Is becoming a comparative ethologist right for me?

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What do comparative ethologists do?

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How to become a Comparative Ethologist

In addition to a passion for working with animals, becoming a comparative ethologist requires a combination of formal education, training, and practical experience in the field of animal behavior. Here is an overview of the pathway to the career:

High School Diploma or Equivalent
Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. High school education provides a foundation in basic communication and math and organizational skills, and it lays the groundwork for further learning.

Bachelor's Degree
The minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions in comparative ethology is a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Options include biology, zoology, psychology, ecology, animal sciences, and wildlife science and management. During undergraduate studies, coursework typically covers topics such as animal behavior, ecology, physiology, psychology, evolutionary biology, and statistics.

Graduate Education
Many comparative ethologists hold a relevant master’s or doctoral degree. Graduate programs provide specialized training, independent research opportunities, mentorship from experts in the field, and practical experiences tailored to specific interests and career goals.

Research / Teaching Experience
Throughout undergraduate and graduate studies, seek out opportunities to work with animals in settings like farms, zoos, and wildlife rehabilitation centers. Obtain research experience through internships, lab rotations, or research assistant positions in comparative ethology or related fields. This is crucial for identifying particular areas of interest and developing observational techniques, field methodologies, experimental design skills, statistical modeling techniques, and data analysis capabilities.

If you’re interested in pursuing academic positions, seek out teaching assistant (TA) roles while earning your master’s or Ph.D.

Choose a specialization within comparative ethology based on your interests and career goals. Among the options are behavioral ecology, evolutionary biology, social ethology, and developmental ethology. For a complete list of specializations in the field, please refer to the What does a Comparative Ethologist do? section in the career overview.

Fellowship or Postdoctoral Training (Optional)
After earning their master’s or Ph.D., graduates may pursue a fellowship or postdoctoral position. These are temporary positions that allow graduates to work with leading researchers in the field, collaborate on interdisciplinary projects, and prepare for independent research or academic positions. Generally, fellowships and postdocs come from three sources: colleges and universities, government agencies, and foundations. However, some may be available in private industry.

Continuing Education and Research Publication
Stay informed about the latest research and advancements in comparative ethology. Attend workshops, conferences, and seminars to present your work, and participate in professional development and networking activities to keep your knowledge current.

As you progress in your academic journey, aim to publish your research findings in peer-reviewed journals. Building a strong publication record and establishing yourself as a contributor to the field of comparative ethology will enhance your credibility and visibility within the scientific community.

Certification and Professional Organizations
There isn't a specific certification widely recognized as a standard credential for ethologists. Instead, the qualifications and credentials of ethologists are primarily based on their educational background, research experience, and expertise in specific areas of animal behavior. There are, however, professional certifications and training programs related to skills or methodologies that ethologists might find useful, depending on their focus or specialization. Here’s a sampling:

  • Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology (SBN) – The Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology is dedicated to the study of the interactions between hormones and behavior across different species. It welcomes researchers and professionals from diverse fields, including comparative ethology, neuroscience, endocrinology, and psychology. SBN organizes annual meetings, publishes the journal Hormones and Behavior, and provides opportunities for networking, collaboration, and interdisciplinary research in behavioral neuroendocrinology.
  • International Society for Comparative Psychology (ISCP) – The ISCP is dedicated to promoting research and collaboration in the comparative study of behavior and cognition across different species, including humans and non-human animals. The society hosts an annual conference, publishes the Journal of Comparative Psychology, and provides a forum for researchers interested in understanding the neural mechanisms of diverse species.
  • International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE) – The ISAE is an organization that provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of advances in applied animal behavior science and education. Its mission is to contribute to greater understanding of the interactions between humans and other animals and to help create a better balance between animal welfare and the requirements that humans have of other animals.
  • International Council of Ethologists (ICE) – The purpose of the ICE is entirely scientific and educational. Every four years, it gathers ethologists from around the world to discuss and present their research.
  • International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) – While not specific to ethnologists, the IAABC is an organization for professionals in the field of animal behavior consulting. It provides education, a network for individuals working with animal behavior issues, and certification programs covering topics such as behavior modification, training techniques, and ethical considerations.
  • Animal Behavior Society (ABS) – The ABS is a non-partisan, non-profit professional organization dedicated to promoting and advancing the scientific study of animal behavior, and to creating an inclusive scientific environment that supports a diverse membership. Members of ABS study behavior across all levels of biological organization, under natural and controlled conditions, and using descriptive and experimental approaches. ABS offers the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) credential for professionals who have completed graduate-level education and research in animal behavior.
  • Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) – The ASAB is a British organization founded in 1936 to promote the science and study of animal behavior. ASAB holds conferences, offers grants, and publishes a peer-reviewed journal, Animal Behaviour, first published in 1953.
  • International Society for Behavioral Ecology (ISBE) – ISBE is a professional society dedicated to promoting the study of behavioral ecology, including the behavioral mechanisms underlying adaptation, evolution, and ecology. It welcomes researchers studying animal behavior from a broad range of perspectives, including neurobiological and physiological approaches.
  • The Wildlife Society (TWS) – TWS is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the science and practice of wildlife management and conservation. It grants the Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB) professional designation, which is designed to recognize individuals who have met specific education and experience requirements in the field of wildlife biology.
  • Conservation Biology Certifications – Professionals in the field of conservation, including ethologists, might find certifications related to conservation biology beneficial. These are offered by organizations such as the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB).
  • Zookeeping and Husbandry Certifications – For ethologists working in zoos or focusing on captive animal behavior, certifications related to zookeeping, animal husbandry, or enrichment strategies may be relevant. These certifications are often provided by organizations like the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK).
  • Ethics and Compliance Training – Given the ethical considerations involved in animal research, ethologists may undergo training in research ethics, animal welfare regulations, and laboratory safety protocols. While not certifications in the traditional sense, completion of such training programs may be required by institutions or funding agencies.
  • Research Methodology and Statistics – Ethologists often use statistical methods and research methodologies. Courses or certifications in statistics, experimental design, or specific data analysis tools, such as R or Python, could be beneficial.