A zoologist is someone who is dedicated to the study of animals – their classification, structure, physiology, behaviour, distribution, ecology, anything and everything about how and why animals are what they are and do what they do. It may seem like quite a specialised field at first, but once you’re qualified there is a large range of potential job opportunities.
How to become a … Zoologist
If you’re interested in becoming a zoologist it goes without saying that you need to be passionate about animals! A general curiosity about nature and about the way living things work is also very useful.
The first step in becoming a zoologist is to include biology and chemistry in your Year 12 subject list.
The second is to get into a three-year Bachelor of Science degree at your local university. Every university runs things slightly differently, but in general you will do a range of science subjects in your first year, then have the option to focus on zoology subjects in your second and third years (i.e. a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in zoology). Subjects include vertebrate and invertebrate structure and function, physiology, wildlife biology, ecology, reproduction, marine zoology, behaviour, conservation, genetics, evolution, cell biology, etc. etc.
Once you have completed your degree the next step is usually to undertake honours, a year-long research project in the area of your choice. The benefit of doing honours is that it teaches you how to put all of the theory you learnt during your undergraduate degree into practice in the real world.
So now that you’re a qualified zoologist, what career options are available?
If you enjoyed the chance to do your own research in honours and you want to do more, a career in academia might be the way to go. You could get a job as a research assistant in a university, or decide to do more study and undertake a PhD. You could then follow this up with post-doctoral research, whilst working at the university as a lecturer. You could also find work as a researcher with the government (e.g. CSIRO – Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), or with a private organisation.
If you would prefer to apply the ideas you’ve learnt at a more general level, you could go into policy or management. These types of jobs are generally with government departments, such as the Department of Sustainability and Environment, the Department of Primary Industries or Parks Victoria, but could also include local government, catchment management authorities, or environmental groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF Australia or the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
If you wanted to apply your skills in the great outdoors, you might decide to find work as a zoological consultant. Zoological consultants conduct fauna surveys and assessments, monitoring and salvage, as well as data analysis and report writing. Consulting work is available through both government (e.g. the Arthur Rylah Institute in Victoria) and with private consultancies.
A qualification in zoology is also extremely useful if you want to get a job in a more hands-on field, such as zoo keeping or as a ranger. To apply for these positions you will also need some practical experience of working with animals. A good way to build up these skills is through volunteering – at your local zoo or wildlife park, through Friends groups, with the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, your local animal shelter and the like.
These are just some of the career options available once you have become a zoologist. The direction you decide to follow will depend upon your own particular interests and strengths, but whatever you choose to do, at its core, zoology is all about animals.