"If we teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Share my wildlife with me. Because humans want to save things that they love." -Steve Irwin
This quote from one of the most popular wildlife biologists really gets to the heart of why people decide to pursue this incredible career: to encourage humans to save the wildlife around us.
Along with other household names like Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, Jane Smart and more, Irwin has made significant contributions to society's understanding of nature and the biodiversity around us.
During their careers, they have studied a huge variety of species and shared this information with people across the world. In this way, they've taught us the value of our ecosystems and the necessity of conserving and caring for them.
From the biggest fisheries to the smallest park, wildlife biologists play a key part in understanding and protecting the biodiversity of our world.
What does a Wildlife Biologist do?
Of course, biologists come in all shapes and sizes. There are four main types of biology that people may choose to study.
Biologists in this area of enquiry dedicate their lives to the study of animal behaviour, and the effects that different wildlife has on their specific ecosystem, whether that be the ocean, the jungle, the mountains etc.
Many also use their academic knowledge to educate students and people around the world about the animals they study and the best ways to conserve the biodiversity of the environment around us.
If you have a deep interest in nature and want to spend your life understanding and protecting it, then it could be a great idea to apply for a uni program in wildlife or marine biology, whether it's at the undergraduate or postgraduate level.
Let's have a look at the daily life of a wildlife biologist and why students around the world decide to try for a qualification in this academic area...
A Day in the Life of a Wildlife Biologist
This job truly is as interesting as it sounds; after a long study pathway, working in this job means you get to spend hours studying different aspects of a variety of animal populations in their natural habitat.
These are some of the duties that may be a day to day requirement for someone in this area:
- Observing specific animal characteristics, from their genetics to their habitat to the way they interact with humans or other species,
- Collecting samples of biological matter to analyse,
- Observing and managing increases or decreases in animal populations,
- Managing and minimising the effects of invasive species,
- Reporting findings of research through research papers and other academic means,
- Creating conservation plans for both wildlife and their habitats,
- Presenting their finding to peers and the general public through speeches, documentaries etc.,
- Educating students at every level through the creation of learning materials.
So we can see just how varied a career this could be for a person who is truly committed to and passionate about the research they're conducting.
This also means a wide range of skills to be capable of working in so many different areas will be an important requirement.
For example, you may have to stay outdoors for long stretches of time, perhaps under the sea, or in other harsh conditions. This means you'll need physical stamina and outdoor skills to do your job.
Conducting research in teams and being able to communicate your findings clearly involves academic skills like professional writing and critical thinking, as well as communication and presentation skills.
Why Wildlife or Marine Science could be a great choice
Let's start by saying that wildlife biology, just like any other science program, is a challenging and difficult area of interest.
There are many units that require students to learn large amounts of scientific information, but also practical knowledge, from safely handling animals to conducting independent research.
This is a dream career for many, and here are some of the main reasons applicants decide to take the leap:
- Spending hours outdoors with animals: For most people, the main reason they look to this study area is the opportunity to spend time outside, actually conducting research and observing wildlife.
- Opportunities to Travel the World: Another key reason is the chance to conduct their studies in exotic parts of the world, from the Amazonian jungle to the Galapagos Islands, and even closer to home, like the rainforests of Queensland.
But don't just take it from us. Many recent graduates say that these are some of the reasons they choose and loved their studies...
Wildlife Field Studies was my favorite. We spent six days in the Otways and it was a really fun way to complete an entire subject. I also had the opportunity to take a global work placement in South Africa monitoring lions, study overseas in Costa Rica whilst learning Spanish, undertake a research internship in Costa Rica studying Leaf Cutter Ants and go on a study tour to Borneo to see the orangutans.
Cara Penton, Recent Graduate Bachelor of Environmental Science at Deakin University
While these probably do sound amazing, it's also important to note that technological developments have changed the way wildlife biologists work, and not always for the good.
In an article in High Country News, scientist Ed Bangs discusses some of the ways technology has changed the job:
"You never need to go into the field" anymore, Bangs said, given today's technology. "You collar the animal and follow it in real time on the computer. You never see it; you never see where it lives. You can do a wildlife study and never visit the area. ... I became involved in wildlife research because of my passion for wildlife and wild places -- and technology doesn't catch that passion. We need more of an emotional connection with wildlife ... not just technological connections."
So, it's important to remember that you will face challenges and plenty of surprises, even if this the career of your dreams.
