DO ECOLOGISTS DO?
Among the questions high school and college students ask at this time of year are ones pertaining to career choices. Having a career direction can be helpful for someone choosing between job opportunities for the summer or classes to take for summer school or fall. Another reason I get these kinds of questions is because school is still not out in some regions, so end-of-the-year reports are due. I received the following series of questions last week from a student at Arthur L. Johnson High School in New Jersey.
Q: What does an ecologist do?
A: Ecologists study the relationships between plants, animals, and their environments. They also teach others to understand and appreciate the natural world we live in and depend on.
Q: What type of college degree is needed?
A: No degree is needed for someone to study the environment or to assist in programs at a nature center, zoo, or summer camp. A college education is typically required for teaching in K-12 schools. For universities, a master's degree is usually necessary, and for most, a doctoral degree is required.
Q: What types of courses in high school would be helpful?
A: Courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics will all be applicable toward college training to be an ecologist. Language arts and computer courses would also be helpful for any scientific career.
Q: What science skills are necessary?
A: Learning how to observe and measure natural phenomena and to design and carry out experiments would be worthwhile skills. For research ecologists, training in statistical analysis, global information systems, and a variety of laboratory approaches, such as mass spectometry or DNA analysis, can be valuable tools for some environmental studies.
Q: What is a normal day like in your field?
A: There is no "normal" day in ecology. Environments change continually, so each day can present a new adventure. In field ecology programs, most ecologists are impressed at how many new discoveries continue to be made about what animals and plants do.
Q: What is the expected salary range for an ecologist?
A: Do not become an ecologist to get wealthy. Typical salaries will vary considerably from minimum-wage for internships or certain entry-level positions as technicians to the salaries characteristic of those of college professors and government agencies. The highest salaries are often made by environmental consultants or corporate ecologists, professions driven in great part by the overall economy of the country.
Q: What are the pros and cons of your career?
A: Being an ecologist can be especially gratifying as a career for someone who thrives on being outdoors and observing or otherwise studying plants and animals. Every day can be a vacation if you have an ecology position that puts you in contact with interesting animals, plants, or environments. Being able to teach students who are also enthralled about nature is an added bonus. A primary negative aspect for some people would be that salaries may typically be lower than in other careers. Also, as with any profession, ecologists must deal with paperwork, government regulations, and daily routines that take some of the fun out of a job.
Q: Do you love your career? Why?
A: "Love" may not be the right word, but I definitely have enjoyed my career as an ecologist. A primary reason in my case has been because of opportunities to work with reptiles and amphibians, my favorite group of animals, on a daily basis. Also, getting to visit and work in a variety of natural habitats and interesting locations has been inspiring. Furthermore, being an ecologist assures an opportunity to associate constantly with like-minded individuals who also appreciate and enjoy the many faces of the natural world.
a career in ecology should read nature books and spend time outdoors observing
nature, always asking why different plants and animals are the way they
are. Go as far as you care to academically, and if you can't find a paying
job as an ecologist, make a living some other way and simply enjoy the
environment in your spare time.