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Is Zoology Hard? College & Career Considerations

Deciding on a career path as a college student can feel overwhelming at times, and if you’re an animal lover, you’ve probably considered zoology. With zoology, you’d be able to study a wide variety of animals and their habitats, but is zoology hard?

Zoology can be hard. Like all science majors, getting a degree in zoology will take hard work to study the biology of various animals, both wildlife and marine. However, if zoology is the right field for you, all the hard work is worth the rewarding feeling of helping and protecting animals.

The rest of this article will discuss what zoology is, why it’s considered hard, which classes are required, and the various branches zoologists can take in their careers. I’ll also discuss some of the hardest parts of the zoologist career, the hours and working conditions, and the different jobs to consider with a zoology degree.

How hard is Zoology?

Why Zoology Is Hard

Zoology might be difficult for one person and easy for another, depending on your capabilities and what subjects you excel at. For example, if science has always been your strong suit, zoology might come easier to you than someone who struggles with studying science-based material.

However, this is always different for each person. It is important to note that zoology is a scientific field and requires much studying and lab work. 

For this reason, many people will agree that zoology is a challenging major.

To become a zoologist, you must at least have a bachelor’s degree in a related field (source). Having a master’s degree or a Ph.D. can give you an edge when it comes to being selected for a job. Therefore, higher education is essential for this career.

According to DataUSA, 1,692 people graduated with a zoology degree in the United States in 2019.

In 2020, there were 18,500 zoology jobs in the United States. Zoology is considered one of the competitive jobs. However, zoology jobs are expected to grow by 5% until 2022. 

While this isn’t as quick as many other jobs, it still gives those wanting to get into zoology more job opportunities.

What Classes Do I Have To Take for a Zoology Major?

One of the main things people consider before pursuing a major is which classes are required for the degree. A major in zoology requires many courses that involve science and math. However, depending on if you specialize in a specific branch of zoology will determine which classes you need or don’t need.

You have to take several math and science-intensive classes, such as physics, chemistry, ecology, math, and calculus for a zoology major. These classes are considered more difficult courses, so zoology is a challenging major for many.

Many other courses are required for a zoology degree. 

University of the People lists several more:

  • Cellular biology
  • Animal anatomy
  • Genetics
  • Entomology
  • Evolution
  • Biodiversity
  • Molecular biology
  • Organic chemistry
  • Plant biology
  • Oceanography

How Long Will It Take To Become a Zoologist?

While a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to complete if you go to school full-time, it could take longer depending on your situation. If you choose to specialize in specific research, a master’s or Ph.D. may be required, which takes longer.

Becoming a zoologist can take anywhere from 4 to 10 years. A bachelor’s degree is the lowest form of education required, which you can achieve in four years. However, more specific branches of research may require a higher degree, up to a Ph.D., which can take ten or more years.

Branches of Zoology

One of the things to remember and consider about zoology is the many different branches it consists of. While zoology is the study of animals and how they live, there are many other things you can study about animals, such as cell biology, development, evolution, or behavior. 

So, if you’re considering zoology as a college and career choice, you should know the various branches. Below I’ll go over the different branches of zoology and what each branch focuses on.

Classification

Classification, which is a form of scientific Taxonomy, is the biology of categorizing organisms by species.

This means zoologists classify organisms based on characteristics that they share. In the past, classification consisted of grouping organisms together based on physical characteristics. However, classification today uses genetic analysis to group organisms together (source).

Ethology

Simply put, ethology is the study of animal behavior. So, if zoology makes you think about watching animals and how they act, this is the branch of zoology for you. Behaviorism is another way of studying animal behavior. 

However, behaviorism differs from ethology because it focuses on evolutionary adaptivity in a laboratory. In contrast, ethology focuses on animal behavior in their natural habitats.

Evolution

Evolution, or evolutionary biology, focuses on the evolution process of animals. This branch focuses on the origin of various species and how they evolved over time.

Zoologists who focus on evolutionary biology focus their studies on natural selection, speciation, and common descent. Therefore, this branch studies the origin of different species and how they evolved into what they are now.

Biogeography

Biogeography focuses on the geographical movement of various species across time. Therefore, this branch studies multiple factors that could contribute to the distribution of species, such as speciation and extinction and historical and environmental factors.

Many scientists and people who focus on biogeography do so on islands because of the diverse biomes and wide range of species.

Charles Darwin, who contributed to the science of evolution, found biogeography to be very important. His book, The Origin of Species (link to Amazon), goes more into detail on biogeography. 

So, if you’re interested in this branch of zoology, I recommend checking it out.

Physiology

Physiology works to understand the mechanisms of living things. It is known as an experimental science, as its research involves understanding how an organism’s body works and how that influences the environment.

Therefore, this branch looks at living organisms at a cell and molecular level to determine how it affects behavior (source).