If you're still keen on starting your studies in this area, let's look at some of the best study options in Australia...
Wildlife Science Courses Ranked
In a country with a natural landscape as diverse as that of Australia, it's no wonder that you can find some of the most well-regarded courses in this area, be it in marine biology or other specialisations.
However, having such a wide variety of programs in one place can lead to more than a little confusion for potential applicants. Here you can find the top programs at Australian university, as well as some information about applying.
Getting into an Australian university course
Even if two people are looking at the same program, it's possible that the selection requirements may be a little different. This is mainly based on the type of student you are: domestic or international.
Most unis offer pathways for both types of students, but it's important to make sure you're looking at the information that is most relevant to your situation.
Let's look at the different pathways into an undergraduate at an Australian uni...
For those who are currently studying at a high school in Australia, there are two main requirements for entry into these courses: your ATAR and Pre-requisite subjects
Each course will have its own specifications, but it's extremely important to know what they are. You don't want to get to the end of Year 12, only to realise you haven't studied something that is required to apply for the course of your dreams!
The second aspect is your ATAR, no matter which state you're in, you'll finish high school with an ATAR, a numerical score out of 100, calculated using all of your assessments and exams throughout the two years.
Different courses require different minimum scores, but for the most part, these types of science courses require between 80.00-85.00.
You may also be able to get credit for outside learning, such as online Biology classes.
As we mentioned before, because of the amazing amounts of endemic species and unique landscapes, Australia is a popular destination for students overseas, especially if they want to study in an English-speaking country.
The major requirement for most of these courses is that students have adequate academic English abilities. You'll have to prove this by taking some sort of English exam.
The most popular are IELTS, Cambridge and Pearson, but it is generally best to take the IELTS exam, as it is accepted by every uni in the country, while others may not be.
The score you're aiming for is usually between 6.0-6.5. This means you should be able to handle complex arguments and produce writing of a relatively high standard.
So that's what you'll need to get in, but let's check out where you can apply...
Top 5 Universities for Environmental Sciences
Becoming a fully-fledged wildlife or marine biologist takes a few steps, but generally the first is a Bachelor.
There are plenty of interesting options in Australia at the undergraduate level, with the majority taking three or four years, depending on the number of units and if there is the opportunity for Honours studies.
We looked at the best ranked Australian unis in Environmental Science, according to Top Universities:
1. The University of Queensland
Degree: Bachelor of Wildlife Science
Minimum ATAR: 75.00
Prerequisites: General English and one maths subject
One of the most sought after spots in the country, this qualification focuses on the biology, conservation and management of mostly native Australian animals, as well as human-wildlife interactions.
The program goes for 3 years, and there is also the opportunity to study a dual qualification with Agribusiness.
You won't have to choose a major in this course, although you will be able to choose 16 units of courses as electives, meaning you can focus your degree.
One of the most exciting features of the course is the Industry Placement and International Experience units, which allow students to get hands-on experience by the second year.
You will also have the option to extend by another year to receive a degree with Honours. This will involve completing an independent research project.
International students will need a 6.5 overall IELTS score, although TOEFL and Pearsons are accepted as well.
2. The University of New South Wales
Degree: Bachelor of Science
Minimum ATAR: 85.00
UNSW does not offer a straight wildlife science qualification, but in this course, students are able to major and minor in Ecology, Biology and Marine and Coastal Science.
In all of these majors, students can take core elective units like Exploring the Natural World, Marine and Aquatic Ecology or Australian Climate and Vegetation.
You can also pick minors like forensic biology, to give you more options after graduating.
Another interesting aspect of this course is the ability to pick an 'International' version, which includes a year of subsidised study overseas, and aims to prepare you for an increasingly globalised work environment.
The selection score is slightly higher, with applicants requiring an 88.00 for guaranteed entry.
For very talented students, there is also an Advanced option which includes a research project combined with more advanced coursework. The minimum ATAR is 95.00.
3. The University of Melbourne
Degree: Bachelor of Science
Minimum ATAR: 85.00
Prerequisites: General English, Maths Methods or Specialist, one Science subject
Similar to UNSW, students in Melbourne need to undertake a general Science program and focus their studies through the majors and minors offered by the school.
There's a great range of majors offered here, from Animal Science and Management to Ecology and Evolutionary Biology to Zoology.
