How do I get Started in the Ecology Field?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2018
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Ecology, the study of living things and their interactions with the environment, is an appealing prospect to nature and science lovers. Getting started in the ecology field is often a lengthy process, as it usually entails several years of postgraduate studies and extensive training. Once a person is established in the ecology field, however, he or she can enjoy several career possibilities in research, conservation, and teaching.

High school students who wish to eventually pursue a career in the ecology field can benefit from taking advanced courses in chemistry, biology, and other life sciences. Such classes initiate students with scientific principles and methods pertinent to research ecology. In addition, students have the opportunity to become familiar with the laboratory equipment they will likely use throughout their college and professional careers.

Prospective ecologists usually choose universities with strong science programs. Some schools feature bachelor's degree programs in ecology, though most offer more general degrees in biology and environmental science. Undergraduates who plan on entering the ecology field often take multiple mathematics and computer science courses. As professionals in ecology, they will need strong math and computer skills to accurately input and analyze data. Many students seek internships and summer jobs with research institutions to gain additional experience in the ecology field.


Upon completion of a four year bachelor's program, most students apply for admission in an ecology graduate or doctoral program at an accredited university. Competition for admission can be intense, and students who have the strongest educational records, work history, and references are typically selected. Master's degree programs usually take about two years to complete, while doctoral programs may take three to four years.

Bachelor's and master's degree holders who do not wish to pursue further education can usually find ecology jobs, though their opportunities may be limited. They may work as laboratory technicians, ecologist assistants, or consultants with an environmental management firm. Some are able to join nonprofit organizations who promote environmental awareness and sustainable living.

PhD holders frequently take postdoctoral research positions as fellows or residents in a university or independent research institute. They frequently work alongside established ecologists, learning practical techniques, taking part in field research, and writing and publishing scientific papers.

After about two years, beginning ecologists are usually able to find permanent positions in government agencies, environmental consulting firms, nonprofit organizations, or research laboratories. Some scientists opt to become professors, teaching science courses at universities. As public concern about protecting the environment grows, the ecology field will continue to expand and present multiple opportunities for skilled scientists.



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