Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming an ecologist, you should take a college preparatory curriculum while in high school. Classes that will be of particular benefit include earth science, biology, chemistry, English, and math. Because computers are so often involved in various aspects of research and documentation, you should also take computer science courses.

Postsecondary Training

A bachelor of science degree is the minimum degree required for nonresearch jobs, which include testing and inspection. A master's degree is necessary for jobs in applied research or management. A Ph.D. generally is required to advance in the field, including into administrative positions or to work as a professor at four-year college or university.

If you can only pursue one undergraduate major, it should be in the basic sciences: biology, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, or geology. At the master's degree level, natural resource management, ecology, botany, conservation biology, and forestry studies are useful.

Other Education or Training

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) offers continuing education opportunities at its annual conference. Recent sessions included Forest and Rangeland Management, Structural Equation Modeling: Advanced Techniques, Engaging with Business and Industry to Advance Earth Stewardship, Paleoecology, and Python for Ecologists (Python is a scripting language that is becoming increasingly popular for scientific computing). Contact the ESA for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Ecological Society of America offers professional certification at four levels: ecologist in training, associate ecologist, ecologist, and senior ecologist. A candidate's certification level will depend on the amount of education and professional experience he or she has. The society encourages certification as a way to enhance ecologists' professional standing in the field.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any experience one can obtain in the field of ecology—such as an internship, volunteering, or a part-time job—will be useful for aspiring ecologists.

Ecologists should appreciate and respect nature, and they must also be well versed in scientific fundamentals. Ecologists frequently, but not always, are naturally idealistic. They should be able to work with other people on a team and to express their special knowledge to the other people on the team, who may have different areas of specialization. Other important traits include problem-solving ability, strong analytical skills, and a willingness to continue to learn throughout their careers.