Federal and state wildlife agencies, zoos, aquariums, museums, universities, environmental consulting firms and even hunting ranches employ zoologists. Depending on the work environment, a zoologist might oversee the care of animals, design habitats to help animals thrive, conduct experiments, publish research papers or participate in fundraising activities. Education and experience are the two most important qualifications for a zoologist.
To become a zoologist, you must have at least a bachelor's degree. If you can't major in zoology, animal science, ecology, biology or wildlife biology, make sure your coursework includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, math and statistics. Classes in computer science are also helpful, especially if you plan on becoming a research zoologist.
A bachelor's degree in zoology won't necessarily qualify you to get a job as an entry-level zoologist. If you can find a zoologist job and get hired with only a bachelor's degree, you'll have limited long-term career growth without an advanced degree. Most zoologists have a master's degree in zoology or a related field. Some master's degree students adopt a specialty in animal science during their graduate program, such as genetics. Other students concentrate their studies on a particular group of animals, such as fish or birds, or even narrow it down to a single species.
A common career path for zoologists is in research. Researchers perform experiments and use the results to solve environmental problems, breed and raise animals or dissect and preserve animal bodies. However, to become a research zoologist, you'll need a Ph.D. in zoology, wildlife biology or a related field. Likewise, if your goal is to become a professor and teach zoology at a college or university, you'll need to earn your Ph.D. before it's likely that a college or university will hire you.
Experience is another important qualification that employers consider when hiring zoologists. There are ways to gain relevant work experience while you earn your degrees that will help you as you apply to graduate programs and look for a job. Consider volunteering at an animal care facility or a zoo for real-life exposure to zoology and a strong addition to your resume. Check with the local zoos or aquariums to see if they have internship programs for aspiring zoologists. If you need a part-time paid position, look for something in a veterinary hospital or even as a ranch hand.