Approximately 21,000 zoologists and wildlife biologists are employed in the United States. Zoologists work for a wide variety of institutions, not just zoos. Many zoologists are teachers at universities and other facilities, where they may teach during the year while spending their summers doing research. A large number of zoologists are researchers; they may be working for nonprofit organizations (requiring grants to fund their work), scientific institutions, or the government. There are also many zoologists who are employed by zoos, aquariums, and museums. Jobs for zoologists exist all over the country, but large cities that have universities, zoos, and museums will provide far more opportunities for zoologists than in rural areas.
It is possible to find work with a bachelor's degree, but those starting out will need to continue their education to advance further in the field. Competition for higher paying, high-level jobs among those with doctoral degrees is fierce; as a result, it is often easier to break into the field with a master's degree than it is with a Ph.D. Many zoologists with their master's degree seek a mid-level job and work toward a Ph.D. on a part-time basis.
You will be ahead of the game if you have made contacts as an intern or as a member of a professional organization. It is an excellent idea to attend the meetings of professional organizations, which generally welcome students. At those meetings, introduce yourself to the scientists you admire and ask for their help and advice.
Don't be shy, but be sure to treat people with respect. Ultimately, it's the way you relate to other people that determines how your career will develop.
Higher education and publishing are two of the most important means of advancing in the field of zoology. The holder of a Ph.D. will make more money and have a higher status than a zoologist with a bachelor's or master's degree. The publication of articles and books is important for both research scientists and professors of zoology. A young assistant professor who does not publish cannot expect to become a full professor with tenure, and a research scientist who does not publish the results of their research will not become known as an authority in the field. In addition, the publication of a significant work lets everyone in the field know that the author has worked hard and accomplished something worthwhile.
Zoology is not a career with high turnover in jobs, which is why people generally move up within an organization. A professor may become a full professor; a research scientist may become known as an expert in the field or may become the head of a department, division, or institution; a zoologist employed by an aquarium or a zoo may become an administrator or head curator. In some cases, however, scientists may not want what appears to be a more prestigious position. A zoologist who loves to conduct and coordinate research, for example, may not want to become an administrator who is responsible for budgeting, hiring and firing, and other tasks that have nothing to do with research.
Tips for Entry
Participate in internships or part-time jobs that are arranged by your college’s career services office.
Visit the following Web sites for job and internship listings:
Attend the annual conferences of the Zoological Association of America and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to network, learn about industry trends, and participate in professional development workshops and seminars.
Contact zoos directly to learn more about job opportunities. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) offers a database of zoos at https://www.aza.org/find-a-zoo-or-aquarium.