Ethologists study how and why animals behave the way they do. A career in ethology can be attained either by earning a college degree in ethology, or by obtaining a degree in comparative psychology. Comparative psychology also includes the study of animal behavior, often by comparing different species including humans.
Dedication is required to become an ethologist because advanced education degrees are usually required and competition for jobs is stiff. It is possible to become an ethologist with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or biology, but post-graduate education increases the chances of finding a job and advancing in the field. Most jobs in animal behavior require either a master’s degree, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
Those who want to become an ethologist and who choose to follow the biology track, will specialize in zoology and other biological sciences, and study a wide variety of animal species. The undergraduate curriculum for ethology includes courses like anatomy, genetics and neuroscience. An independent research project is often required during the senior year of college.
Comparative psychology studies animal behavior within the framework of human psychology. Undergraduate programs provide a general background in the principals of psychology and an introduction to comparative psychology. A master’s degree is usually required to specialize in comparative psychology. Master’s level programs include the study of animal behavior, psychobiology, and animal behavior research.
Entry level jobs in ethology include research assistants, zoo and museum assistants, and veterinary technicians. Other career paths for ethologists that require advanced degrees include teaching, research, zoo curating, and animal training. Many ethologists work as college teachers. They predominately teach either zoology or psychology as well as related topics such as physiology or ecology. Some may even teach sociology or anthropology.
Some ethologists do research for the government, universities or private industry. They may study wildlife or pest control. They may also study human health issues or the effects of pharmaceuticals on pets and livestock. These jobs require a PhD or DVM degree. Sometimes additional training in physiology, biochemistry or pharmacology is also needed.
Zoos are another possible source of employment for someone who wants to become an ethologist. They sometimes hire ethologists as curators who are responsible for acquiring animals. Zoos may also hire ethologists to research animal behavior, especially in the case of endangered species like the giant panda. Ethologists can be instrumental in discovering ways to preserve endangered species.