Zoological scientists study all aspects of animal life. They conduct research both in laboratories and in nature, analysing and interpreting data taken from samples. They investigate the origin, structure and behaviour of animals and their relationship with the environment. They design experiments and use sophisticated equipment in their research.
Much of the work is laboratory or office based and you would normally work a standard week although you may sometimes be required to work early mornings, evenings or weekends. Research can involve spending time away from home, sometimes overseas. You may be involved in medical research or conservation which sometimes includes wild life or nature reserve management.
Typical job responsibilities include:
- Classifying, studying and researching all kinds of animal life
- Raising awareness of endangered species through practical work and raising public awareness
- Developing pharmaceuticals or enhancing agricultural products within industry
- Conducting research in a specific area of interest in academic or research institutions
- Specialising in a specific area such as mammalogy (mammals), entomology (insects) or herpetology (amphibians and reptiles)
- Working in a variety of environments including safari park, wildlife centres and zoos.
- Carrying out research in laboratories
- Designing projects and supervising staff
- Giving presentations at conferences
- Publishing articles in scientific journals
- Teaching and giving lectures
Field work can take place in all weathers and can involve substantial travel so you must be physically fit and be prepared to work in difficult conditions. There may be a risk of accidents as you will sometimes be working with dangerous animals.
Future career progression will depend on the setting in which you are working. Within a university there is a set progression from researcher to head of department. Within industry and government promotion is also clearly defined. In areas such as conservation, progression is more limited and you may need to change employers in order to achieve promotion.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for zoological scientists
- A genuine interest in animals, science and the natural world
- Strong observational skills
- Research and analytical skills
- Methodical and systematic approach to work
- Problem solving skills
- High standards of accuracy and attention to detail
- Logical thinking
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to undertake practical and outdoor work in all weathers
- Project management and supervisory skills
- Able to work on your own and in a team
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of zoological scientists
Examples of public and private sector employers of zoological scientists include:
- Research institutions
- The agricultural industry
- Government departments
- Environmental organisations
- Some industrial organisations such as oil companies
Very few zoologists find work in the conservation of endangered species, wildlife trusts, nature reserves or zoos.
Qualifications and training required
Most entrants to this profession are graduates. There is a wide range of courses available and you should choose your course carefully. Degree courses last for three or four years and can be full time or sandwich. Entry into a degree course requires a minimum of 5 GCSEs grades 9 – 4 (A*- C) and 2 A levels in biology and usually chemistry, maths or physics.
There are degree courses in zoology but also many other relevant degrees such as agricultural science, applied biology, animal biology, biochemistry, biology, ecology, genetics or microbiology. It is sensible to gain some voluntary or paid experience with a relevant organisation before applying for a degree course.
A relevant first degree can be followed by a specialist higher degree. Postgraduate study is an advantage. Membership of the Royal Society of Biology can be attained by graduates with appropriate qualifications and 3 years' relevant experience.