A Career in Ecology
By Clay M. DeLong
Photo: Clay DeLong What is Ecology? Photo: Clay DeLong
Ecology is a branch of biology that deals with living organisms and their relationships with their environments. It is a
discipline science which requires knowledge of various focuses of biology in addition to chemistry, physics, geology,
hydrology, geography, and genetics among others.
What Does an Ecologist Do?
Ecologists work for universities, federal, state and local governments, environmental
consulting firms, non-governmental conservation organizations (Like the Nature
Conservancy), and numerous other entities. Ecologists, especially those working for
universities, conduct research outdoors in populated and remote areas all over the
world. In addition to field work, ecologists also work in the lab, analyzing samples
collected on site. However, not all ecologists are in the research field. Many are
involved in biological monitoring, environmental consulting, habitat restoration, and
a myriad of other types of work. Others are focused more with the policy aspects of
ecology, working with government agencies to protect and improve habitat, as well UC Davis ecologists remove invasive plants from the Cosumnes
as managing natural resources. River Preserve. Photo: Joshua Viers
Though there are many ecology-based jobs open to those with a bachelor’s degree, having a PhD
drastically increases the number and variety of positions open to an ecologist. Having a PhD will also
increase the salary of an ecologist in many positions. Internships and experience in the field and lab
are also invaluable when finding a job as an ecologist.
UC Davis evolutionary ecology professor
Maureeen Stanton does field work with one
of her undergraduate students. Photo: Job Security:
Debbie Aldridge/UC Davis
The demand for ecologists today is ever-growing. With increasing public awareness of environmental issues, funding for
ecological research programs is increasing at an encouraging rate. Considering this increasing demand for ecologists, job
security for ecologists is quite high.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for ecologists working for the federal government is $66,000.
Those working in management, scientific, and technical consulting services, local and state governments, and architectural,
engineering, and related services earn on average about $45,000. Generally, positions for those with higher level degrees are
more lucrative. Entrepreneurs, such as those who found their own environmental consulting firm can earn significantly more.
Lifestyles for ecologists vary a great deal. Since there are so many different directions a background in ecology can take a
person, ecologists are able to create their careers around their desired lifestyles. It is common for ecologists to travel a great
deal, especially those who conduct field research, but professors, lecturers and government officials may not need to travel as
much. In some positions, namely on the research side, hours can be long and work may be physically and mentally demanding.
However, it is quite possible to work normal eight-hour days or less.
Ecologists, while perhaps not the most glamorous or well-paid people in the world, are generally very
passionate about their work and enjoy it thoroughly. If you care about the environment, and are looking for a
job that you feel is important and interesting, a career in ecology might be the right choice for you.
All information used in this poster was gathered through internet research, interviews and lectures by
UC Davis professors, and conversations with a family friend working for a San Diego environmental
UCSB graduate student studies a core
Acknowledgments: sample in a marsh looking for
invertebrates. Photo: Todd Huspeni, UCSB
Thanks to Kari Veblen, Christina Liang, Dr. Joshua Viers, Damon Owen, David Bunn, and Kenny Walker. Without you, I would not have known where to begin with this project, nor would I be so confident that I want my
career to be in ecology. Thank you.