Ecologist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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An ecologist's annual average salary is around $72,050. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an ecologist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Ecologist Career

Ecologists work independently in both laboratories and out in the field collecting environmental data. They help in the protection of habitats and ecosystems. Read on to explore the pros and cons of an ecologist career.

Pros of Being an Ecologist
High median income compared to U.S. average household (mean annual wage of around $72,050 in 2014)*
Help to make ecological and environmental habitats clean*
Independence and autonomy at work*
Serve to educate the public and private sector*

Cons of Being an Ecologist
Physically demanding fieldwork*
Irregular hours of work*
Demand for accuracy high**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET OnLine.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

An ecologist is an environmental scientist whose knowledge of the sciences is put to use in protecting the natural environment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ecologists typically do a combination of fieldwork and laboratory work ( Fieldwork may include sample collection, data gathering and environmental monitoring. In the lab, ecologists may analyze samples and surveys as well as create plans to help with reclamation of polluted land or water

Job Prospects and Salary

Employment for all environmental scientists is projected to grow by 15% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. This is a result of human population growth and the increasing hazards that come from that growth, such as pollution, climate change and environmental degradation. The BLS reported that the average annual salary of an ecologist and all environmental scientists calculated to $72,050, while the median calculated to $66,250. The bottom-earning tenth percentile had a salary of $39,730, while the top-earning tenth percentile salary calculated to $114,990. All figures are from 2014 BLS data.

Education and Training Requirements

The BLS states that an ecologist or environmental scientist job requires a bachelor's degree for entry-level job openings. However, some jobs that may require more research or are more supervisory could require a master's or a doctoral degree. The BLS recommends majoring in the natural sciences, such as biology, chemistry or environmental science. In addition, you may also enroll in a internship or work-training program during school. These opportunities can help you learn new and important skills in the sciences. This includes computer modeling and geographic measuring data.

What Do Employers Look for?

Many private firms that hire ecologists need them to conduct field work on whether a public or private project would harm the environment. The expected level of experience and academic attainment is sometimes set very high for these types of positions. Also, leadership experience, whether in a laboratory or outdoors performing field work, is highly recommended. Specific experience with the habitat in question, such as a wetland, is preferred by many clients.

The following job postings were available as of April 2012:

  • A Colorado infrastructure consulting company needs a senior-level ecologist to consider the ecological risk specific public or private projects might cause. Must have at least 8-10 years experience in ecology and preferably hold a master's degree or Ph.D. Job requires travel to sites.
  • A Missouri construction company needs an associate ecologist to help consult the company about environmental and ecological risks. The candidate should preferably hold a Master of Science (M.S.) in Fisheries Biology or a related field. He or she will need to lead a team to explore environments and draft proposals and reports concerning construction.
  • A Pennsylvania engineering consulting company needs an ecologist whose specialty is studying wetlands. Candidate must be able to analyze the migration patterns of animal life in surrounding wetlands and draft reports on how any civil or engineering projects could influence the habitat. Experience handling natural gas is a plus for the job position.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Get Specialized

The BLS states that specialization in the environmental sciences helps you to focus on ecological matters. During your undergraduate education, heavy emphasis on environmental chemistry is a way to make you stand out from other ecologists and environmental scientists. For example, laboratories will highlight how acidic compounds influence plant life or soil. This knowledge may give you an advantage over other candidates. Additionally, developing good research skills and being involved in research projects may help you stand out.

Other Careers to Consider

Biological Technician

If you enjoy scientific work, but do not want to necessarily work around nature, you might be interested in a career as a biological technician. A biological technician typically analyzes natural and biological materials in a laboratory setting. The data they find from this research is used for various purposes, some of them for environmental or scientific causes. The BLS reported that employment growth for biological technicians was expected to be 14% between 2010-2020. The annual average salary for biological technicians in 2011 was around $42,000.

Environmental Engineer

If you want to help the environment in a more direct way than an ecologist might, you may consider a career as an environmental engineer. Environmental engineers apply engineering principles to solve environmental problems or to help with public or private environmental projects. The BLS projected that environmental engineers should see a 22% increase in employment between 2010-2020. The BLS also reported that environmental engineers earned an annual average salary of $83,000 from 2011 data. However, as the name implies, you need more experience in engineering, and licensing may be a requirement.

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