Is becoming a conservation behaviorist right for me?

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What do conservation behaviorists do?

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How to become a Conservation Behaviorist

Becoming a conservation behaviorist requires a combination of formal education, training, and practical experience in the fields of biology, ecology, animal behavior, conservation science, and behavioral science. Here is an outline 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
A bachelor’s degree in conservation biology, biology, ecology, zoology, wildlife science and management, environmental science, or a related discipline is often the first formal step towards becoming a conservation behaviorist. Coursework at the undergraduate level should include animal behavior, ecology and conservation biology, genetics and evolution, physiology, environmental science and policy, and statistics and research methods.

Master’s Degree
While not always mandatory, a master’s in one of the disciplines referenced above is generally recommended for advanced positions in conservation behavior. At this level programs encompass specialized coursework, research opportunities, and training in conservation behavior, behavioral science, and interdisciplinary approaches to wildlife conservation and management. Many programs offer concentrations in subfields like the ones described in the What does a Conservation Behaviorist do section in the career overview.

To earn their master’s degree, students must complete a research thesis or project focusing on conservation behavior, animal behavior, human-wildlife interactions, or related topics to develop specialized knowledge, skills, and expertise in the field.

Doctoral Degree
A relevant doctoral degree (Ph.D.) is often necessary for obtaining academic positions and leading research projects in conservation behavior. Ph.D. candidates focus on conducting original, independent research, working with advisors who have expertise in conservation behavior, behavioral ecology, ethology, and interdisciplinary approaches to conservation.

Doctoral students are required to develop a research proposal, complete a dissertation, and defend their findings. This process frequently involves publishing research findings in scientific journals and presenting research at conferences to demonstrate expertise, contribute to the field, and build a professional reputation in conservation behavior.

Research Experience and Specialized Skills
Engage in research projects, internships, volunteer opportunities, and fieldwork with universities, research institutes, conservation organizations, and government agencies to gain practical experience, learn field research techniques and observational methods, develop data collection and analysis skills, and apply knowledge and theory in real-world wildlife and conservation contexts.

Fellowship or Postdoctoral Training (Optional)
After earning their master’s or doctoral degree, 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, trends, advancements, and best practices in conservation biology, animal behavior, and behavioral science. 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 and career, 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 behavioral ecology 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 conservation behaviorists. Instead, qualifications and credentials are primarily based on their educational background, research experience, and expertise in specific areas of animal behavior and conservation. There are, however, professional certifications and training programs related to skills or methodologies that conservation behaviorists might find useful, depending on their focus or specialization. Here’s a sampling:

  • Certified Behavior Analyst (CBA) – Offered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), the CBA certification is a professional credential for individuals who have demonstrated expertise in applied behavior analysis, behavioral science, and behavior modification through education, training, and practical experience in working with individuals with behavioral challenges, developmental disabilities, and other behavioral disorders. While this certification is not specific to conservation, conservation behaviorists who work on human-wildlife conflict resolution, community-based conservation, and environmental education may find this credential beneficial in understanding and influencing human behavior in conservation contexts.
  • Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) – Offered by the Animal Behavior Society (ABS), the CAAB credential is designed for individuals who have a graduate degree in a biological or behavioral science and specialized training and experience in animal behavior.
  • Certified Wildlife Biologist (CWB) – Offered by The Wildlife Society (TWS), the CWB credential is designed for professionals specializing in wildlife biology and management, including those involved in research, conservation, and management of wildlife populations and habitats.
  • Certified Ecologist (CE) – Offered by the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the CE certification recognizes professionals who have demonstrated a high level of skill, knowledge, and experience in the field of ecology.
  • Certified Environmental Educator – Offered by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), this certification is awarded to individuals who meet stringent requirements for proficiency in both the interdisciplinary content and pedagogy necessary to develop and deliver high-quality, effective environmental education programs.
  • Zookeeping and Husbandry Certifications – For conservation behaviorists 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, conservation behaviorists 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.
  • Certifications in Research Methods and Technologies – Conservation behaviorists may pursue certifications in specific research methods, technologies, and analytical tools used in conservation, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), telemetry tracking, bioacoustics, molecular and genetic techniques, and statistical analysis software. Organizations, training providers, and professional associations often offer specialized training programs and certifications in these areas.

In addition to these certifying bodies, the following organizations also support the conservation behavior community, providing advocacy, access to resources, and platforms for networking, information exchange and collaboration, and continuing education and professional development:

  • International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE)
  • Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • Society for Conservation Biology (SCB)
  • Conservation Psychology Institute (CSI)
  • International Society for Behavioral Ecology (ISBE)
  • International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ)
  • American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB)
  • Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB)
  • European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP)