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Wesley R. Elsberry and Diane J. Blackwood

(1) How did you decide to get into zoology and what steps did you take
to do so?

I got interested in marine life in junior high school.  I took
a SCUBA course and got certified at age 12.  I kept salt-water
aquaria and collected mollusks, crustaceans, and the occasional
fish through high school.  I read about the species I collected,
and I pestered the local university biologists with questions.
The advice I got for college was that just about any four-year
zoology program would be good.  I think that I might have made an
error in attending a college that was not on the coast, but things
have worked out pretty well despite that.

(2)  How long have you worked in this field?

Off and on, since 1983.

(3)  How has your career progressed?

In fits and starts.  I worked my way into a lab tech job, then 
a research assistant job.  I took a bit of a career shift, 
getting a degree and a couple of jobs in computer science. 
I then went back to graduate school in Wildlife and Fisheries
(4)  What skills do you use in your job?

I use my computer skills a lot.  I also do statistical analysis,
technical writing, and various other bits that I didn't think
that I would see again outside of classes.

(5)  What are the tasks you do in a typical work day?  

I help make sure that the computer systems and software stay in
shape to collect data.  I design and implement software for data
collection and data analysis.  I discuss research issues with my
colleagues.  I help out with fabrication of equipment and electronics
that aid in training the subjects.

(6) What training or steps would you recommend for someone wanting to
enter this field?  What type of experience would you suggest to
prepare one for this field?

Zoology requires a lot of education to get a reasonably well-paying
job, and those jobs are pretty scarce.  Count on a BS making you
qualified for lab tech or research assistant jobs pretty much at best.
MS degrees are not all that common; most jobs beyond the lab tech
level are going to require a Ph.D.  In my own case, the fact that I
had computer skills in addition to a zoology background is what I
attribute getting admission to graduate school to, and also what has
gotten me my employment during grad school.  It may not work that way
for everybody, but it has helped me.  Experience in any sort of
scientific research is a plus.  Volunteer to assist with research
projects wherever you are, if none are paying.  Try to find projects
that are interesting to you.

(7)  What do you enjoy most about your job?

I am doing the kind of work that I want to do.  I work with people 
who are interested in many of the same topics.  I get to be around
marine mammals.

(8)  What do you enjoy least about your job?

Stress.  There are deadlines and time limitations everywhere.
But I could have all the stress, and be working in a job that
I didn't like on top of that, so this isn't something unique to
where I am working now.

(9)  What are some different areas of work that a zoologist could enter?

Topics include physiology, anatomy, husbandry, embryology, ecology,
ethology, psychology, and taxonomy.  Pretty much anything that
deals with the biology of animals is fair game.

Positions include field stations, agricultural research stations,
physiological and medical laboratories, research asssistant jobs in
academia, and teaching at the high school level (some states allow
certification with a non-education major BS and passing a test) are
all possible with a BS degree.  With a Ph.D., faculty positions at
junior colleges, colleges, and universities become possible, as well
as laboratory management, lab director, and various government
positions relating to wildlife management.

(10)  What are the advantages and disadvantages to working in this field?

Advantages: Get to work with and about animals.
Disadvantages: Can't always find a job, and even when you do, it doesn't
pay much.

It is a wonderful field for people who like the work.  It is a
terrible field for anybody else, since the positions  are far
fewer in number than the qualified candidates to fill them.
In line with the concept of "supply and demand", zoologists
get paid little.  You do the work because you like or love doing
it, not because of the paycheck that comes with it.

(11) What recommendation would you have for an entry level person
considering this field?

Make sure you really, really like doing the work.  Have a secondary
skill that can support you while looking for work.  (Mine was 
photography; I worked in a photo studio for a year and a half while
applying for jobs at the local university.)  Get involved in
research projects.  (That's one thing I did not do, and regret
now.)  Read all you can in the technical literature; this will 
let you know which subjects are interesting and which are not.
It will also put you one up on many another applicant.

