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Ecologists study the relationship between living organisms and their natural and built environments. How does habitat effect and sustain population and health, and how do organisms affect air, soil, water, food, temperature? Students of ecology can probe questions at the cellular level by choosing courses or programs focused on Microbial Ecology. Students of natural habitats can opt for programs in Wildlife, Plant, or Marine Ecology. And the burgeoning fields of Human, Community, and Population Ecology tend to be associated with studying sustainable development. Depending on which track you’ll choose, a course of study may incorporate biology, statistics, computer techniques, mathematical modeling, and systems analysis (in fact, when looking for programs, take note of programs in Conservation Biology).

Degree Information

The Master of Science (M.S.) degree is the most typical graduate degree. The two-to-three year programs are often directed by students’ research interests, which makes it particularly important for you to find out about program faculty to find an appropriate match. The M.S. degree usually requires an oral thesis defense and completion of written exams. Research can be extended into a Ph.D., though this will, of course, take several more years.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • What are your research interests?
  • What are the faculty’s research interests? Is there any one particular faculty member you would like to work with?
  • At what kinds of institutions have graduates gone on to work, government, corporate, academic?
  • Is there a certain type of field work you’d like to do?

Career Overview

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of environmental scientists, which includes most ecologists, is expected to grow as fast as the average through 2012. Public policy regarding regulation of contaminants and pollutants will be driving this. Approximately 47 percent of environmental scientists are employed in state and local governments, 14 percent in architectural, engineering and related services, 13 percent in management, scientific, and technical consulting services, and 9 percent in the Federal Government. Others teach, usually at the university level, or work as consultants.

Career/Licensing Requirements

There are no licensing requirements for a career in ecology.

Salary Information

Again according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental scientists working for the Federal Government earn on average $66,190; those in management, scientific, and technical consulting services earn $45,560; in local governments, $45,270; in architectural, engineering, and related services, $44,590; and in state government, $44,580.

Related Links

The Society for Human Ecology
The Society is an “international interdisciplinary society” whose mission is to promote “the use of an ecological perspective in research and application.”