ornithologist you might track migration patterns of birds and environmental issues that can affect those patterns. If you obtain a Ph.D., you could end up designing and leading your own research projects.
Not every zoologist spends most of his time doing field work. However, even university professors who are normally tethered to the classroom or lab often spend summers or sabbaticals on research projects out in the field. You might analyze specimens and samples in a laboratory, but first you have to get them. This can mean treks to a remote South American or Asian jungle where new species are regularly discovered, or time spent aboard a research ship tracking the movements of whales. It's a good career if you like spending time outdoors. If you work for a zoo you might work up close with animals, which offers daily challenges due to the unpredictable nature of many species.
If the thought of handling insects doesn't thrill you, but you find turtles endlessly fascinating, you can work as a herpetologist. Zoology is divided into many fields and most zoologists pick one to specialize in, so you'll have plenty of career options. Ichthyologists study fish, while a mammalogist works with mammals, or even specific mammals, such elephants or gorillas. You can also choose to work on the bigger picture as an ecologist. For example, you might study the interactions of animals and the environment in a prairie ecosystem. Many zoologists go into teaching and some move up an administrative ladder, eventually becoming heads of wildlife agencies, zoos and research facilities.
Pay and Job Prospects
You won't get rich working as a zoologist, but you can earn a decent living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $61,880 in 2011. Working for the federal government or a scientific research and development firm can mean an average wage of over $70,000 per year. While job growth is projected to be slower than the national average -- the BLS expects employment in the field to grow 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, about half the national average -- opportunities will still be available, particularly in fields that touch on the interaction of animals and human activities.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- O-Net OnLine: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- NC State University: Zoology
- Bioscience Careers: Zoologist
- Michigan State University College of Natural Science: Careers for Biological Sciences Majors
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Since 1997, Maria Christensen has written about business, history, food, culture and travel for diverse publications. She ran her own business writing employee handbooks and business process manuals for small businesses, authored a guidebook to Seattle, and works as an accountant for a software company. Christensen studied communications at the University of Washington and history at Armstrong Atlantic State University.