TB>In doing some of my research I read that some people working
TB>in the field of zoology had their degree in psychology or in
TB>biology.  One of the most interesting classes I have taken
TB>have been my psychology classes.  Could you explain to me what
TB>a person with one of these degrees, other than zoology, might
TB>do in the field of zoology?  Also since the University of
TB>Colorado, for example, doesn't offer a degree in zoology what
TB>other major do you think would benefit my choice to work with

A biology degree is no limitation.  A psychology degree will 
likely limit a person to work in ethology or behavioral
ecology.  A biology degree is a good general substitute for
a zoology degree.  If you are interested in ethology or
behavioral ecology, then the psychology degree is a better
preparation.  A psychology major may have slightly better 
prospects in finding non-animal related jobs, should it come
to that.


1. When did you decide to become a zoologist? I'm not sure it was so much a decision as it was a recognition of the kind of work I liked doing. I got interested in marine animals in junior high school, and continued to be interested. 2. Why did you want to be one? It was the the kind of thing that I did for fun on my own time. I went collecting myself, kept aquaria, and read technical sources about what I had found. Why not turn it into a career? 3. Was the the school of your choice hard to get into? Not particularly. I had reasonably good grades and very good entrance test scores. 4. What's the most enjoyable thing of being a zoologist? Doing the kind of work that I like to do anyway. 5. What feild are you most interested in? I am interested in animal cognition. I have been doing work on animal sensory systems, which is closely related. 6. What's the least pleasurable thing of being one? There are still the same kind of time pressures and stresses as there are everywhere else, plus the whole field is not well-funded, so finding grants and the like is an ongoing and difficult problem. 7. Did you want to become anything else besides a zoologist? I did pursue a career in computer science for a while, but came back to zoology. 8. What field are you currently researching/working on? Acoustics of hearing and biosonar in marine mammals. 9. What education do you have to have for your job? I have a BS in Zoology (1982, U. of Florida), an MSCS in Computer Science (1989, U. of Texas at Arlington), and I am in a Ph.D. program in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M University. With the BS degree, I had a lab tech and a research assistant job. With the Ph.D., I hope to find a faculty position somewhere. 10. How long did it take you to get it? The BS was a four-year degree. If I had wanted to stay working as a lab tech or research assistant, that's all that was necessary. It is possible to go directly into a Ph.D. program following the B.S., which would typically add another 3 to 5 years of school, but would mean that one would qualify for jobs at the faculty level, management, or research director. My career path has been a meandering one. I'm still in process. I hope to graduate sometime next year, perhaps take two years of postdoctorate research somewhere, and then start hunting for a faculty position in earnest. 11. How long have you been a zoologist? As in being interested in zoology, I'd say since 1972. As in actually being paid to do zoology, that would be starting in 1983. 12. What advise do you have for young people who want to be a zoologist? Make sure that it is really what you want. If it is what you want to do, then the poor job prospects and lousy pay won't be an impediment. Have a secondary skill so that you don't starve while looking for a job. Get involved in research projects early; volunteer to help if there are no paying prospects. Read the technical literature to find out what subjects are interesting and who is doing that work. You'll want to learn from them or do research with them later. Wesley
Subject: Re: Job application >Dear Diane, > I am very interested in the work that you do and was wondering if you >have any summer job vacancies that is available for this summer. Both in Galveston and in San Diego they sometimes use _unpaid_ summer interns (or other seasons for that matter). But usually you must apply earlier than May to get a summer intern position. I can ask if there are any openings at either location if you are interested in a volunteer position. Diane
