Wildlife biology as a career?

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NicoleH in Wilmington, Delaware

19 months ago

Wow this thread is still just as depressing as ever! I'm starting at a new college in the fall for a bs in wildlife conservation and refuse to accept that I am not going to find a job doing SOMETHING. It may not be like what you see on the discovery channel but it HAS to be better than working in a cubicle all day.

I am actually just curious if anyone on here can clarify specifically what the differences are between a wildlife biologist and an ecologist? There is an ecology major at the school I am transferring to and it seems very interesting to me also, but I am honestly not very clear on what an ecologist would actually do on a daily basis as oppose to a wildlife biologist? Also, are ecologists in any more demand or is the outlook still just as grim?

Thanks for any info :)

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Northstarr in Edmonton, Alberta

19 months ago

hi Nicole,

You would basically be doing the same sorts of activities. Sorry, but the reality of the field is that no - you will end up working in a cubicle ALL DAY. That is the whole point of this thread is for people to see the reality of it. You will be in the field for a few weeks at a time during your masters and possibly if you are lucky, in your full-time job if you get one, after you graduate. The irony is that the most interesting, exciting positions where you are in the field all day actually working with wildlife, are the most lowest paid jobs ever if that, most of them are volunteer. Actual biologist/ecologist jobs are mostly office work, being on a computer all day, endless data analysis using statistical software, writing reports, and writing funding proposals to further your research. All the cool national geographic photo spreads and discovery channel documentaries are just smoke and mirrors to make people think that those types of jobs are so exciting, when in reality it just reflects maybe a few days or weeks of that type of work compared to a whole year of inane drudgery. You are always vying for funds, your job security is pretty low, and the more money you make the less time you are actually outside. If that sounds like your bag then go for it. See my above post a few weeks ago for more details.

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NicoleH in Wilmington, Delaware

19 months ago

Thanks for such a quick response. To clarify when I say working in a cubicle I am mainly referring to my previous jobs working for banks and lawyers. It's not the desk I have a problem with...to be completely honest I am quite comfortable at my desk a lot of the time. It's working at a desk for countless hours for something I do not believe in or even really care about that is the problem. To be honest I am not even hoping to enter the field to be outdoors all the time or have some glamorous job like you see on tv. So the idea of working at a desk all day does not deter me at all. I would like to think that my previous experience would actually just help with some of the things you mentioned above. I do appreciate you being very honest with your responses. This thread has definitely been very informative and it is nice to actually hear how things really are from someone with experience in the field.

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backcountry in Denver, Colorado

18 months ago

Hi everyone,

I have a BS in Wildlife Biology. I've worked several seasonal tech jobs and now have a FT job with an NGO. It's not exactly what I want to do, but its a job and I get out in the field a bit. For the last several years, I've questioned if I made the right "degree path" as I have learned through this process that moving around for jobs isn't what I really want. I love traveling, but not by myself. I'd rather have my partner there to experience it with me. So I'm in a situation now, where I still have to travel for work (during field season) when I'd rather be working in one area. ( I currently travel to several different states). I can't say I got much help during my undergrad for advise (years back). And I'm considering a different path/career change. I'm wondering if there is much hope for me to find a wildlife biology job that keeps me in my current city/surrounding area, and allows me to work with and study terrestrial mammals? Any advice?

My other career choice is my DVM. But that's in Fort Collins and I just bought a house... Isn't life grand? ;)
A Masters might get me more options in my current field, but I want to be near home. And I question if that's the wrong direction if I'm less willing to travel now?? Advice?

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MontanaWildlife in Bozeman, Montana

18 months ago

The one thing I really remember my advisor telling me in school is that wildlife degrees don't give you many fall-back options. You either do wildlife, or get a different degree and do something else. That has stuck with me because it turns out to be pretty true. I guess the real question is what specifically is it that you want to do? If it's work near Denver in a job that lets you be outside most of the time studying terrestrial mammals, how many such positions really exist (maybe you've looked into this, maybe not?) I'm going to venture a guess that it's not many. Take it a step further...that sounds like a pretty sweet job. How many folks with Master's degrees or higher would apply for said job if it did come open? I'm going to guess that this would be a very difficult job to land. If it's less computer time, less travel time, more hands-on time you are looking for, a DVM might not be a bad option. Given the current job outlook for wildlife positions (particularly for Gov agencies), it probably has better prospects for work in the forseeable future. Who knows... you could always be a wildlife vet :)

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mlund95 in Denver, Colorado

17 months ago

hello everyone! I am currently a high school senior and I am looking between two different schools to go to. One offers a Bachelor's of Arts in "Ecology and Evolutionary Biology" and the other offers a Bachelor's of Science in "Biology".
I aspire to be a wildlife biologist or something along those lines in the future, which school should i go to just looking at the facts above? Which of those two degrees would be best for my career? Thanks!

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JessAbby in Wilmington, Delaware

17 months ago

I am currently a sophomore and working on a b.s. in ecology, however, I am starting to question whether or not I have chosen the correct path. I know it's what I love and am passionate about, but I do not know if I am willing to make the personal sacrifices to do what I really want to do. As much as I love to travel, I am not sure I want to be away from my own animals and family all of the time, or be stuck living in temporary housing working seasonal jobs. Is this pretty much inevitable for this field? I feel like I don't want to give up on my dreams quite yet, but after reading this forum, I am almost more convinced I should think about another path.......just not sure what....sigh

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SquirrelBait in Austin, Texas

17 months ago

So, this forum is actually really helpful.

I've determined that if you want to work in wildlife conservation, etc. you need the following:

* a whole bunch of classes in science and math
* GIS knowledge
* data collection and analysis knowledge
* field experience
* low paying tech job experience
* volunteer expereince
* policy knowledge
* fundraising and grant writing experience
* a masters degree in something related

Anything else I should add to my list?

I'm 27. I have a degree in government and experience working on political campaigns and for non profits. Currently I have four squirrels living in my spare room (in a cage), almost ready to release. Other than that, I'm starting at the bottom. Even though I have a lot of work to do, I'm not discouraged. I have the rest of my life to learn and gain experiences. Sure it will be hard, but at least I'll spend my life doing things that interest me. Everything on my list above interests me, so I think I'm in good shape.

I also want to say that if everyone on this forum worked together we'd be unstoppable. Maybe some of us should think about opening our own businesses/nonprofits and including each other in the process...

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Anne5 in Chicago, Illinois

17 months ago

First, I want to say how helpful this forum is. Second, how refreshing it is to find everyone, with differing opinions and experiences, so respectful on an internet forum. I'm feeling all ya'll's frustrations and aspirations. I've been a seasonal biological science technician with the National Park Service for 4 seasons @ 2 National Parks. They were not ideal, but they were where I could get a job living the places I was at (my husband is an academic so I've been following him around, a whole 'nother story and situation). So I kinda "fell" into being a seasonal biotech, in not so ideal gemstone parks, in metropolitan areas. The work has exposed me to a lot that I wouldn't have experienced had I pursued what I most wanted to do. Previous to being a biotech, I dabbled in sustainable ag, environmental education, environmental restoration, poverty work, fundraising for an international environmental org, etc. I started out in the very beginning as a full-time volunteer at another National Park because I couldn't find a job. The NPS offered me housing (better than any place I've ever actually paid $ for), food stipend, amazing friends, and an experience that was unlike any other (sea turtle work on volcanic beaches). That set me up to be paid part-time the next year from the state. Not much pay at all, but I had no student loans, no credit card bills, no partner and no children, and best of all, no expectations. I know this is not the situation for most when they graduate from college, I was pretty lucky and most all of us have major bills to pay. I know it all sounds very bleak at times through this thread but between then (1996 or so) and now, I do believe the situation for wildlife professionals is much better. One big plus is the internet. We used to go to the library and comb through hardcopy newspapers and newsletters and look through the classifieds and send hardcopy applications through the mail! Nowadays, the listings for environmental and wildlife job opportuni

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Anne5 in Chicago, Illinois

17 months ago

...opportunities abound on the internet, in real-time too and you find out about more job opportunities more quickly. This may mean more competition, of course. Plus, there is way more awareness of wildlife and environmental issues, so practically every issue has a "green" or sustainable side to it, whether it's politics, business, agriculture, media, news, products, education, etc. Wildlife awareness is much more permeated into our US culture, it's in the news, it's on the internet, it's in our backyards, politics, global and local crime, etc. All this translates to more opportunities to work with wildlife, or at least interact with, wildlife and/or wildlife issues either directly or indirectly. The number of wildlife programs at universities and colleges have also exploded. When I was in school, it was just "natural resources" and if there was any wildlife classes, it was in "game". So yes, the competition is huge, but think of how that is a plus for wildlife conservation in general: more interest, more diverse professionals, more citizen scientists, more awareness. You can now find others who share in your awe of flying squirrels or caddisflies and probably find a conference to go to annually. The ground upon which we build our professional scaffolding shifts constantly, what is woefully underfunded these few years may get a boost in the next five, and then it varies from state to state, agency with agency, taxa to taxa, administration to administration. All I can say is don't lose hope or be discouraged, if it's what you really want to do then do it. And I'll be right there alongside forging my way through as well. Best of luck to all and enjoy yourself!

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KSS Careers in Yorktown, Virginia

16 months ago

I am glad I found this forum. I am a recruiter for Kokua Support Services.

I am trying to fill a position at Fort Hunter Liggett, CA. The position is a Range and Training Land Assessment Coordinator that is responsible for management, data collection and assessment of the plants and animals on the ranges used by the Army on the base. I am looking for someone with 3-5 years of experience doing similar field work. KSS is a great company with competitive salary and benefits. Full details are available at www.kokuasupportservices/careers.

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biologynerd8 in Tucson, Arizona

16 months ago

MontanaWildlife in Bozeman, Montana said: I have to agree with previous poster. The competitiveness of the wildlife field can not be over stated. I came out of college in a relatively good job market, and it took me 6 years to land a permanent job. The situation has gotten much worse with the recession.... Unfortunately, most wildlife programs give students zero education on what it's going to be like to find a job in the real world.

Yes. The competitiveness is insane. I graduated with my BS at about the same time as you. I had no problem getting technician jobs right out of school. Held seasonal jobs for years. Graduated with my MS in Wildlife in...December 2008, right as the recession killed all the jobs. Today, I am unemployed. I am not picky or unwilling to work entry level jobs. I, too, get interviews. I volunteer. I network. But...no jobs. I would be better off if I could realistically relocate. But I have a husband who has a good job with benefits here.

So I would caution anybody looking to go into Wildlife as a career to realize that education, job experience, hard work, and rave work reviews will not guarantee you a job. And every job you apply for will have dozens of other applicants with your same qualifications. When I talked to advisers and biologists as a student, they said it would be difficult to get a real job but if you put in your hard work, it would happen. I don't know if that's true anymore. Though I love what I do, I think I would have majored in something else if I could do it all over. It's not like you can't volunteer with projects, professors, NGOs, hike, or camp even though you work in a non-related field.

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Gone_Fishin in Des Moines, Iowa

6 months ago

biologynerd8 in Tucson, Arizona said:

So I would caution anybody looking to go into Wildlife as a career to realize that education, job experience, hard work, and rave work reviews will not guarantee you a job. And every job you apply for will have dozens of other applicants with your same qualifications. When I talked to advisers and biologists as a student, they said it would be difficult to get a real job but if you put in your hard work, it would happen. I don't know if that's true anymore. Though I love what I do, I think I would have majored in something else if I could do it all over. It's not like you can't volunteer with projects, professors, NGOs, hike, or camp even though you work in a non-related field.

My experience is similar. Got my Masters in wildlife biology in 2008, was told at the time by many people employed in wildlife biology it was a good time to get into this field as many people were retiring....then the economy tanked. There are so few positions and with so many well-qualified people competing for jobs in this field it is very difficult to obtain a interview, let alone an offer.

I am currently going back to school, I just hope this time the gamble pays off.

