How to Become an Ecologist


Career Path Guide

If you're interested in the natural world, the environment, ecosystems, and you have a scientific mind, then you are well suited for a career as an ecologist.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to become an ecologist. We've also included helpful information for a career in this field, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Ecologist

To become an entry-level ecologist, you need to begin by earning a bachelor of science degree in ecology, environmental science, biology or a closely related field. It is crucial to obtain a solid foundation in areas such as morphology, physiology, genetics, microbiology, zoology, botany, conservation biology, organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, mathematics, calculus, statistics and computer science.


Depending on your future area of specialization within ecology, you may also want to have an academic background in such diverse subjects as climatology, economics, geology, mathematical modeling, meteorology, oceanography, sociology or soil science.


To eventually work in research or consulting, you'll need a master’s degree in environmental science or biology.


To work in research and university teaching positions a Ph.D. in environmental science or biology is needed. Many ecologists also choose to continue their training as post-doctoral fellows after receiving their Ph.Ds.


Tip for Success: Most colleges and universities in Canada and the United States offer either a environmental science or biology program, and many of them allow you to customize your course load to some extent, based on your career goals and interests.





General Job Description

Ecologists are responsible for furthering our understanding of how natural and human-caused changes in the environment influence the behaviour and abundance of species, and how interactions between species and their environment influence the natural world.


Their research may include such topics as; how a habitat changes after a fire, how energy flows through ecosystems, the relationships among predators, parasites and prey, the types and organization of plant communities in the landscape, the effects of dam construction on wildlife habitats, and others topics.



Typical Job Duties

• Plan and conduct research studies 

• Estimate the costs and material needs of research studies

• Keep detailed notes during research process

• Perform thorough analysis of research findings

• Publish findings

• May act as a consultant to government agencies and non-profit or commercial organizations



Accreditation Needed

In Canada it is not typically a requirement to be accredited in a scientific field, such as biology, in order to become an ecologist. However, some practitioners choose to apply for Professional Biologist status, as this is a great way to increase their employment prospects as well as demonstrate commitment to their profession.


Note: The requirements for Professional Biologist status vary from province to province



Salary Level Typical to This Field

Canada: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Biologists and Related Scientists occupational group, which includes ecologists, earn an average salary of $84,998 per year. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (June 22, 2019).


United States: In the United States, workers in the Environmental Scientists and Specialists, which includes ecologists, earned a median salary of $61,700 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010 figures).


Please Note: Salaries for ecologists can vary greatly depending on their educational qualifications, their specific field of study, their experience, whom their employer is and other factors





Working Hours in This Profession

Most ecologists work in both office-based and field-based settings. They typically work normal weekday working hours when performing office-based duties such as computer modeling, preparing reports and giving presentations.


Ecologists may have to alter or extend their normal working office hours when attending meetings or preparing a report prior to a deadline.


Research activities and fieldwork carried out by ecologists could involve longer and more irregular hours than office-based work. A significant amount of travel may also be involved in order to conduct field-based activities.



Who Employs Them? Where Do They Work?

There are many organizations and agencies that employ ecologists, such as:


• Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments

• Colleges and universities

• Research institutes

• Environmental and engineering consulting firms

• Natural resource and utility companies (logging, mining, and hydro)

• Conservation authorities and centres

• Zoological parks, and aquariums

• Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations



Current Jobs in This Field

Our job board below has ecologist postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:




Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are jobs that are similar in nature to 'ecologist', as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.





Environmental Scientist





Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career in this field.


Occupations in Alberta: Ecologist.” (March 31, 2019). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 11, 2019.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Environmental Scientists and Specialists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 11, 2019.

Explore Careers:Ecologist.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved November 11, 2019.

Career Profiles:Ecologist.” (n.d.). ECO Canada website. Retrieved November 11, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming an Ecologist

The 'Applicable Majors' section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as an ecologist. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming an ecologist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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