MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Can I interview a Zoologist?

Date: Mon Apr 26 19:50:15 1999
Posted By: Jason Gall, Post-doc/Fellow, Laboratory of Genetics, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 924567907.Zo

Although I have a B.S. in Zoology I am not currently employed as a zoologist, but I will respond to your questions as an example of where someone can go with a zoology degreee.

  1. What field did you expect and prepare to enter originally? As an undergrad, I knew I would be in animal biology but I did not have a specific field in mind inititally. I found that I liked animal physiology especially comparative physiology and at that point I chose Zoology as my major. I knew that zoology would allow me take many classes in physiology, ecology, and zoology, giving me a solid and broad science background that would be useful in many fields that I might be considering in the near future. Gradually I started leaning towards endocrinology/reproductive physiology and entered a Master of Science program in Animal Science doing research on cross-species reproduction models with sheep and goats. I came to realize that it was important to learn the techniques of molecular biology so I went into a Molecular Biology PhD program. There I discovered microbiology, particularly viruses, and now I study viruses full-time. So my Zoology degree has brought me to where I am now, which is one of the best virus vector labs in the world. One of my strengths is the breadth of my knowledge, allowing me to move into different areas of specialization fairly easily.

  2. What preparation is necessary to become a Zoologist? In my opinion a good zoologist is one that has a broad knowledge of biochemistry, biophysics, genetics, taxonomy, cellular biology, ecology, and molecular biology. That may sound like a lot, but good zoologists need to see problems as part of a larger picture rather than in the minimalist/ reductionist view. At some point in your career you will probably have to specialize in order to perform a particular job, but one thing that is very important in todayís job market is the ability/potential to do more than one thing.

  3. What do you do during a typical work day? I am in a full-time research position as a post- doctoral (i.e., I have a PhD) fellow in the Laboratory of Genetics. I work about 10 hours a day (12-14 hours on occasion) and frequently on the weekends. Every day I am designing and executing experiments, analyzing data, organizing collaborative efforts, and reading or talking with people about whatís new.

  4. What are the greatest rewards and toughest demands of your job? The rewards are mostly very personal, an experiment that works out well, contributing towards a significant advance in your chosen field, or helping someone else solve a problem. The toughest demands revolve around the huge time and effort it takes to do science. You have to really like what you are doing.

  5. What is the employment outlook for a Zoologist? A tough question to answer, I would say that the outlook for a zoologist is not nearly as good as for a computer/software engineer, but much better than for a physicist.

  6. If your present job were to become obsolete, in what kinds of jobs could you apply your current skill? I cannot see how my job would become obsolete because it is an academic research position. However, if the area of research I was currently in or if academia were to become unproductive or unsatisfactory then I would be able to change to biotechnology or consulting, for example. The jump would be relatively easy because of my diverse background.

  7. How does your job affect your lifestyle (dress, leisure time, home life, vacation, social life, etc.)? As a PhD working in an academic institute I am responsible for myself when it comes to dress, leisure time, and vacation. I and my colleagues wear what we feel like and keep our own schedules (true perks of the job). Remember though that our personal success (i.e., keeping our jobs) depends upon getting the science done, so we are motivated to be productive. Thatís why no one here works just four days of the week even though we donít punch a clock (and we like the job, too).

  8. How do people find out about openings in your line of work? I knew about labs around the country that were doing the type of work I was interested in and contacted them about a job. There are also job ads in science journals, but usually the best labs donít have to advertise. Networking is important, too (the old cliche: itís not what you know, Ö). Getting involved in your chosen field is important, by volunteering or interning, for example.

  9. What opportunities exist for advancement and/or lateral movement? The academic job ladder is pretty well defined. From PhD you either work as a post-doc or move straight into a faculty position as an Assistant Professor. At a pre-determined time you are evaluated and advance from Assistant to Associate Professor if your performance is good enough, likewise for advancement from Associate to Full Professor. Lateral movement in academia would mostly be into administration and outside consulting.

  10. How would you advise me to better prepare for this work? Be versatile and consider being multi-disciplinary. Being multi- disciplinary just means to bring knowledge from one specialized field and apply it to another. For example, in biology today there is a shortage in the field of informatics, at both universities and companies. Bioinformatics combines computer programming/database skills with a classical biology area such as genetics or pharmacology. One could also combine their biology/science knowledge with an interest in journalism (science writer or editor), t.v. and movie production (consultant, animal Ďactorsí), law (intellectual property rights, endangered species), or politics (science policy).
> Any other information you could provide for me would be greatly appreciated.
Although I went through grad school it is not necessary to have a PhD to do many of things I do, there are many technician-type jobs that a person with zoology as a background would be qualified for. For example, having experience with the nutritional requirements of zoo animals or being proficient in molecular techniques can land you good jobs. Lastly, I would say that having an understanding of molecular biology techniques is very important even if you do not use them yourself. Taxonomy, the classic work of zoologists, has been revolutionized by the comparative analysis of proteins and nucleic acids. Maintaining out-bred populations of captive animals and tracking ancestry in wild populations has been greatly aided by molecular techniques such as DNA fingerprinting. Remember though that molecular techniques are only useful if the information gained can be placed in a larger context.

> Thank you for your time.
You're welcome.

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