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Joe in Memphis, Tennessee

1 month ago

Biologist = Scientist....you have to think like a scientist to get hired as one and a Masters degree is the first step. More laborous jobs not requiring a Masters degree are available but you are still working next to the entry level biologists. The wildlife field is tough in that it takes blood sweat tears and grime to get established. You have to move, live off of pbj, live in campers surrounded by barbed wire fences; and depend on the very people you are competing against to maintain your sanity. They dont teach this in school and no one slams your passion till the work is completed. This field is tough, country boy tough, you need to understand its importance if you hope to become successful. Since when did scientists make that much money? Its not as much about wildlife as it is the search for truth and answers to the natural world...one every single living person should spend time doing.

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Colleen Leyrer in Houston, Texas

20 days ago

This forum has gotten me so down. I finally decided to go to college (graduated in class of '00) and thought i finally had it nailed down what I wanted to do. Now, i did read about how it can be hard to get a job, especially if you don't have any experience, so volunteering was a must. But I didn't know that you couldn't use the degree in anything else. Is a masters in wildlife/forestry conservation not transferable to teaching?

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MontanaWildlife in Bozeman, Montana

20 days ago

If you are talking about teaching wildlife or conservation at a college level, the answer is no. You would most certainly need a PhD for that. Otherwise, a wildlife degree is not going to be particularly useful if you want to teach.

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David in Washington, District of Columbia

14 days ago

I am very glad to have found this forum; it is an eye-opener.

I am 46 and I am looking to switch careers into Environmental Science/Wildlife Biology. I have a B.S. in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics from UCLA. For the past ten years I have been teaching Middle School science in inner city schools and developing STEM curriculum for my school district. However, I wanted a change and after spending ten years with 11-12 year old children, it would be nice to work with adults.

My plan is to complete a M.S in Environmental Science and Policy with a concentration in Environmental Sustainability and a Graduate Certificate in Fish and Wildlife Management. This combination of classes plus my prior B.S. courses would allow me to certify as a Associate Wildlife Biologist with the TWS.

My primary goal is get a Federal government job. My wife works for the State Department and we are currently overseas. There is a Executive Order program for spouses of Foriegn Service Officers that allow us to gain Non-Competitive Eligibilty in any civil service employment after working 365 days in a oversea federal posting. I am hoping that this program coupled with my military preferences will give me a boost in the Federal job market.

I want to work in an interesting field. Wildlife Biologt sounds fascinating but I am equally interested in Environmental Protection work or Environmental Policy.

I read on the forum that there is a bias for career-switchers and that is dicouraging. My question for the experts out there is what do you recommend? What more can I do make myself more competitive in the job market? What field should I be leaning towards? I selected my Masters Program in Environmental Science and Policy with a Graduate Certificate in Fish and Wildlife Management to cast a wide net so I am eligible for many career opportunities. Is this viable? Should I be looking at a different program?

I would appreciate any assistance.

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David in Washington, District of Columbia

14 days ago

I am very glad to have found this forum; it is an eye-opener.

I am 46 and I am looking to switch careers into Environmental Science/Wildlife Biology. I have a B.S. in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics from UCLA. For the past ten years I have been teaching Middle School science in inner city schools and developing STEM curriculum for my school district. However, I wanted a change and after spending ten years with 11-12 year old children, it would be nice to work with adults.

My plan is to complete a M.S in Environmental Science and Policy with a concentration in Environmental Sustainability and a Graduate Certificate in Fish and Wildlife Management. This combination of classes plus my prior B.S. courses would allow me to certify as a Associate Wildlife Biologist with the TWS.

My primary goal is get a Federal government job. My wife works for the State Department and we are currently overseas. There is a Executive Order program for spouses of Foriegn Service Officers that allow us to gain Non-Competitive Eligibilty in any civil service employment after working 365 days in a oversea federal posting. I am hoping that this program coupled with my military preferences will give me a boost in the Federal job market.

I want to work in an interesting field. Wildlife Biologt sounds fascinating but I am equally interested in Environmental Protection work or Environmental Policy.