I'm writing a paper on zoology. I was wondering if you could send me >>some information on your field. The reason I'm writing this paper is I wish >>to be a zoologists, but I'm not sure what field I want to study for. I >>would really enjoy get some info. about your career and maybe hearing from >>you. Zoology is a very diverse field and quite competitvie to get good positions. I am involved in bioacoustics currently. In the past year I have been on a few trips to collect data that I found satisfying, exciting and hard work with long days. These were done in San Diego so no field conditions to rough it or enjoy. Right now I'm processing data. I have 16 tapes that are about 20 minutes each. It takes a full two days to process each tape (sometimes longer). This is just to get the data in a format that I can analyze. Analysis will be another few days per tape. This is the tedious part that you do back at your home lab. The processing I'm doing now is pretty straight forward. A few disappointments when a section that I thought had good data did not turn out. Data analysis can be exciting because that is when you start to find out if the data suports your hypothesis or contraditcs it. After signal analyisis is done, there will be statistics to run. That is when you can reject a null (thus hopefullly supporting the hypothesis you set out to test) or fail to reject the null. If the null is not rejected, quite often the hypothesis is not supported and you have to figure out if something else is going on. Sometimes you need to redesign your experiment and start over. Sometimes you throw out your hypotheisis and form a new one based on the data. Then you start over collecting new data to test the new hypothesis. Then comes the most important part (but the part I don't really like since I don't like to write). You have to write up the resutlts for publication. This is very important so that the rest of the research community knows and can learn from your work. Other wise as far as studying the animals concerned you might as well have not done the work. The problems and questions we study in zoology are too big for one researcher or one research team. By publishing we can share and study bigger problems and ask more complex questions. Actually I skipped a very important step. I order to be able to do the work you have to write proposals. These are difficult pursasive writing projects. The really sad part is that a 10% (or even less) acceptance rate is typical. That means that of all the proposals written, 90% get rejected and told to try again. I've talked to folks in the proposal review process and they have stated that often 90% of the proposals are good, well written prosals with good ideas, good approaches to attack the question and the right people to do the work and the support equipment needed. That means that about 80% of the proposals were good enough, there just wasn't enough money. My research partner and i wrote a proposal last August that took at least 50 hours of our time to write, plus another researcher put in 10 hours or more. Then our co-op group at another univerisity had their part to put together. We know we got at least one good review (there are usually 3), but we have not heard back yet. It is a project I really want to do. In need to plan my life such that I can do it if we get the money. But I need to have other projects in line incase we dont (I need to still be able to pay my bills like rent, food etc). So the work is hard, sometimes tedious, sometimes exciting and always abit unpredictable. With soft money (research grand money) you never know for sure about your job next year. Some folks have perment positions no mater what, they just don't know what they work will be doing. Others (like me at the moment) only have a job if the grant money is there. So I always have several proposals in progress, since most don't get funded. The uncertaintly can be worrying, but right now I'm fairly confident for the next few years. Hope this helps some. Diane
>>I am very interested in becoming a zoologist specializing in marine mammals. =A0My problem is though is that I have not found a university that fulfills my expectations of achieving my goal. If you know of any colleges that could help me, I would be very thankful. Get a Journal of Marine mammal Science (or it may just be Marine Mammal Science). Interlibrary loan if needed. See what articles interest you. See who wrote them. What university are they in. The same for Aquatic Animals. Also look for articles in animal behavior, science, physiology journals, biochemestry journals, etc. See what aspect you are interested in. Do a lit search at the library on what aspect you want to study and see who writes the articles, see what university they are associated with. The other way is to see what universities/colleges offer oceanography or marine biology as a major course of study - again ask the library. they should have reference books on colleges and univeristies that will include such things as the names of the departments within the school. Write to the ones (or call them) to get more info on oceanography or marine biology departments. OR to biology or chemestry or physics depts with courses/profs with marine experience. What aspect to you want to study - ecology, chemistry, reproduction, behavior, acoustics, physiology? think about. Species is secondary. Best of luck Diane
