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
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.
> Any other information you could provide for me
would be greatly appreciated.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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