So You Want to be a Biologist?

The life of a wildlife or fisheries biologist isn’t necessarily as glamorous as you might think, but ask anyone who does it for a living and you’ll be blown away by how much they enjoy their line of work.

However, many biologists are astonished at the amount of desk work they are required to do. Research biologists and graduate students spend a lot of their time in the field. Once students graduate, they don’t get outside nearly as much and instead write detailed evaluations of their efforts, assist with peer-review articles, and prepare management plans.

Making the Cut

Optimal candidates for any wildlife-specific job are typically outgoing, personable and willing to listen to and work with others. A great personality only gets you so far. Earning the degree may be the hardest part. Rigorous course loads with multiple chemistry, physics, statistics and biology courses are typical.

These days, undergraduate degrees will only get you so far in the wildlife business. Students should deeply consider pursuing an advanced degree, such as a master’s. State agencies are a good place to start, as well as the federal government but federal agencies may limit you for advancements and research opportunities.

Participating in unpaid internships to gain experience and volunteering to do hands-on research will be worthwhile. It’s important to remain flexible and be willing to entertain different options when searching for your first job, even if it is in a different state or involves something other than what you want to do.

The Job Market

Jobs become available on a regular basis in the wildlife management business. Here are three potential options to explore:

  1. Conservation Organizations: Places like the NWTF and Ducks Unlimited employ biologists to help direct research or conduct habitat management efforts on public and private land.
  2. State Wildlife Agencies: Most agencies have staff members who specialize in individual species along with biologists who serve in a more general capacity.
  3. The Federal Government: Federal biologists can work everywhere from national parks and national forests to agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and U.S. Geological Survey.

Money

Federal biologists are paid a decent salary. An endangered species biologist with the USFWS, for example, can make more than $60,000. An upper-level supervisory position with the same agency can earn more than $100,000. State biologists with a few years of experience can live comfortably too.

Most biologists will likely say they don’t go into the field to get rich, at least in terms of dollars and cents. Instead, they define wealth another way: working with wildlife, helping landowners improve habitat and spending time with others who share the same passion for the outdoors.

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