Career in Zoology


Professor Mark Brigham and a pauraqueSo, you want to be a Zoologist? A good choice! Zoology is an integral part of biology, and involves the study of animals. Knowledge and understanding of biological principles are central to the well-being of human kind, particularly at a time when the pressures of increasing populations and the accompanying industrialization are straining the planet’s ecosystems. In addition there is a heightened awareness of the need to solve health and social problems. Humane and ethical issues must also be addressed. There are few, if any, activities of humans that do not have biological implications,making biology one of the broadest based subject areas. Even if you do not choose to be a zoologist your degree may serve you well in careers in industry and commerce. A variety of positions are available for zoologists in service industries such as health care, journalism, broadcasting, planning, law and politics. You can find zoologists employed in the most unexpected places.

Members of the Canadian Society of Zoologists are, for the most part, professional biologists working in universities and colleges, government research and regulatory bodies, and industry. We were drawn to zoology by our love of nature and have found our careers to be exciting and rewarding. In this booklet we will help you identify careers that suit your interests and abilities, and guide you in choosing an educational program that will meet your goals. This cannot be a comprehensive survey of opportunities and we advise you to consult with local zoologists since there are often local initiatives that may offer employment. Phone the departments of biology or zoology at a nearby university and ask for an appointment to discuss careers after reading this booklet.

What Is Zoology Today?

Zoology in the 1990’s can be very different from the purely descriptive science practised by the leisured classes of the last century. We are enchanted by the vision of a tweedy, bearded gentleman with pipe set jauntily to one side, peering at an exotic beetle through a large magnifying glass. This view of the zoologist as an explorer and natural historian has been portrayed by magazines and television programs. The stunning visual images of the natural world provided by David Attenborough, and the appealing studies of Jane Goodall and her colleagues on primates, although creating a generation of nature lovers, do not expose the general public to the true breadth of the biological sciences. Associated with this glamorisation of the biologist is a misconception, especially prevalent among high-school students, that the biological sciences are ‘soft’ sciences. However, today more than ever, analytical and experimental approaches are essential and require that zoologists be well-trained in the basic sciences of chemistry, physics and mathematics. We would also like to take this opportunity to emphasise that there is approximately equal representation of both sexes in most zoology programs.

Male Phrosina semilunata, pelagic deep sea isopod, collected form Ryukyu, southern Japan. Imaged by confocal laser scanning microscope.

Zoology can be a basic and an applied science. In the first case the investigator is curious about living things and does not consider whether the information gained is immediately useful. In the second case the worker applies this knowledge for the better of humankind or other animal life. The directions taken by investigators have changed over the last twenty-five years. This has been brought about by two major advances – first our understanding of how the basic unit of life, the cell, functions has increased by leaps and bounds and second we are becoming increasingly concerned about environmental degradation due to human activities.

Specifically we have begun to understand how the genetic code is controlled and translated. With this comes an appreciation of the interactions that take place at a molecular level. Of all the areas in biology (vis. zoology), genetics and molecular biology are expanding most rapidly. From these advances in molecular biology there has been considerable industrial spin-off, such as DNA fingerprinting,and the manufacture of genetically engineered drugs and diagnostic tools. Of equal importance have been major initiatives in environmental biology. As a society we are beginning to tackle such problems as bioaccumulation of toxic wastes, acid rain, loss of natural habitat and species diversity, global warming, and humane treatment of farm animals.

Zoologists study animal life at all levels of organization- ecosystem, community, population, whole organism, cellular and molecular. The animals being studied can include any from the wide diversity of phyla including protozoans, jellyfish, worms, snails, insects, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. There are many areas of specialization which can be broadly grouped into morphology, evolution and systematics, ecology, behavior,development, physiology and applied zoology (such as wildlife management, environmental protection, agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture).

Career Possibilities

Here we present an overview of the types of careers possible for someone with a bachelor’s or higher degree (M.Sc. and Ph.D.).We have attempted to categorise the jobs, but remember there is considerable overlap. Where possible we also indicate what level of education is required.


This sector is probably the largest employer of graduates in the life sciences. There is a continual demand for educators in schools, colleges, and universities.

Secondary Schools: Although many provinces do not require secondary school teachers to have a B.Sc. degree in order to teach biology, it is advantageous to have this specialized training before obtaining a B.Ed. degree. Typically you will not be an expert in a particular branch of biology but will have broad interests and be capable of exciting young minds. Remember that many of today’s professional biologists were first inspired by their secondary school teachers.

Colleges and Universities: Teaching at the college or university level usually requires no formal training in education but does require specialization in biology. Nearly all teachers at this level have Ph.D. degrees and often several years post-doctoral experience. Many university professors did not plan to become academics but were drawn into it through continuing academic achievement and a desire to become involved in research and teaching. There is still considerable competition for these positions though it is predicted that there will be a short-fall of adequately trained university teachers by the end of the century. Although success in these positions is often dependent on maintaining an active, independent research program, there has recently been increasing emphasis on the teaching component of a professor’s duties. Besides departments of biology and zoology you will find zoologists with positions in other faculties such as medicine and agriculture.

