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How do I Become a Taxonomist?

By Klaus Strasser
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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There are many different ways to become a taxonomist, and a lot depends on your career aspirations and the field in which you want to work. Most people start by getting a university degree in taxonomy or a related discipline, but this isn’t always necessary; sometimes these jobs can be gotten based on experience and self-taught knowledge. The first thing you’ll need to do is figure out what sort of job you want. A biological taxonomist who works naming and identifying extinct species or who studies plant variations usually has a very different portfolio and list of skills from a person doing language taxonomy who isolates root words and common origins; both of these, in turn, have little in common with the work of an information systems taxonomy specialist who spends time primarily with computer code. Formal education is almost always a good place to start, no matter your discipline, and talking to people who are already established in the field is also a good way to learn about specific job requirements and ways to break in.

Research Your Options

Taxonomy is basically any formalized means of classifying and sorting things that are closely and intricately related to each other. Originally, it only referred to the classification organisms and was limited to scientists and biological researchers. The most common form of taxonomy remains Linnaean taxonomy, a classification system in which substances are sorted into three main categories: animals, plants and minerals. The basic ranks of the animal section of Linnaean taxonomy are species, genus, family, order, class, phylum and kingdom.

With time, the definition expanded and came to be used in other fields, such as sociology, where it was applied by Emile Durkheim to classify different types of human relationships. Economists use variations of the field, too, to do things like sort risk and identify types of financial transactions and securities exchanges. Another very popular field is computer science, where specialists use taxonomy to sort code and organize data sets. Simply saying that you want to become a taxonomist is, on this broad context, rather vague. In order to really achieve your goals, you need first to define exactly what it is about taxonomy that interests you, then determine which field or discipline area suits you best.

Pursue a Degree Program

A university degree is almost always a good place to start. Some academic institutions offer degrees in taxonomy generally or degrees in taxonomy as related to a specific field such as biology, but not all do. It’s usually a good idea to get broad training in the field you want to work in, though, and in most cases a degree in something is all that is strictly required to be hired. Majoring in biology, economics, or computer science is often a good place to start, and taking courses in as many different areas as you can might also help you show that your education was broad and well-rounded. Both of these are things that can be useful to a job in the classification sciences.

Some familiarity with foreign languages is also important. Latin, or Romance languages based on Latin structures, are especially useful for biological and medical taxonomists. Many of the organization schemes in these fields use Latin terms. A good understanding of ancient Greek can be helpful for similar reasons.

Considerations for Online Training

Many different online schools and institutions offer online taxonomy degrees that can be very attractive to people with existing careers and limited time, as well as those who live in more remote areas far away from more traditional universities. These online degrees can vary in quality, however, so it’s usually a good idea to verify the type of accreditation you will receive upon completing a program. Earning a degree from a non-accredited institution may not help you get a job since it may not be recognized or accepted by employers.

Make Connections in the Field

Networking is also a really important part of most any job search, and getting to know taxonomists who are working in your area can be a good way to make connections that could lead to future opportunities. On a more immediate level, meeting people and seeing their day-to-day work can give you a feel for whether or not you’d be a good fit in the long terms, and can help you make sound career choices before even beginning.

Many professionals will give you an informational interview or let you shadow them for the day. If you’re in school, your career planning office might also have information about internships or apprenticeships you could do part time or over school vacations to give you a better sense of the job, as well as to build and grow your marketable skills.

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Discussion Comments
By JimmyT — On Sep 09, 2011

I see taxonomy online classes as being aimed at people that may have a hobby in classification and think that by taking online classes they could obtain a job in that field.

Truth is most taxonomists have degrees in higher education and they did this through years of hard work and the mastering of their craft. Most of the time taxonomy is encompassed into the many things that they know in their scientific fields of study.

I am sure that there are some qualified people out there that take online taxonomy classes in order to obtain more knowledge in the field and become more accustomed to the field of taxonomy, but they already have a massive base of knowledge. People that are under-qualified and are just trying to get an online degree in that sub-field of study will probably never obtain a job in that field when there people with Masters and Doctorates from Universities that cover all these fields.

I am not saying that someone should completely disregard getting an online degree in taxonomy, but they need to be aware of a potential scam for something so specific and that if they are serious in going into the field of taxonomy they need to go to a school and get a degree in something that will encompass this sub-field as well as many others, otherwise they have wasted their time.

By titans62 — On Sep 08, 2011

@kentuckycat - I totally agree with you. Most of the taxonomists I have met obtained some science related degree in their undergrad and they took some taxonomy classes during the course of their academic careers.

They obtained their degrees in other sub-fields of study and added taxonomy to another part of the practice they do in their jobs.

Because taxonomy is such a specific field of study usually the people who have Masters and Doctorates in science related fields of study just add it into their repertoire. I am sure that biologists with a doctorate would be at least somewhat knowledgeable about how to classify different species of plants, animals, and insects, so with some additional training or additional classes they may be able to just add taxonomy into their study, as well as incorporating all the knowledge they already knew in their field.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 08, 2011

@Izzy78 - I agree. Although I am sure there are some schools that may offer taxonomy classes there probably are very few, if any that offer taxonomy as a major or minor. Taxonomy is such a specific field that it becomes encompassed by many other fields of scientific study. Usually biologists or people in the scientific community add taxonomy to their many skills associated with their job.

By Izzy78 — On Sep 07, 2011

Taxonomy is one of those fields that you have to go all out for in the professional ranks. As the article stated no higher education is really required to be a taxonomist, however, I fully doubt that someone with only a high school degree would be doing scientific classification on various species that the normal person would not know about, even if it was an intense hobby.

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