Info for Undergraduate Students

 If you like being outdoors exploring the world around you, are curious about how the environment works, enjoy using your mind to solve problems, and want to do work that is important to society, you should consider the many

ECOL·O·GY:   from Greek   oikos = house (place we live)   logos = (study of) the branch of science studying interactions and relationships between organisms and their environment · a discipline, a profession, a community of scientists, of which you can be part !

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 WHAT DO ECOLOGISTS DO? 

You will find ecology to be an exciting and rewarding  career.  Working in interesting places, both near and afar, questioning, investigating, finding answers;  
you will be a respected member of your community.  The knowledge you help build will be valued by other scientists, teachers, policy makers, citizens, and managers  - - for you will be helping society make sound decisions and contributing to our understanding of how nature works.

Ecologists contribute significantly to our understanding and preservation of the natural world.   They provide knowledge to assess ecological issues in a wide range of environments, to solve problems in meeting the food, shelter, and health needs of humans, and to enrich the lives of people everywhere through a greater insight into the mysteries of the biosphere.

Ecologists...  

  • conduct research outdoors and in the laboratory - by asking both theoretical and practical questions that can be investigated using scientific techniques in exotic places or close to home.
  • teach students and the general public -at universities or colleges as well as at high schools, museums, and nature centers.
  • apply ecological knowledge to solve environmental problems - by investigating ecological issues, interacting with affected communities, writing environmental impact statements, and designing sustainable practices.
  • help manage natural resources - by monitoring, managing, or restoring populations and ecosystems.
  • advise students and local, state and federal policy makers - by recommending course work and research, working on committees, and providing the best available scientific information to politicians.
  • communicate with co-workers, students, and the public - by writing articles and research papers, giving lectures and presentations, participating in discussions, and conducting outreach in their local communities.

WHAT KINDS OF JOBS ARE THERE?

Careers in ecology exist for all experience levels and abilities - -  job descriptions are equally diverse. In most cases, salaries, levels of responsibility, and levels of autonomy all increase with increased training and experience. Here are some examples of the types of jobs available according to education level and type of employment organization.

DEGREE AND 
NUMBER OF YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL
ASSOCIATE OF SCIENCE DEGREE 
2 years
BACHELOR OF SCIENCE (BS) - Biology, Ecology, related disciplines
4 - 5 years
MASTER OF SCIENCE (MS) - Ecology 
6 - 8 years
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY  (PhD) - Ecology 
8 - 14 years
COLLEGES, UNIVERSITIES AND RESEARCH INSITUTES Field/Research Technician or Laboratory Assistant Field/Research Technician or Laboratory Assistant 
Research Assistant
Professor at some  
two year colleges 
Research Assistant
Post Doctoral Associate 
College or  
University Professor 
Lecturer 
Research Associate/Scientist 
Research Administrator
PRIVATE CONSULTING AND INDUSTRY Field/Research Technician or Laboratory Assistant Field/Research Technician or Laboratory Assistant 
Research Assistant
Research Assistant 
Environmental Consultant 
Environmental Planner
Program Manager
Senior Environmental Consultant 
Research Associate/Scientist 
Research Administrator
GOVERNMENT Intern 
Docent 
Field Crew Member
Intern 
Park Naturalist 
Wildlife Specialist 
Research Assistant
Program Manager 
Wildlife Biologist 
Forester 
Natural Resource Manager
Research Associate/Scientist 
Research Administrator 
Natural Resource Manager
NON-GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS Intern 
Docent
Intern 
Volunteer Coordinator 
Program Scientist
Program Scientist 
Environmental Analyst 
Field Ecologist
Field Ecologist 
Research Coordinator 
Research Administrator
SCHOOLS Teaching Assistant Teaching Assistant 
Outdoor Educator 
K-12 Teacher
K-12 Teacher 
Science Specialist
K-12 Teacher 
Superintendent 
Director of  
Curriculum and Instruction

WHAT IS THE JOB OUTLOOK LIKE?

There is a growing need to understand and manage the natural world and our impact on it.  This need has resulted in a growth in job opportunities for individuals with ecological backgrounds to conduct ecological research, to determine environmental impacts, to develop management plans to avoid environmental problems and restore ecosystems, to educate the general public, and to develop and manage sustainable communities.

