How Do I Go into Wildlife Ecology?

Amy Rodriguez

The main route to working in the wildlife ecology field is obtaining a bachelor's degree. In fact, a four year degree often involves more than just lectures and laboratory work; many programs offer working abroad opportunities and internships to enhance your future wildlife ecology career. Additionally, candidates for advanced ecology positions, such as directors or managers, most often must have a master's degree to be considered.

Wildlife ecology usually involves monitoring animal populations.
Wildlife ecology usually involves monitoring animal populations.

Bachelor's degrees in a field related to wildlife ecology are the best choices for incoming college freshmen. Good choices of majors would include biology or a specific concentration, like conservation biology. A biological science major could be enhanced with a minor in computers or mathematics; wildlife ecology research often involves counting animal populations and analyzing the data using computer programs.

Freshmen and sophomore college students must pass all the general science courses involved with their particular major before moving on to advanced studies that may include opportunities to study and work abroad. These unique trips are normally taken over a spring or summer break; students can travel to a specific region, country or continent that has wildlife ecology needs, such as studying abroad in Africa to gather data on an endangered species of rhinoceros. As a result of this experience, the student's wildlife ecology resume has the added enhancement of international work experience.

An internship functions much like working abroad, but it is normally limited to nearby businesses and organizations so that the student can practice working in local wildlife ecology. In addition, some colleges call for internships as a mandatory graduation requirement, whereas study abroad opportunities are typically voluntary. Some students will be offered regular, paid positions at the wildlife organizations where they completed their internships.

For those considering wildlife ecology, your career does not have to remain stagnant after obtaining a bachelor's degree. Some ecologists dive further into the profession by earning a master's degree. The wildlife ecology industry needs people that can direct new research processes to improve data collection; the master's degree provides the experience and education needed to be successful in a leadership role.

Entering this profession also opens up opportunities to work with the government, a university, or a non-profit organization. When choosing internships, students are usually provided with a choice of different organizations that need ecologists, and students should try to match their internship to their career goals. For example, students who are interested in working for a state park should try to intern for a government body, such as a local city park management firm. Gaining experience in a government niche will open up more job opportunities for a successful career.

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Discussion Comments


@bythewell - And, honestly, there's no reason for someone to not want to work with shellfish or shrimp or bacteria or anything else that might seem boring from the outside. Most wildlife ecosystems are very exciting to the people who study them, because the more you look into them, the more complexity they show.


@MrsPramm - As long as students keep in mind that there are a wide variety of careers that involve wildlife ecology. They could end up working in a theme park or in Antarctica or in a lab.

I had a teacher who talked me out of this kind of career when I was in high school and I really think she did the wrong thing. I imagined myself working with ocean animals, particularly dolphins or orcas but she informed me that there was no way I'd get to do that, and at most I'd be able to work with food species like shellfish or shrimp.

She wasn't being unkind. She thought she was helping me. But she was also wrong.


If you are someone considering a change in careers, I would definitely go out and see if I could get some first hand experience at the different types of jobs that this kind of degree would offer.

I was convinced that what I wanted to do with my life was work with animals and I started a degree towards that.

But I realized halfway through that it wasn't the right career for me. Although I loved the idea of it, I was much better at creative work than at the kind of analysis it takes to work in research or conservation.

It's always important to hear about the nitty gritty of a job, rather than just the bigger picture because that is what will fill your days.

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