I read on the forum that there is a bias for career-switchers and that is dicouraging. My question for the experts out there is what do you recommend? What more can I do make myself more competitive in the job market? What field should I be leaning towards? I selected my Masters Program in Environmental Science and Policy with a Graduate Certificate in Fish and Wildlife Management to cast a wide net so I am eligible for many career opportunities. Is this viable? Should I be looking at a different program?

I would appreciate any assistance.

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MontanaWildlife in Bozeman, Montana

13 days ago

Hi David,
Lets get the bad news out of the way first, then get to more positive stuff. First, the sort of alarming trend for those of us in Federal employment is that biologist positions have been deemed "non-essential", and hiring has almost completely stopped. What is most worrisome is that many previously permanent, full time wildlife biologist positions are being reclassified as term jobs. Overall, I would say the job market for biologists in the federal government right now is poor. I know there are a lot of people already in the ranks who are looking to move, and there are almost no opportunities at the moment. Not sure how that trend will play out going forward. Second, I'm a little skeptical that the suite of education/experience you describe is going to make you very competitive for a wildlife biologist position per se. The current applicant pool is just too stacked with folks who have years in the game already, PhDs, Masters etc. Also the term "certificate" isn't generally satisfactory to many hiring officials when you're talking about biologist positions. Implies someone looked for an easier way out than completing research and defending a Master's thesis. Unfair maybe, but reality and something you should be aware of.
Ok, enough doom and gloom. The interests and education you describe above do sound like perhaps Environmental Protection might be a good fit. We see more and more issues with things like ag runoff, energy development, air quality, etc. For instance, EPA just opened a new office in North Dakota to deal with the drastic increase in complaints due to oil production in the Bakken, but they don't yet have the people to staff it. I think things like this will continue for the foreseeable future, and that might be the direction to go for both job availability and satisfaction. That, or helping guide policy for more effective provisions in things like Farm Bills or the like.

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David in Washington, District of Columbia

13 days ago

I appreciate your candor, Montana. After reading this thread, I am rethinking my whole education plan. When I look at USAJobs, there are quite a few Wildlife Biologist jobs. I would not have guessed that the job market is poor.

I am very interested in Environmental Policy but I do not know how to make myself competitive. I have done a good amount of internet research and I like the subject matter. I would like a field where I feel I am making a difference on a broad scale. However, unlike Wildlife Biology, there is no certification program like TWS and no "road map" to ensure I am not spending thousands of dollars needlessly on education that doesn't lead to employment. Does anyone know a good strategy for a career switcher to move into the environmental protection field?

I am overseas and have two years to take any online courses needed to create a new career. I thought I had a good game plan but now I feel a bit lost. Any advice?

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MontanaWildlife in Montana

13 days ago

I tend to think of wildlife jobs as being in one of the traditional "wildlife" agencies (BLM, USFWS,USGS, etc) and so my understanding of the current hiring limbo is from that perspective. Some of the other potential places that have biologist jobs would be like EPA, ACOE, APHIS...biologist positions in these would tend to be geared more towards environmental or human dimensions issues (either enviro/regulatory or nuisance/damage/disease) and less of the traditional "management" that most people think of (game species, etc) and perhaps those would be more closely suited to your interests? I don't have experience myself in enviro protection, but I have heard from some folks who do that it is very rewarding work. If I were in your shoes, I would start by researching the various agencies - very different missions will impact what the job will entail. Next, I would find qualifications for various positions at agencies that interest you (quals vary even for the same job title between different agencies). That will hopefully give you a roadmap of what coursework you will need. Specifically you need to know how many credits in what subjects are necessary - it can be very specific and will likely be a big factor in selecting a suitable course of study. In all honesty, having non-competitive status may not help as much as you'd think. You still have to be rated as "qualified" for the position (not to imply you think otherwise, but not everyone reading these posts understand how non-competitive status works) and usually the selecting official still has to agree to the appointment. The problem I think you will run into is that the basic qualifications of wildlife biology aren't generally met with a BS in another biology discipline, so you might find a lot of academic "backtracking" necessary to become qualified vs. Enviro specialist or another job series. Something to investigate...

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