Becoming a zoologist isn't as easy as becoming a scientist or researcher in other natural science and environmental fields. Most organizations that hire zoologists and research scientists require candidates to have a doctoral degree in zoology and extensive work experience in the field. Zoology education programs at the undergraduate and graduate level prepare students for the intensive research and lab work requirements needed to complete a doctoral degree program. If you decide to study zoology only up to the graduate level, you may only be able to find work as an assistant or a technician, and may be looking at limited career opportunities in the future.
Zoologist Education Requirements
In order to become a zoologist, you will need to fulfill the following zoologist requirements:
- Complete undergraduate studies in biology, natural science or a related field. Preferably take elective courses in introductory zoology or related classes. Bachelor's degree programs in science or medicine typically take four years to complete.
- Complete graduate studies in zoology and fulfill all lab work and field training requirements. Graduate level zoology degree programs typically involve intensive lab and research projects, and students are required to complete a thesis and/or dissertation at the end of their educational track. Zoology degree programs at the graduate level typically take about two years to complete.
- Apply for a doctoral degree program and complete research and teaching assistant requirements. Doctoral degree programs in zoology can take between two to six years to complete, and some students may be able to complete an internship during this time.
In addition to completing a zoology education, students can work to gain as much hands-on experience as possible. This can be accomplished in the form of an internship or externship, or by completing a research project under the supervision of an instructor or mentor.
Preparing to Study Zoology
In order to meet all zoology education requirements throughout your career, it's important to prepare to study zoology as early on in your educational career as possible. Excelling in biology, physics, science and math can help you prepare for an undergraduate degree in this field and also give you the problem solving and critical thinking skills needed to complete graduate-level research and lab requirements. If you are weak in any of these areas, consider hiring a tutor or taking remedial courses so that you can excel in these areas at the college level and beyond.
As you reach the higher levels of your zoology education, you may choose to specialize in a certain species or field. Remember that zoology is a fairly broad subject and specializing in a certain area could help you advance in your career. You will have the opportunity to choose your specialization when you take advanced courses at the graduate level. Many students choose to specialize in areas such as physiology, genetics, animal behavior or embryonic development.
Be prepared to complete several scientific research projects and experiments throughout your zoology education program. You will need to have advanced skills in using the scientific method to test theories and make observations, and also learn how to create structured research reports for formal review.