How To Become An Entomologist
Entomologists study bugs. They research how insects live, die, reproduce, eat, survive, and interact with their surroundings. Through studying the social habits, ecological behaviors, and evolutionary processes of insects, entomologists can determine how insects exist in relationships with humans and the planet.
Entomologists typically focus on one type of insect (for example: ants, bees, butterflies, etc.) or even a particular species within a group (for example: bulldog ants, bumble bees, monarch butterflies, etc.). They may also research spiders and scorpions, which are arthropods. More insects exist on the planet than any other type of living creature, so there is plenty to learn and care for.
To be an entomologist, it’s important to have an interest in insects that will have a lasting impact. Entomologists should possess the following skills and traits:
- Curiosity and interest in insects
- Problem solving skills
- Aptitude for science, ecology, and environmental studies
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to work in teams or independently
Why Become An Entomologist
Insects are an essential part of life. Without insects, plants would not be pollinated. and without pollination, there would be limited produce. On the other hand, insects can damage crops and harm humans, trees, and other animals. Because there are so many insects in the world, and because they have such an impact on the environment, entomologists are important to healthy living.
The majority of entomology jobs consist of research and problem solving. They may work to improve crop growth, to preserve an ecological system, or to prevent or help with contaminated soil/water sources. There are many types of entomologists:
- Agricultural entomologists work to protect crops and insects. They are concerned with pest management but in ways that limit the use of harmful chemicals.
- Forensic entomologists gather and determine information about crimes and corpses by studying the insects related to dead bodies.
- Medical entomologists study medical treatments and work to prevent diseases that are spread through insects, such as the Zika Virus.
- Taxonomic entomologists try to discover new types of insects for the use of medical advancements and ecological studies.
- Veterinary entomologists study how insects affect livestock and animals.
Entomologist Work Environment
Entomologists conduct research, so they may work outdoors collecting information or inside a laboratory analyzing data. The majority of entomologists work for colleges and universities. Their main function is to learn more about insects and teach others through presentations and scholarly writing. Many will work for government agencies. These entomologists work to solve agricultural, forestry, and public health problems.
When not in the lab or office, entomologists can travel all over the world to study insects. They can spend months on projects. In the field, they observe the environment, analyze insect behavior, and collect any relevant data.
Entomologists can work in many settings, so their income mirrors other professional salaries. The annual salary for zoology and wildlife biologists is $60,520. The annual salary for agricultural and food scientists is $62,920. Forensic science technicians earn an average salary of $56,750, per year. The salary for an entomologist will be contingent on their employer and job description.
Geographic location, education, and experience will also determine salary. Those working for the federal government will most likely earn the highest. Entomologists working for research development firms or as professional consultants will also earn a high-level income. Professors and researchers at colleges and universities will typically earn the least.
Entomologist Career Outlook
The job growth for most environmental research occupations is about 4 percent. This trend is slower than the average of all other occupations. The reason for such slow growth is budget issues. Regardless of the importance of such studies, the government (federal and state agencies), and colleges and universities struggle to fund these activities.
Although there are limited opportunities for entomologists, there still is a need. As the human population grows, entomologists can help people understand their impact on insects. They can study climate change, crop trends, diseases, pollution, and other environmental issues that have an impact on insects, which ultimately affect humans.
The best way to obtain employment is through internships and volunteer work. Many colleges and universities offer programs. Federal internships and summer work projects for students and the recently graduated exist, too. The United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) is an excellent source for opportunities.
Entomologists must have a doctorate to conduct independent research. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is required for entry level positions, which are more available through the government. Certification can help to secure employment.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree. The best degree program for this occupation is in entomology. These degrees may be difficult to find, because many colleges and universities are blending entomological studies with other departments. A degree in biology, ecology, or wildlife biology are good choices.
It is important to take courses that will prepare you for this type of work: veterinary entomology, insect taxonomy, insect-borne diseases, insect anatomy and biology, and pest management. It is also important to take courses in communication, computer science, and research.
Note: Remember, work experience can make all the difference when looking for employment and advancement in your studies. Get involved in an internship or volunteer program before you go on to graduate school.
Step 2: Earn a graduate degree. Research requires at least a master’s degree. It is possible to work as a consultant or research assistant with a master’s degree. The majority of work in entomology, especially original and independent research, requires a Ph.D. Courses in statistics, specialized software analysis, and dissertation writing are essential. Students in doctorate programs will specialize, narrowing down their field of study to a specific region, issue, or species.
Note: Certification is an excellent way to advance in the field. The Entomological Society of America offers certification. Entomology credentials include the Associate Certified Entomologist (ACE) and the Board Certified Entomologist (BCE).