How To Become an Ecologist (With Skills and Average Salary)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 23 December 2022

Published 23 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Ecologists are scientists who study the interactions between living organisms and their environments. If you're interested in living creatures and conservation, you may be interested in this career. Learning how to become an ecologist can help you determine your next career steps. In this article, we explain what an ecologist is, what they do, how you can become one, what skills they use, where they work and how much they make to help you determine if it's the right path for you.

Read more: 20 Jobs That Work With Animals (With Salaries and Job Duties)

What is an ecologist?

Ecologists are scientists who study nature, including fauna, flora and other organisms, with a focus on how these organisms interact with one another and the environment. They use their findings to try to preserve and protect species and ecosystems. They may also work to solve environmental issues, and they may study the impact humans have on the natural world so ecologists can recommend ways to minimise potentially harmful actions.

How to become an ecologist

Consider following these steps to help you become an ecologist:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step in becoming an ecologist is earning a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. To help you develop your industry knowledge and technical skills, consider taking a variety of courses, such as biology, mathematics, physics, statistics and ecology. Possible majors include the following:

  • Ecology

  • Environmental science

  • Botany

  • Chemistry

  • Agricultural science

  • Climate and weather

  • Biology

  • Zoology

  • Geology

  • Geography

  • Marine biology

  • Plant science

  • Plant and soil science

Consider your personal interests and career goals when selecting a major. For example, if you want to work with marine animals, you may study marine biology or ecology with a focus on marine life.

Related: What Is a Geographer? (And a Step Guide On How To Become One)

2. Consider completing advanced education

After graduating from university, consider earning an additional degree. Many employers seek ecology candidates with master's degrees or doctorates. A master's degree program can help you develop specialised knowledge and skills. You may also begin completing fieldwork, studying organisms in their environments, depending on the program you select. Consider studying one of the following areas:

  • Environmental studies

  • Environmental engineering

  • Ecosystem management

  • Ecosystem conservation

  • Earth sciences

After completing a master's program, you may consider applying for a doctorate. This is optional for some roles but could help you qualify for advanced positions. Many research and academic positions seek candidates with a Ph.D. If you're interested in these roles, you may decide to continue your education by earning a doctorate in science, ecology or a relevant field. There are a variety of programs in different areas of specialisation to choose from, such as human-environment interaction, agroecology and ecosystem sustainability, depending on your interests.

3. Gain practical experience

Consider gaining practical experience by applying for an entry-level position in the ecology field. This could help you develop your technical skills, meet network connections and find an ecologist position. During your education, consider applying for an internship or volunteer role where you can gain experience. Some nonprofit organisations and environmental agencies offer opportunities for graduate or undergraduate students interested in ecology. Consider your interests when selecting an internship or volunteer role.

Related: How To Show Work Experience on Your Resume (With Example and Tips)

4. Consider earning additional qualifications

Consider earning additional tertiary qualifications in your specialisation field to help you show your technical skills and expertise. This may be optional for some roles but could help you qualify for more advanced positions or earn a higher salary. Consider earning additional certificates related to your interests and area of study. For example, if you have a master's degree in ecosystems and you want to study soil in the ecosystem, you may complete an additional training program in soil science to help you gain relevant knowledge and skills.

5. Apply for jobs

After completing your education and training, you may create a CV to show your most relevant skills, experience and education. If you have relevant research or publications, you may add these to show your expertise. For example, some ecology students collaborate with their professors during their education. If you helped publish a study or report, you may add this to a publication section on your CV.

6. Advance your career

As scientists, continuous learning is important for ecologists. Through research and findings, scientific theories and equipment can change. Consider creating a plan to help you stay updated in your specific field. You may attend industry conferences, complete additional courses or read scientific journals. This can help you further develop your skills and may help you advance your ecologist career.

Some ecology positions, such as research roles, seek candidates with several years of experience in the field. Consider working as a research assistant or associate to help you gain experience before advancing your position.

Related: How To Become an Environmental Scientist

What does an ecologist do?

Ecologists study living organisms and their environments, and they may specialise in a certain area of science, such as marine biology, botany, toxicology, zoology, microbiology or soil science. For this reason, an ecologist's daily tasks can vary significantly, ranging from studying microbes in the soil to investigating the impact of pollutants on a river ecosystem.

Depending on their line of work, the duties of ecologists may include the following:

  • Doing fieldwork to gather data for analysis or to assess habitats

  • Using data to plan environmental restoration projects or to sustain and improve agricultural production

  • Writing environmental impact studies

  • Working together with other experts to develop green technology, practices and processes

  • Maintaining and calibrating instruments and equipment used for field research

  • Writing technical reports that provide information on methods used and the interpretation of results

  • Working with software programs like geographic information systems and computer-aided design programs

  • Writing and publishing scientific articles and presenting research at conferences

  • Researching in laboratories, as well as doing theoretical research

  • Managing ecological projects or programs

  • Creating models to investigate the effects of ecosystem changes

  • Writing proposals for funding opportunities

  • Teaching workshops at universities and community programs

  • Advising the government, institutions and businesses on environmental issues and law

  • Managing wildlife conservation lands

Related: What Does a Marine Biologist Do? Definitions and FAQs

Important skills for ecologists

Ecologists can use a variety of technical and interpersonal skills to succeed in their careers. Here are some important skills for this role:

  • Communication skills: Ecologists may use verbal communication skills to express their ideas, share findings and discuss possible solutions. They may also use written communication skills to write scientific articles and create research reports.

  • Computer skills: Many ecologists use computer programs to input scientific data and track their findings. They may use computer skills to help them record information, publish their reports and create forecast models.

  • Teamwork skills: Ecologists often work with other scientists to conduct research. They may work with biologists, marine biologists, environmentalists or geologists, depending on their specialisation, and strong teamwork skills can help them collaborate with others effectively.

  • Organisational skills: An ecologist can use organisational skills to collect and store data and samples.

  • Analytical reasoning: Ecologists often use their findings to make scientific predictions and to suggest solutions. They can use analytical reasoning to assess the data and determine possible solutions.

  • Technical knowledge: Ecologists are experts in their scientific field, whether it's marine biology or soil research, and they can use technical scientific knowledge to help them identify organisms, track progress and create conservation recommendations.

Related: Definition and Examples of Analytical Skills

Ecologist work environment

Ecologists can specialise in a variety of fields and may choose from different types of work, including academic, research and fieldwork roles. These professionals may, for instance, work for environmental consulting companies, helping them build sustainable practices. They could also work for government natural resource agencies, where they may conduct environmental impact studies or manage ecological resources. Others may work in program management positions or hold academic positions at universities.

Typically, ecologists work standard hours, although those who do fieldwork may work nights or weekends. Similarly, those who teach in a university may work at night if they offer night courses. They may travel to field sites or conferences occasionally to present their findings. Ecologists often work in laboratories or offices, although they typically complete some work outside, collecting samples or studying environments.

Average salary for ecologists

The national average salary for ecologists is $95,616 per year. Your salary can depend upon your geographic location, education, experience and employer. Your specialisation and work environment can also affect your salary as an ecologist.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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