Entomologist

The Job and What's Involved

Entomology is the study of insects. There are many different roles for entomologists.

They can work in:

Field Research - conducting scientific surveys of natural habitats and studying insect ecology, identifying, recording and monitoring insect species, and searching for new species.

Conservation - protecting, managing and enhancing insect life.

Laboratory Research - in a wide range of fields, such as taxonomy (classifying insects), fighting diseases that are spread to humans and animals by insects and developing insecticides.

Tasks vary depending on the employer, but the work could include:

  • Studying, monitoring, classifying and keeping records of insect species, using computers to record the data.
  • Studying the physiology, genetics, behaviour and habitat of insects.
  • Recommending ways to prevent the importation and spread of harmful insects.
  • Researching the impact of insect pests and how to control them.
  • Developing and testing new insecticides and biological control agents (using bacteria, viruses or fungi to control pests).
  • Researching the role of beneficial insects.
  • Managing and using museum collections and maintaining local heritage archives.
  • Researching past environments by studying insect remains on archaeological sites.
  • Forensic entomology - for example, helping the police by studying insects and larvae found with human remains at crime scenes.
  • Monitoring the spread of diseases by insects.
  • Working with other scientists to develop crops that are resistant to pests.
  • Producing guides to help others identify insect species.
  • Raising public awareness by using the media, giving talks, and producing literature.
  • Working with children through schools and wildlife groups to encourage their interest in insects.
  • Training and supervising junior staff, researchers and volunteers.
  • Teaching students.
  • Presenting the results of research in books and journals, and at conferences.

Entomologists may work with other scientists and technicians, employees and volunteers from conservation organisations, and representatives from local and national government and industry.

Hours vary from post to post. Entomologists in research and higher education usually work about 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Those working in conservation and field research may work irregular hours, including weekends.

Research entomologists may spend a significant amount of their time in laboratories. Those in higher education divide their time between lecture theatres, classrooms, laboratories and offices. Entomologists working in the field or conservation spend some time outdoors and may have to cope with all weather conditions. Fieldwork can be physically demanding.

Special precautions, including wearing protective clothing, must be taken when dealing with dangerous species or toxic substances.

Salaries may start at around £16,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are only a few hundred entomologists in the UK. Employers include:

  • Universities, research establishments and conservation organisations.
  • Government departments, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and its agencies, for example the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) and Natural England.
  • Pharmaceutical and pest management companies.
  • Ecological consultancies.
  • Museums (the Natural History Museum in London employs about 70 entomologists).

Competition for jobs, especially in conservation and fieldwork, can be intense, although there is demand for accomplished entomologists. Many jobs are offered on short-term contracts.

While knowledge of a small number of species may be sufficient for academic research, more applied roles generally require a broader understanding of one or more of the larger groups of insects. People with this level of knowledge usually have a good chance of finding work. Opportunities in agriculture are declining, as there are now fewer insect pests.

Vacancies are advertised in national newspapers, in publications like New Scientist, Nature and The Times Higher Education Supplement, and on websites like www.jobs.ac.uk and www.environmentjob.co.uk. Civil Service posts are advertised at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/civil-service.

Education and Training

It may be possible to enter at trainee or technician level with GCSE's/S grades and A levels/H grades, or equivalent qualifications. Subjects should include maths, science (including biology) and English. Geography and geology can also be useful.

However, most entomologists have degrees. At present there are no degrees in entomology, but entomology modules are available in some biology, zoology, biological sciences and environmental science degrees. To study for a first degree, candidates usually need at least two A levels/three H grades, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). Alternative entry qualifications include BTEC/SQA national qualifications.

For many careers, a postgraduate qualification such as an MSc or PhD is required. Postgraduate courses in entomology are offered by a number of universities throughout the UK.

Experience is as important as qualifications, so doing voluntary work in museums or with conservation organisations, for example, is a good way to learn skills such as insect identification, sample sorting and conservation techniques.

It is also useful to join entomological societies, conservation organisations or study groups, subscribe to entomological journals and hold collections (specimens or photos) of insects.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Graduates intending to work in research usually study for a PhD (which is a research project generally lasting around three years), assessed by academics with significant knowledge of the field.

It is possible to study for postgraduate qualifications while at work. Courses in various subjects such as applied parasitology or medical entomology are available. Entomology is offered as a module in environmental archaeology courses and in some environmental sciences, biodiversity and conservation courses. Forensic entomology may be offered as a module on courses in forensics.

Training in identifying insect groups is available through organisations such as the British Entomological and Natural History Society.

Some employers may provide on-the-job training.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An entomologist needs:

  • A logical and enquiring mind.
  • The ability to keep meticulous records.
  • Good problem-solving skills.
  • Good communication skills.
  • Patience and perseverance.
  • To be able to work in a team and on their own initiative.
  • A methodical approach to work.
  • A good memory - there are millions of insect species in the world.
  • To be confident using computers.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Knowledge of a foreign language to work overseas or use foreign identification or scientific literature.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is no established career structure for conservation and field entomologists. Progression usually involves taking on more responsibility for projects and advising or managing others.

In universities, there may be promotion from researcher to lecturer, then to higher grades such as senior lecturer, principal lecturer, reader, professor, or head of department.

In industry, there may be a career structure with experienced entomologists being promoted to more senior positions.

Once established, there may be the opportunity to become a self-employed consultant.

Entomologists can work all over the world.

Get Further Information

British Entomological and Natural History Society,
The Pelham-Clinton Building, Dinton Pastures Country Park,
Davis Street, Hurst, Reading RG10 0TH
Website: www.benhs.org.uk

British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV),
Sedum House, Mallard Way, Potteric Carr, Doncaster DN4 8DB
Tel: 01302 388888
Website: www.btcv.org.uk

Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust,
170A Park Road, Peterborough PE1 2UF
Tel: 01733 201210
Website: www.buglife.org.uk

Civil Service Recruitment
Website: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/civil-service

Natural England, 1 East Parade, Sheffield S1 2ET
Tel: 0114 241 8920
Website: www.naturalengland.org.uk

The Natural History Museum,
Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
Tel: 020 7942 5000
Website: www.nhm.ac.uk

Royal Entomological Society,
The Mansion House, Chiswell Green Lane,
St Albans AL2 3NS
Tel: 01727 899387
Website: www.royensoc.co.uk

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