I'm very interested in becoming a zoologist. I really >>would like to get into a good college that has a great zoology program. I was >>wondering if you could tell me some names of universities that would have a >>good zoology program. Thank you. Look at the literature. Where are the people that write the papers you like. The question as you phrased it is too general. There are hundreds of good schools with good zoology programs. What part of zoology are you interested in? Physiology, Ecology, Anatomy, Toxicology, Taxonomy, Behavior, Embryology, etc.? Where to you live, what are your finances - these enter in too. Do a lit search on a topic that interests you. see who is writing those articles. She if you enjoy reading that literature. Then see where those people are located. Also go to your school guidance C. And perhaps a college in your local area (Jr. College maybe). You should be able to find a reference librarain to help you find books about colleges. Included in those will be overall school rating and the rating of various departments. Look at Zoology, Biology, Wildlife & Fisheries, Ecology & Evolution, etc. Depending on your interests you also might explore Animal Science depts. Diane
I will be a junior in high school this year and am >>considering the field of marine zoology. I've seen several topics on this, >>but your page has been the most helpful so far. I was wondering what I would >>need to "specialize" in to work in the field with sharks. I would like to >>work with other aquatic life, but specifically, sharks, and rays. Any >>information you could give me would be very helpful, and also the basic >>education for this. Thank you so much. There are several colleges that offer degrees in Marine Biology. Others recomend a good biology degree is better for a good solid background. More quality universities offer biology than offer marine biology. In general jobs are hard to come by in biology and don't pay well. Engineering and physical sciences pay better. Oceanography focuses is a more technolgy oriented approach to ocean studies that could include sharks, but often focuses more on systems, plankton, currents etc. Most jobs in marine biology require a PhD, but there are technician level positions that can be obtained with a BS degree. Sharks, like marine mammals, are very popular and therefore quite competive to get into to study or professionally. Do literatures searches at a community college or University to see who is studying what. Try to contact these people. Some may ignore you, but writing is a good way to show you are serious. Also try to find out what about sharks interests you most (or conversly what gets funding for research). Are you interested in physiology, anatomy, ecology, natural history, taxonomy, parasitology, histology, behaviour, etc? For instance lots of folks want to study behavior but there is very limited funding. While there is not much funding for physiology or parasatoloty there is more, and it is not quite as popular so the chances of getting into the field is a bit better. Actually there is more funding for any of the "cell and molecular" or medical related aspects of biology and you might find some really need shark research in those areas. Sharks are remarkable at healing after injuries for instance. Lit search on sharks and those aspects of biology that interest you. See who is publishing in peer reviewed literature, where are they located (school, institute what ever), write and express your interests (related back to articals they wrote - ask questions to help understand the article what ever, be specific if you can, not "what are you doing now?" unless tied to something specific. Some may ignore you as most researchers work long hours and are busy, but some may answer or at leasst send general lit. If a researcher you really like or admire doesn't write back you might try again if you still like there work, months or years later. Hope this helps Diane
I am a senoir in high school in the process of >>deciding on a college and possible career. I have always had an extreme >>interest in marine biology and zoology, especially in dealing with dolphins >>and whales, specifically bottlenose dolphins, killer whales and beluga whales. >>I was curious as to what exactly a career as a marine zoologist would entail >>or what directions could be taken. It would be very beneficial to me if you >>could respond with any information or advice you have. Thank you very much. Lots of directions - For the past three months I've spent 10 to 16 hour days at work 5 to 7 days a week. Mostly I'm setting up electronics, carpentry, data collection, analysis and report writing. Tough long and exhausting. Also I get paid less than when I worked 8 hours a day in a more "normal" job. Sorry too tired for a long answwer. Diane