Common Loon (Gavia immer), Long Island Sound, Connecticut

Below is a listing of some of the specialist areas:

  • Anatomy
  • Animal behaviour
  • Biomechanics
  • Biophysics
  • Cell biology
  • Comparative physiology
  • Developmental biology
  • Ecology
  • Endocrinology
  • Entomology
  • Evolutionary biology
  • Fisheries biology
  • Genetics
  • Immunology
  • Limnology
  • Marine biology
  • Molecular biology
  • Neurobiology
  • Palaeontology
  • Parasitology
  • Pharmacology
  • Systematics
  • Wildlife biology

Health Care

Many students planning to enter medical schools, dentistry or veterinary colleges will fulfill part of their entrance requirements by taking courses or even completing bachelor’s degrees in biology and zoology. There is an increasing trend for medical researchers to have both Ph.D. and M.D. degrees. Many universities have integrated these programs. Besides these obvious routes into health care there are numerous positions available as technicians and technologists both in clinical and research laboratories. In many cases it is possible to find employment as a biomedical technician with a B.Sc. It should be noted however that the operation of diagnostic equipment often requires training beyond a degree.

Government – Federal and Provincial

Although many positions in government involve policy making and regulation, other government scientists are engaged in basic and applied research. Some of the federal agencies that employ zoologists include: Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada), Fisheries and Oceans, National Research Council, Agriculture Canada, Health and Welfare Canada, Industry Science and Technology. There are also equivalent positions within the provincial governments. Below is a listing and brief descriptions of a few of the responsibilities of government zoologists. Positions are normally available for candidates with either undergraduate or graduate degrees; however salaries and responsibilities are commensurate with the level of your degree.

Agricultural zoologist: studies crop pests and parasites of livestock, control of disease, animal feeds and reproduction, food processing, animal welfare, development of new strains.

An Arctic Char

Fisheries biologist: estimation of fish stocks, development of fishing regulations, enforcement of regulations, artificial propagation, aquaculture, development of new fisheries,toxicology, fishing techniques and fish processing.

Food and drug officer: protects against health hazards and deception in foods and drugs.

Naturalist: regulates park use, prepares exhibits and interpretive trails.

Wildlife biologist: studies the ecology and behaviour of mammals and birds to ensure their preservation, develops policies for harvesting.

Museum curator: responsible for the identification and cataloging of native fauna, development of public displays, independent research.

Research officer: administrates the funding of science through the federal granting agencies such as Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Medical Research Council.

Environmental lawyer: assists the government in drawing up environmental legislation and represents the government in court cases. It will become increasingly valuable for these lawyers to have training in biology.


Although most zoologists with positions in industry are likely to be involved in research and product development, many jobs in industry and commerce do not involve the direct application of the zoological knowledge gained from a degree. Employers seek university graduates because they expect them to be literate, imaginative, critical and able to acquire information and make rational decisions. Those industries that are most likely to employ biologists include:

  • Pharmaceutical
  • Food
  • Breweries
  • Biotechnology companies
  • Public utilities
  • Petroleum, mining and forest industries
  • Biological consultants

Information and Arts

This category covers a wide spectrum of jobs in publishing, broadcasting, and film-making. The general public is becoming scientifically more literate and interested in current science and technology problems particularly related to environmental, conservation and health issues. Thus there is burgeoning marketplace for nature-related programs and articles. Newspapers and magazines need individuals to translate scientific knowledge into language or a visual form that is readily understood by the general public. In addition, publishers of professional journals require biological illustrators. Many industries require scientists with a flair for writing to produce technical documents describing products and their proper use. For most of these positions a bachelor’s degree is adequate but additional training in communication (journalism, broadcasting, industrial arts, etc.) if often required.

How Do I Improve My Chances Of Employment?

Presently demographic data suggest that there will be a shortage of trained scientists, including zoologists, into the 21st century. Nevertheless it is difficult to make such predictions and it is best to be prepared for tough competition. Like any other professional career the best trained and most experienced applicants will get the plum jobs. From the very first day you start a degree program you need to be aware that your academic record will follow you relentlessly. The opportunities for career advancement are closely linked to your academic performance. For example you may need a scholarship to continue a postgraduate degree or you may need to take an expensive specialist course that has a fee-waiver for students with the strongest records. It is a fact of life that most of us are evaluated from time to time and this continues after graduation. For example university researchers are evaluated by their colleagues (peer evaluation) to determine the level of research funding they are to receive.

It is important to acquire practical experience as soon as possible during your undergraduate years. At most university departments there are a number of summer job opportunities for research assistants. These may be funded by an investigator’s research funds or by provincial and federal scholarship programs. In addition there may be similar openings for summer students in government agencies and industry. By taking such summer jobs not only will you be getting valuable training but also you will be making personal contacts that will be useful when you apply for graduate school or a permanent position. If your summer employer is asked to write a letter of reference she/he will be able to give a realistic evaluation of your academic and research potential.

Finally you should ensure that your communication skills are adequate. There is no substitute for unambiguous, accurate and concise writing in science. In addition, as a professional biologist,you are likely to be called on to make oral presentations. Whenever appropriate become familiar with the use of computers and their associated software.