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What does an Animal Scientist do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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In a broad sense, an animal scientist is a biologist who studies characteristics of animals, including behavior, development, genetics, and evolutionary history. Someone in this position is usually a researcher who focuses on understanding farm animals and their roles in agricultural production. Both general zoologists and agriculture animal scientists conduct extensive field and laboratory research to learn more about living creatures. They build upon the work of other researchers to understand animal biology and to determine how such knowledge can be applied to better protect different species.

The field of animal science is so broad that most zoologists choose to specialize. With the help of assistants and other scientists, a researcher might design a study that focuses on the behavior of a particular population, ecosystem changes, genetics, or the evolution of a species. He or she typically keeps detailed records during a study and may publish results in a scientific journal. Zoologists conduct research projects with rigorous attention to ethics and the scientific method. They are careful to remain objective in their observations and experiments to ensure accurate findings.

While most zoologists work for private research institutions and universities, agricultural animal scientists are typically employed by government organizations and agriculture consulting firms. They generally research the best methods to breed and raise farm animals to increase a farm's productivity of animal products. Someone who works with dairy cows, for example, might want to determine how to maximize the quantity and quality of milk produced. He or she would investigate factors that can influence milk production, such as the quality of feed and the availability of space afforded to each cow.

An agricultural animal scientist is also concerned with the overall quality of life of animals raised on farms. Scientists who work for government agencies conduct routine inspections to ensure animal facilities are as humane and sanitary as possible. They often test samples of soil or water to check for pollutants. When a facility does not meet expectations, the scientist can educate farmers and ranchers on how to improve conditions.

An individual who wants to become an animal scientist needs to obtain a college degree. A bachelor's or master's degree is usually sufficient to work as a laboratory assistant or field researcher, though a person who wants to organize and conduct original research projects typically needs to hold a Ph.D. in a zoology specialty. A prospective agricultural animal scientist can improve his or her credentials by passing a certification exam offered by a nationally recognized agency. With a Ph.D. and years of experience, a scientist may choose to become a university professor to help prepare the next generation of animal researchers.

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Discussion Comments

By indigomoth — On Oct 16, 2012

@KoiwiGal - Well, I think a lot of conservation scientists are laboratory scientists. They have to test the animals for disease and for fertility and so forth. Often the actual work with the animals is more for keepers or rangers rather than the scientists.

Of course, it's a wide open field and there are lots of different ways to take it. I know people who have gone into animal science who work exclusively with research into meat, which perhaps isn't the idea for an animal lover, but it shows what a wide range of professions you can go into once you're qualified.

By KoiwiGal — On Oct 15, 2012

@Ana1234 - It might be worth looking into becoming just a straight up conservation scientist who specializes in a particular animal, perhaps if you are interested in that kind of work.

It will still be a struggle to get funding, but there are a lot of opportunities for people who put their heart into this kind of work. And it would beat being a laboratory scientist, at least from my perspective.

By Ana1234 — On Oct 15, 2012

I was hoping to work with zoo animals at one point and did a lot of animal science papers at university. They were really fun, at least to me. We were allowed to go to the local zoo and observe the animals there. We did a study of the Capuchin monkeys, recording what kinds of interactions they had over a certain period of time and then did the same with the rhinos as well.

I still think it would be wonderful to eventually help to design animal enclosures and their care. Zoos do so much to save animals which might otherwise go extinct and it would be wonderful to be a part of that. It's just so difficult to get a job because so many other people want to do the same thing.

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