Study Wildlife Conservation: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's and PhD degrees in wildlife conservation can lead to careers in and academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Wildlife Conservation: Degrees at a Glance

As a student in a wildlife conservation graduate degree program, you will study various aspects of wildlife management. Students in a master's degree program may prepare for professional careers in wildlife conservation or further education in a doctoral program. In this field, salaries and occupational data vary based on experience and position. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall demand for zoologists and wildlife biologists was projected to grow by 7% from 2010 to 2020, which is slower than the average for all occupations.

Master of Science PhD
Who is this degree for? - Students with bachelor's degrees who want to specialize in wildlife conservation - Master's degree holders
- People who want careers in academia, research or policy
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) - Zoologists and wildlife biologists ($62,000 - may vary with experience)*- Postsecondary environmental science professor ($84,000 - may vary with experience)*
Time to Completion Approximately 2 years (full-time)Approximately 5 years (full-time)
Common Graduation Requirements - Coursework
- Thesis, if applicable
- Pass master's exams
- Teaching assistantship, if applicable
- Research, write and present dissertation
- Pass qualifying exams
- Complete teaching or research assistantship, if applicable
- Coursework
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Meet GPA requirements
- Prerequisite courses in statistics and biology, if applicable
- GRE scores
- All of the master's requirements, plus:
- All transcripts from undergraduate and graduate programs
- Interview, if applicable
Online Availability Yes Not widely available at this time

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean figures).

Wildlife Conservation Master's Degree

As a student in a typical wildlife conservation master's degree program, you will study habitat management along with field and laboratory aspects of wildlife. You will likely complete advanced coursework in biology, chemistry and mathematics. If you do not have a related bachelor's degree in wildlife management, biology or a similar field, you may need to take some prerequisite courses. Depending on the nature of your degree program, you may be able to choose a thesis or non-thesis track.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Although bachelor's degrees are the baseline academic credential in this field, a master's degree is often needed for advancement.
  • Individuals with lab and research experiences may be considered strong applicants for doctoral study.
  • Master's degree programs are typically taught by respected faculty who bring their real-world experiences into the classroom.

Cons

  • Job growth is expected to be slower than average from 2010 to 2020.*
  • Zoologists and wildlife biologists commonly work long or irregular hours when doing fieldwork.
  • Because a large portion of research funding is from the local, state and federal government budgets, job prospects may vary based on budgetary decisions.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

To obtain a master's degree in wildlife conservation, you likely will need to pass a comprehensive master's examination and complete coursework. Additionally, you will likely need to meet research requirements, which may require laboratory or field work. Some schools offer a master's thesis or non-thesis track. If you opt for a thesis track, you will need to research, write and present an original research paper. If you choose a non-thesis track, you will likely need to complete additional coursework. In a typical master's degree program, you can expect coursework in ecology, resource management, environmental conflicts, population dynamics and natural resource education.

Online Degree Options

Due to the research and fieldwork requirements in most wildlife conservation master's degrees programs, it may be challenging to find online degree programs. Some schools may allow students to complete prerequisite or introductory courses in biology and statistics online. Keep in mind that online degree programs may require some offline components, such as an internship. The admissions and coursework requirements are often very similar to traditional on-campus degree programs.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

To further enhance your academic credentials, you may consider taking supplementary technology or computer science courses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, zoologists and wildlife biologists frequently use various computer software programs in their line of work, so obtaining these skills early on can set you apart from others in your field.

Wildlife Conservation PhD Degree

PhD programs aim to train students in advanced study of ecological sciences to improve wildlife conservation efforts. PhD programs typically prepare students for careers as researchers, professors and policy experts. To successfully graduate from a wildlife conservation PhD program, you will need to complete academic courses, pass preliminary examinations in your field and defend an original dissertation. Typically, PhD programs emphasize individual study and scholarly research, so students are generally able to design a customized curriculum based on their personal interests.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD is necessary for independent research and for college teaching positions.
  • It is common for doctoral programs to offer competitive research or teaching assistantships to qualified students (however, these opportunities may be selective and competitive).
  • PhD programs are designed to provide students with the opportunity to specialize in a topic of particular interest to them.

Cons

  • Acceptance into a PhD program can be competitive.
  • Some programs may only admit new students as funding becomes available.
  • In academia, job security is typically only available through tenured positions, which are highly coveted and very competitive.

Common Courses and Requirements

Because PhD programs tend to be highly specialized, programs of study vary greatly based on the background and interests of each student. As a PhD candidate, you will likely complete academic coursework, perform research, obtain passing scores on doctoral examinations and prepare for your doctoral dissertation (which you must research, write and present to a faculty panel). Some programs may also require students to serve as a teaching or research assistant. Depending on your specialization, common courses may include animal cytology, comparative and functional anatomy, developmental biology, histology and wildlife conservation policy.

Online Degree Options

Currently, online PhDs in wildlife conservation are not widely available. If you find an accredited online program, consider that you may need access to an approved site where you can conduct research.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Because an essential component of a PhD programs is research, students are encouraged to compose their own original theories and research proposals. Students who want to pursue careers in research or policy can leverage their school's academic journals to publish original works. Students who are interested in securing practical work experience may want to consider volunteering their services with a local conservation organization. Volunteering options are generally very flexible (which is helpful for busy students) and can hone your on-the-job skills.

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