Job opportunities in the ecological and environmental fields are predicted to grow enormously over the next several years - -  especially in private companies, non-government organizations, and in pre-college schools more than at universities and federal agencies.

A wide variety of positions requiring the application of ecological principles are available, though the title might not include “ecologist.”  Some of these job titles include: consultant, planner, analyst, program manager, education coordinator, computer programmer, lobbyist, and lawyer. Remember, personal experiences may help to define new job descriptions and with every experience comes more responsibility, financial compensation, and opportunities.

WHAT COURSES SHOULD I TAKE?

Regardless of the specific focus of their degrees, all ecologists need a broad background in the life and natural sciences.  An understanding of the physical sciences, including geology, chemistry, physics, and engineering also is helpful.  Ecologists need to communicate ideas to those around them, so it is extremely important to gain experience writing and making oral presentations.  They need a working knowledge of mathematics, statistics, and computers to design sound investigations, to analyze and interpret their data, and to understand and build mathematical models of ecological concepts and processes.

Because environmental challenges require working with people and ideas from disciplines beyond the natural sciences, it also is useful for ecologists to know something about the social sciences, such as economics and geography.

If you would like to be an ecologist, but already have an undergraduate degree in a field other than the biological sciences, it’s not too late!  You may have to make up a few classes along the way, but you still can complete an advanced degree in ecology.

HOW CAN I GAIN EXPERIENCE DURING COLLEGE?

It is really important and useful for undergraduate students to get practical experience doing ecology.  Gaining hands-on experiences is a great way to learn specific skills, help get a feel for the day-to-day work of ecologists, and establish contacts for future jobs.

During the school year or over summer breaks:

 HOW DO I LEARN MORE ABOUT CAREERS IN ECOLOGY?

ASK AN ECOLOGIST- The best source of information and advice about pursuing a career in ecology is a working ecologist.  Ask a professor at school with an ecology background or contact someone at another school nearby or working locally in government or industry.  The career center at your school also has information about graduate schools, job search strategies, and career planning.

JOIN A PROFESSIONAL SOCIETY- A great way to learn more is by becoming a member of a professional association such as the Ecological Society of America (ESA).  By joining ESA you will be a part of a professional non-profit membership organization of ecologists.  Through ESA you will be able to: learn about annual meetings, receive the newsletter and ESA Bulletin, subscribe to publications, join in discussions, and view job postings through the listserve ECOLOG-L.  Contact ESA to learn more about what it offers and how to become a member (email: esahq@esa.org).  The web site provides links to other professional organizations as well.

READ RELATED PUBLICATIONS - Check your local college or city libraries for books on ecological topics to find specific examples of the issues that ecologists study.  Publications  such as American ScientistBioScienceNatural HistoryNational GeographicScience NewsScientific American, and Smithsonian  have ecology articles of general interest. Browse professional journals including Conservation BiologyEcologyEcological ApplicationsEnvironmental ManagementFisheries,Journal of EcologyJournal of ForestryJournal of Wildlife ManagementLimnology and OceanographyNatural Areas Journal,Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and Wildlife Society Bulletin.  Reading these publications also will help you determine your interests.

I WANT TO BE AN ECOLOGIST! 

Now that you know you are interested in pursuing a career in ecology, you need to decide whether to go on to graduate school or find a job.  Remember, you can always go to graduate school after gaining work experience.

If you are interested in graduate school, the National Academy of Science Press, (800-624-6242) has a publication available for free in print or on the web that may be helpful: Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide to Graduate School and Beyond (http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/careers/).

If you’d like to secure a job, there are many tools to help you search.  Timing, networking, and luck are all important factors in finding the right job. Talk to family, friends, teachers, guidance counselors, and advisors in your college or university career planning office.  Get involved with a professional society.  Most importantly, ask questions and make contacts.  Contacts lead to contacts - - and networking is invaluable in finding a job.

You will find ecology to be an exciting and rewarding career.  Working in interesting places, both near and afar, questioning, investigating, finding answers;  you will be a respected member of your community.  The knowledge you help build will be valued by other scientists, teachers, policy makers, citizens, and managers  - - for you will be helping society make sound decisions and contributing to our understanding of how nature works.

SEARCHING FOR A JOB

Many organizations produce newsletters or maintain web sites with career  information and job announcements:

To find a job working for...