I am a freshman in high school in southern >>california. I have been given an assignment by my Algebra Teacher to >>interview a Zooligist since I have chosen this field as a career goal. >>The interview relates my career choice to the field of mathmatics. >>I would be most greatful if you would assist me by answering a few >>questions. >>1) What is your current position/title ? Behavioral Research Programmer Actually I help build equipment, carpentry, electronics, write software, analyze data, design experiments, etc. >>2) What is you field of work ? Marine Mammal BioAcoustics >>3) What made you select the field of Zoology over other fields ? I enjoy working with and studying animals. >>4) What education do you have ? BS Zoology BS Electrical Engineering MS Biomedical Engineering working toward a PhD in Wildlife and Fisheries Science. >>5) What was the highest mathmatics course which you studied in school ? Calculus, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, Statistics Applied math (signal processing, transfoms etc) for Engineering. >>6) How do you use mathmatics in your career or life ? Algebra daily as part of programming computers Statistics for analyzing data arithmatic for daily life of check books and budges arithmatic and algebra for carpentry, elecronics design and implementation >>7) What advice would you offer me regarding the importance of mathmatics ? Math through algebra and geometry is very important for everyday living and problem solving. If you want to pursue zoology then calculus, statistics, diffential equaitions all are used in data analysis, modleing, etc. >>8) Do you feel that you should have taken more, or less mathmatics >>courses ? and why ? More. I'd like a better theoretical grounding in statistics and signal processing.
>>You are a zoologist correct? yes. >>What is it exactly a zoologist does? It vary's alot depending on the particular specialty or job. I work at a navy lab. I have fairly regular hours, but do work long days and week-ends when needed. Some folks work for Universities, Fish and Game Departments, etc. Many jobs require graduate work. To get into a good graduate program it helps to have done some research as an undergraduate. Where ever you get into college, try to find a proffesor there that you like to work with, or like their field of study. See if you can volunteer in their lab. That may lead to a job or not depending on funding. For the future, it does not matter if you get paid or not. As you take your undergraduate classes, see if you can figure out what you enjoy most about zoology. There are many topics, physiology, parasitology, ecology, behaviour, histology, genetics, systematics, etc. All of the above are studied across all animal groups. If you can work in a lab in can give you insight into the research route. Much depends on writting and presentation skills. You may or may not want to pursue that route. The trainers were I work mostly have BS degrees, but there work is more technician level. Most had to start as volunteers to get into working with dolphins. They do alot of physical work, scrubbing, equipment maintainance, etc. It is a very hard field to get into. My route involved obtaining engineering skills that were needed in the acoustical work I do. Hope these ideas help. Diane
>>I am a high school student who is interested in zoology. For a class >>project I need to interview a zoologist, but I live in northern Michigan >>(just south of the Mackinaw Bridge) and could not locate any zoologists >>in this area. I'm sure there are some, but they may use other titles, such as biologist, physiologist, ethologis, Ecologist, Anatomist, Emreologist, etc. >>Would you be willing to answer a few questions for me? ok >>1. What kinds of things do you do as a zoologist? It varies alot. For my current job, I write software, simple electronics, some electrician work, carpentry, etc. I also design equipment, experiments and studies. Then I operate the commuter during data collection. I work with a dolphin trainer to measure the acoustics I'm interested it. Then I process the data, conduct statistical analysis, write up results, etc. The trainer does the direct interaction with the animal. The trianer also prepares food, washes dishes, scrubs the fish house, cleans docks, repairs nets, makes gates, make other needed equipment, writes reports, etc. >>2. Do you get to work with animals? Not in this job, but I do talk to them and watch them. >>3. Does the job outlook for zoology look good? It is and moslty has been a field where more folks want to work than there are jobs available >>4. Approximately how much would a starting zoologist be paid? Fairly low. With just a BS, probably $20k or less. >>5. What are the things you like most about your job? That I work outside on the ocean (well harbor) and that I am friends (or at least acqaintances of some pretty nifty dolphins and whales. I also get to study interesting scientific questions. >>What do you like the least? Writing qrant requests. (Very much needed if I am going to have a job next year)