Structural Zoology

Structural zoology focuses on the cell biology of animals. Knowing the structure and function of cells is essential for any living organism, so this branch concentrates solely on that at both a microscopic and molecular level.

This branch of zoology is suitable for those who enjoy cellular science and studying animals at a cellular level.

Vertebrate and Invertebrate

Vertebrate and invertebrate zoology are, as their names suggest, the study of animals with and without backbones. Vertebrate zoology studies animals with backbones. There are four divisions of vertebrate zoology that include:

  • Herpetology: This division consists of the study of reptiles and amphibians.
  • Mammalogy: This division studies mammals.
  • Ornithology: This division studies various bird species.
  • Ichthyology: This division includes the study of fishes.

Invertebrate zoology is the study of animals without backbones.

According to the American Museum of Natural History, animals without backbones make up about 95% of all animal species.

Therefore, there are numerous types of animal invertebrate zoology studies, some of which include:

  • Arachnids: Spiders and scorpions.
  • Hymenoptera: Bees, ants, and wasps.
  • Aculeate: Animals or insects with a sting.
  • Isoptera: Termites

Molecular Biology

Molecular biology is the branch of zoology that studies the genetics of various animals. Therefore, this branch includes studying the DNA of multiple animals, specifically, the process of DNA transcribed into RNA.

So, if learning more about the genetic makeup of different animals and how the species develop interests you, this is an excellent branch to consider.

Developmental Biology

Developmental biology studies the way various animals develop and reproduce. This branch includes studying evolution and genetics, as well as studying animals’ embryos, cells, and sexual reproduction.

This is important to research to learn about an animal’s specific makeup and how they develop and evolve as a species.

What Is the Hardest Part of Being a Zoologist?

While zoology can be a challenging career to study and work in, certain things about being a zoologist can be more difficult than others. While what is or isn’t difficult is usually different for each person, most zoologists will agree on the most challenging parts of the job.

The hardest part of being a zoologist is the long work hours, and often, dangerous working conditions. Of course, this depends on the type of work you do. Another challenging aspect of being a zoologist is dealing with the death of animals, which can be emotional for some.

Most of the time, people go into the zoologist field because of their love for animals, so dealing with animals’ death can take an emotional toll. So, for some, this is the hardest part. For others, working long hours in various working conditions (often dictated by the weather) is considered the more challenging aspect.

How Many Hours a Day Do Zoologists Work?

If you love the work you do, working long hours isn’t always a bad thing. However, for some, long hours aren’t ideal due to busy home life. So, knowing how much you’ll be expected to work is essential when considering different careers.

Zoologists typically work full-time hours. You may need to work long or irregular hours for those who work in the field. The type of animals a zoologist is studying will also determine the hours. For example, if you’re studying nocturnal animals, you might be expected to work at night.

Being a zoologist is great for those who don’t want to sit at a desk all day. Working out in the field or in a lab studying animals is a more hands-on career, but this means having flexible hours and often traveling, depending on what you specialize in. 

However, I’ll get more into this in the next section.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Working Conditions for a Zoologist?

While some may not like the working conditions of zoologists, others may find it exciting. As already mentioned, zoology is typically a more hands-on career, which means working out of an office and in the field.

A zoologist’s working conditions include working in offices writing scientific reports or articles, in labs studying different species, or observing various animals outside in the field. Fieldwork can involve traveling to many different areas, such as out at sea, in the mountains, or in the desert.

Unfortunately, zoologists may encounter hazardous weather conditions when working in the field, which can be very dangerous. Therefore, going prepared is essential to a safe work environment.

Other Degrees To Consider

While you can get a degree in zoology, you can get other similar degrees that will allow you to work as a zoologist. These degrees are more specific, so depending on which branch of zoology you’d like to go in, a more specific degree might be helpful.

Popular degrees many choose for a zoologist career include Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, and Animal Health and Behavior.

Other Jobs To Consider With a Zoology Degree

If you began your career in zoology and you’re not sure if it’s for you, there are other jobs you can consider before throwing away the degree. Many different careers accept a zoology degree because there are various fields related to zoology.

Some of these fields include:

  • Marine biologist
  • Veterinary nurse
  • Animal nutritionist
  • Environmental consultant
  • Toxicologist
  • Animal physiotherapist
  • Research scientist
  • Zookeeper
  • Ecologist

While these aren’t the only possible career opportunities with a zoologist degree, they are the most common options. Therefore, if some of the aspects of zoology don’t appeal to you, such as the working conditions, other job opportunities like the ones listed above might be a better choice for you.

Final Thoughts

While zoology is hard in various ways, the reward is worth it. To be a zoologist, you have to have a bachelor’s degree, and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in zoology will require many difficult classes involving math and science. 

Therefore, getting the qualifications and skills to be a zoologist is already challenging.

Working as a zoologist requires many hours of work, as well as possibly unsafe working conditions. While it’s not always a desk job, and working in the field is exciting, the dangers and challenges of zoology are something that you should consider.