If you love and care for animals, have an adventurous streak and don’t mind getting dirty, zoology make be a perfect career path for you.
The majority of zoological scientists are full time employees at colleges and universities, who may or may not conduct independent research. Most have a doctoral degree, and many may have a specific subject of interest within zoology.
Other zoologists work in zoos and aquariums, museums, wildlife preserves and state and national parks, as either caretakers or “keepers”, curators who research animals and find specimens for their institutions, educators at these institutions, rehabilitation, research and conservation. It is also not uncommon for a zoologist to take on more than one position either part time or seasonally, or even combine jobs, as in the case of professors who involve students in their own private research, and museum curators who travel for field work part of the year. A very small minority of creative types in zoology may end up creating media to educate the public about animals, as in the case of television hosts like explorer Steve Irwin, conservationist and artist Beatrix Potter, and oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Yves Cousteau.
Depending on the type of work you go into, the specifics of your job description will change. Most jobs in animal science revolve around studying and caring for animals, with these two things sometimes overlapping. Research is integral to most zoological careers, as is, to an extent, sharing findings with others.
Education and Training
Zoologists, or animal biologists, are biologists and like most careers in science, especially the life sciences, an advanced degree is almost definitely a must. While a masters or even a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field may get you a job in the field of animal life sciences, a Ph.D or doctoral degree is generally an essential for scientists looking to make a career out of independent research that is seen as viable by grant donors and the scientific community at large.
Choosing a college major that will enable you to succeed in the field of zoology should be neither too specific nor too vaguely related to what you plan to do with your degree. The safest major for aspiring zoologists is, of course, biology, as it is the most versatile, gives you the widest range of potential career options, and provides you with the time to figure out what types of animals and environments you most want to work in, if necessary. Even with such a broad major as biology, you may still have a concentration–officially recognized by your school or not–in animals or something even more specific, like birds, reptiles, animal evolution, or mammals, but if there is a great chance that you will want to work primarily with fish, do not spend your college years absorbing too much entomology, or else you may limit your life’s work to the study of bugs. If it is likely that you will not want to work in conservation, do not major in environmental science or ecology.
Salary and Wages
Generally speaking, zoologists do not get into animal science for the money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of zoologists was around $60,000 in 2008, with zoologists who earned below the median ranging from around $35,000 to $45,000 a year, and zoologists who earned more than the median salary having earned between about $74,000 to upwards of $90,000. The median salary of veterinarians was about $90,000. It is important to bear in mind that specialized zoologists may earn different salaries for performing equivalent or near equivalent work in their respective fields: ichthyologists (fish scientists) estimate that others in their field range in annual earnings from an estimated $30,000 to $60,000 a year, while there is no real consensus on salary of some zoologists such as ornithologists (who study birds). Depending on your employer and your job, your salary will likely raise or become progressively more negotiable the longer you stay under one employer, and with more and more advanced degree qualifications.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Apart from your degree, as a zoologist, there may be other credentials that can help advance your career, if they are not necessary for it. Certification for certain safety procedures, such as having completed a CPR or similar course, make you a desirable candidate for a position where workers may put themselves into dangerous situations. If you are trying to get a job in some form of marine biology, SCUBA certification and the ability to swim are crucial. Depending on what types of field work you may get involved with as a zoologist, you may want to have certification to operate certain heavy machinery or vehicles. An animal physician or veterinarian is required to have a license to practice in the state he or she works in, as well as to take a moral oath.
Professional associations for zoologists and animal biologists include the World Association for Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), the American Association of Zoo Keepers, and “associations of zoos and aquariums” (AZAs) by nation. There are also plenty of veterinary associations.