My English teacher assigned my class a research paper on >>a subject that we are interested in. I chose Zoology. As part of our >>grade we need to interview a person on our suject. So I would appreciate >>it very much if you would answer these questions: >>1. Where did you attend collage? University of Florida, U of TX at Arlington, TX A&M University >>2. How many years were you in collage for? 4 UF +3 UF +5(part time)UTA+5 (and still going) >>3. What degrees do you need to have to become a Zoologist? BS Zoology or Biology at a minimum then you'd just be a technician PhD Zoology or Biology or Ecology, etc is better. >>4. Was getting a job difficult? Getting a job in zoology is difficult >>5. How do you feel about your job? I like it alot. >>6. Did you always want to be a zoologist? yes, but I also wanted to be other things, but I always liked animals >>7. What do you like most about your job? working outside with our animals, variety of tasks >>8. What do you dislike about your job? That I don't know if I'll have it next year - I'm on "soft money" which means I only have a job if there is enough grant money. Which leads to my second least favorite thing - writing grant proposals. >>9. What is your favorite animal to work with? Farli, my pet dog. >>10. Describe a typical workday. Lets see. I might do some carpentry or painting working on a new shed to store clamps and other things we use in our research. Then I could do some electronics building listening boxes so the trainers can hear the dolphins underwater. Then I might write some software to do some autodection of vocal response by the dolphins to hearing or echolocation tasks. Then I could work on the data processing from past experiments. The next day I might work on a grant proposal. Then I could do some data collection running the computer program I wrote to direct the experiment and record the animals. Somedays I repair cables. On thursdays we try to have a luch meeting to discuss theory and methods. Once a week we have group meetings to discuss practical aspects of our work. At lunch or on a break, I might watch the dolphins or our mother and calf. Sometimes at a quiet time I talk to one of our dolphins or belugas. I'm not allowed to touch the dolphins unless a trainer is present and says it is ok. This is protect the animals and the careful training. I do hope you are doing library research as well for this paper. Diane Blackwood
I was assigned to interview >>someone who is what I want to be for a career. I chose zoology for my >>interest in animals and science. The only problem is that there aren't >>realy any zoologists in Labrador. If you wouldn't mind answering a few >>of my questions,it would be greatly appreciated. >>1. When did you decide on becoming a zoologist? In college. I have always liked animals and science, but I also liked math other things. >>2. Why did you want to become one? A way to study animals. Just seemed the most interesting thing in the world to me. >>3. Was the school of your choice difficult to get into? Not for undergraduate work. I chose to go to a state univeristy because of cost considerations. U of Florida is a good school, but not hard to get into as an undergraduate for a good student. >>4. What's the most enjoyable thing about being one? Enjoying your work. Reading technical journals for fun. Feeling good about life when you work extra long hours to get a good job done. >>5. What field(s) are you most interested in? How animals use there brains to solve life's problems. or Cognitive ecology. >>6. What's the least pleasurable thing about being one? Writing grant proposals. Wondering if I'll have a job next year. >>7. Did you want to become anything else besides a zoologist? Yes, at one time I wanted to be a veterinarian or horse trainer. >>8. What feild are you currently working on? Bioacoutics - hearing and echolocation in dolphins >>9. How long have you been a zoologist? 15 years >>10. What education do you have to have for your job? In general you really need a PhD. for my specific job I need knowledge of Electrical engineering and computer science as well as biology. I don't have my PhD yet, but almost. >>11/ How long did it take to get it? BS Zoology - 4 years BS Electrical Engineering - 3 years more MS Biomedical Engineering - 5 years (part time while working full time) PhD Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences - 4 years still going and loving it. >>12. What advise do you have for young people who want to be a zoologist? Watch the biological world around you. Read zoolgy related books for fun such as by Konrad Lorenze, Niko Tinbergen, Bernd Heinrich, Farley Mowat Ken Norris, Sam Ridgway, Then read articals in peer reviewed literature by those that study the part of zoology you really like (behavior, physiology, histology, embryology, etc.) See if there are any scientist that you can visit. Try volunteering at a vet clinic or other animal related place. Someone might do field work in Laborador. Do literature searches on field studies done in Laborador and see if you can volunteer to help. Diane