Zoologists study animals and animal behaviour and work in many different roles. Some are environmental zoologists and conservationists who are responsible for protecting, managing and enhancing the wildlife in a particular area. Others work in field surveying, conducting scientific surveys of natural habitats, and identifying, recording and monitoring animal species, both in the UK and overseas.
All zoologists study the development and functions of animals. In particular they:
Investigate animals and their environment by studying them in their natural surroundings and in captivity.
Gather data on growth, nutrition, reproduction, prey and predators.
Investigate and implement methods of control of vermin and pests.
Devise and develop programmes to increase or manage the population of wild animals and animals in captivity.
Zoologists usually specialise in one aspect of study such as entomology (insects), parasitology (internal and external parasites), ecology (environment of animals), ethology (animal behaviour), ichthyology (fish), mammalogy (mammals), ornithology (birds), herpetology (reptiles) or physiology (functions of animals).
They prepare or supervise the preparation of reports and scientific papers and supervise and coordinate the work of technical officers and technicians.
Many zoologists work in higher education, lecturing at universities and further education institutes, and participating in wildlife awareness programmes for the public. Conducting research, giving presentations at conferences, and publishing information in books and journals, are important aspects of the job.
Some zoologists work in major zoos where they help to extend our knowledge of animals, including their classification, behaviour, populations and genetics. Others are employed as curators.
They 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. Zoologists working in research and higher education usually work normal daytime hours, from Monday to Friday. They may work extra hours at busy times. Those working in conservation may be required to host open days for the public, or work with volunteers at weekends and bank holidays. Attendance at evening meetings may also be required. Zoologists in field research work may have to work on schedules which fit in with the habits of the animals they are studying.
Zoologists' working environments also vary. Research zoologists spend most of their time in laboratories. Those in higher education divide their time between lecture theatres and classrooms, laboratories and offices.
Conservation zoologists work in offices as well as outdoors in the field. The amount of time spent on fieldwork may decrease as the zoologist progresses in their career. Field researchers can spend most of their time outdoors. They can work all over the world, and may have to cope with difficult climates and terrains.
Salaries may start at around £15,000 a year.
Zoologists are employed throughout the UK by universities, private research establishments, conservation organisations, local authorities, zoos, nature reserves and country parks.
Competition for jobs, especially in conservation and fieldwork, can be intense. Successful applicants have often spent time as volunteers for relevant organisations. Many jobs are offered on short-term contracts.
Vacancies are advertised in The Guardian and other national and local newspapers, and in publications such as Nature and New Scientist (www.newscientistjobs.co.uk). Academic research posts are advertised in The Times Higher Education Supplement and on websites like www.jobs.ac.uk.
A driving licence is often required.
It is possible to enter at trainee or technician level with GCSE's/S grades or A levels/H grades, or equivalent qualifications, including biology, maths, science and English. Technicians may be able to work towards NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in Zoo Animal Management, or a HNC in Zoo Resource Management.
In practice, however, most zoologists have a degree. Relevant subjects include zoology and animal biology, and degrees are offered at universities throughout the UK. To study for a first degree, candidates usually need at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades, usually including biology and often chemistry.
Alternative entry qualifications include a BTEC national award or diploma, or SQA modules. Foundation degrees in animal management and zoo management are available.
For some jobs, particularly research posts in universities, a postgraduate qualification is required. Entry to a postgraduate course is normally with at least a 2:1 degree.
Zoologists in conservation and fieldwork will usually have spent some time volunteering before taking up work. As volunteers they will have received training in identification and conservation techniques. Additional training may be provided by the employer.
Qualifications in identification that accredit existing skills are offered by the Natural History Museum. Assessment is by examination.
The Field Studies Council (FSC) offers a wide range of training programmes in biological recording skills.
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A zoologist should:
There is no established career structure for zoologists working in conservation and field research, and promotion prospects can be very limited. Career progression usually involves taking on more responsibility for planning and organising projects, and advising and/or managing others. Self-employment is possible by setting up a freelance consultancy.
In universities there may be promotion from researcher to lecturer, and then to higher grades like senior lecturer, professor or head of department.
There may be opportunities for zoologists to apply their skills in a different area, for example in industry or medicine. For example, with a science-based degree, it may be possible to apply for a shortened medical degree to train as a doctor or a vet.
Some zoologists even move into writing or broadcasting.
Zoologists working in conservation and fieldwork may have the opportunity to work overseas.
Field Studies Council (FSC),
Montford Bridge, Preston Montford,
Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY4 1HW
Tel: 0845 345 4071
The Natural History Museum,
Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD
Tel: 020 7942 5000
Royal Zoological Society of Scotland,
Edinburgh Zoo, 134 Corstorphine Road,
Edinburgh EH12 6TS
Tel: 0131 334 9171
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.