DO ECOLOGISTS DO?
by Whit Gibbons
June 15, 2008
questions high school and college students ask at this time of year are
ones pertaining to career choices. Having a career direction can be helpful
for someone choosing between job opportunities for the summer or classes
to take for summer school or fall. Another reason I get these kinds of
questions is because school is still not out in some regions, so end-of-the-year
reports are due. I received the following series of questions last week
from a student at Arthur L. Johnson High School in New Jersey.
Q: What does
an ecologist do?
study the relationships between plants, animals, and their environments.
They also teach others to understand and appreciate the natural world
we live in and depend on.
Q: What type
of college degree is needed?
A: No degree
is needed for someone to study the environment or to assist in programs
at a nature center, zoo, or summer camp. A college education is typically
required for teaching in K-12 schools. For universities, a master's degree
is usually necessary, and for most, a doctoral degree is required.
Q: What types
of courses in high school would be helpful?
in biology, chemistry, and mathematics will all be applicable toward college
training to be an ecologist. Language arts and computer courses would
also be helpful for any scientific career.
Q: What science
skills are necessary?
how to observe and measure natural phenomena and to design and carry out
experiments would be worthwhile skills. For research ecologists, training
in statistical analysis, global information systems, and a variety of
laboratory approaches, such as mass spectometry or DNA analysis, can be
valuable tools for some environmental studies.
Q: What is
a normal day like in your field?
is no "normal" day in ecology. Environments change continually,
so each day can present a new adventure. In field ecology programs, most
ecologists are impressed at how many new discoveries continue to be made
about what animals and plants do.
Q: What is
the expected salary range for an ecologist?
A: Do not
become an ecologist to get wealthy. Typical salaries will vary considerably
from minimum-wage for internships or certain entry-level positions as
technicians to the salaries characteristic of those of college professors
and government agencies. The highest salaries are often made by environmental
consultants or corporate ecologists, professions driven in great part
by the overall economy of the country.
Q: What are
the pros and cons of your career?
an ecologist can be especially gratifying as a career for someone who
thrives on being outdoors and observing or otherwise studying plants and
animals. Every day can be a vacation if you have an ecology position that
puts you in contact with interesting animals, plants, or environments.
Being able to teach students who are also enthralled about nature is an
added bonus. A primary negative aspect for some people would be that salaries
may typically be lower than in other careers. Also, as with any profession,
ecologists must deal with paperwork, government regulations, and daily
routines that take some of the fun out of a job.
Q: Do you
love your career? Why?
may not be the right word, but I definitely have enjoyed my career as
an ecologist. A primary reason in my case has been because of opportunities
to work with reptiles and amphibians, my favorite group of animals, on
a daily basis. Also, getting to visit and work in a variety of natural
habitats and interesting locations has been inspiring. Furthermore, being
an ecologist assures an opportunity to associate constantly with like-minded
individuals who also appreciate and enjoy the many faces of the natural
a career in ecology should read nature books and spend time outdoors observing
nature, always asking why different plants and animals are the way they
are. Go as far as you care to academically, and if you can't find a paying
job as an ecologist, make a living some other way and simply enjoy the
environment in your spare time.
you have an environmental question or comment, email