Another interesting part of this qualification is the 'breadth subjects'. These are elective units that are required in order to graduate and cannot come from the Science faculty.
By doing this, the uni aims to provide the opportunity to break up studies, and to include other passions that you may have, such as Language, Music, Art, Law etc.
4. The Australian National University
Degree: Bachelor of Environment and Sustainability
Minimum ATAR: 80.00
Prerequisites: None listed
ANU offers a more specialised course, as opposed to some of the other universities on this list. Each unit focuses specifically on maintaining the balance between our environment and human development.
Students must choose either a major and a minor or two majors. Some of the more relevant options would be Biodiversity Conservation, Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology or Marine Science.
Others could be a little different, like microbiology or genetic engineering.
Another interesting choice for high academic achievers is the Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours)- Science, which involves one-on-one mentoring, a year-long research project and more.
The minimum ATAR is 98, and it is a four-year course.
5. The University of Sydney
Degree: Bachelor of Science
Minimum ATAR: 80.00
Prerequisites: Advanced Mathematics
The final option on our list is still one of the most well-regarded universities in the country.
Another more general qualification with major and minor options, you can choose to specialise immediately or try some different areas of the Life and Environmental Science School.
For students who are focused on conservation, USYD also offers a fascinating option in collaboration with Taronga Wildlife Conservation. The minimum ATAR is a little higher at 85.00.
You can take classes both at the uni campus and at the Institute of Learning at the Taronga Zoo. Graduates have more practical experience and more opportunities post-uni.
As we can see, each institution has its own advantages, from facilities to the possibility of extending studies and more.
To get more specific information about things like the yearly fee or unit programs, check out the website for each individual course.
Scholarships for prospective students
For many, the prospect of paying a fee of thousands of dollars to study can easily put them off studying. This feeling can be even worse for international students who pay much higher fees.
If you feel you don't have the resources to seek higher education, don't forget about the many scholarship programs offered by Australian tertiary institutions.
There are often options for both types of students, may have a variety of requirements to apply and can cover different costs and amounts.
Some are even offered to high achieving second- and third-year students, so don't give up if you didn't get one on your first try!
For example, the Wildlife Genomics Undergraduate Scholarship is offered to high performing Bachelor of Science students at USYD.
It provides the opportunity to conduct a lab project over 6 weeks, which is valued at around $3000 per annum.
If you have finished your undergraduate studies, you could even be eligible for a post-graduate scholarship.
For example, the Uni of Queensland offers the PhD scholarship: International/Global wildlife ecology and conservation.
Applicants need to have completed one qualification in a relevant area, such as a Master's.
Winners of the scholarship receive a yearly stipend designed to offset their course fees and provide a living allowance. This particular option is valued at around $29,500 per annum.
These are just two of the hundreds of scholarships offered around the country that support students whether they are in need of financial aid, or are high academic achievers.
Where to after your undergrad
After your first qualification, you have the option of jumping straight into a career or continuing your studies through a Master or other Research Degrees.
While there are definitely jobs out there that don't require more than a basic qualification, if you are interested in something more than entry-level roles, or you want to specialise, then a post-graduate qualification may be a good idea.
You could try a Master, such as the Master of Marine Science and Management offered by USYD. Here, each unit contributes to your understanding of ocean ecosystems and sustainability.
Another option is the Graduate Certificate or Master of Animal Science from UQ. There are a few differences between the two qualifications.
Firstly, you can get into the graduate certificate with a qualification in any area, whereas for the Master you must have a science background.
This means that a Graduate Certificate or Diploma is a good opportunity for applicants who want to make a little change in their education.
They can also act as a pathway to higher-level qualifications. Your 6 months in the Graduate Certificate can act as a credit, allowing you entry into the Master or other programs.
After your Master's, you can even decide to continue to a PHD level by undertaking a research study at the Doctorate level.
For example, ANU offers a Doctor of Philosophy which normally takes 2-4 years to complete. You have the independence to investigate a particular issue, with the guidance of an academic supervisor.
With qualifications like that and a bit of experience, you'll easily meet the key selection criteria for work in your area, whether that's fisheries, ocean research or any other area.
Don't forget that there are scholarships available for most of these post-graduate fields, so you may be able to get a little support with the yearly fee.
Last but not least, let's look at the possible job opportunities, both academic and in the field, that may await you...
Pathways after graduating for Wildlife or Marine Biologists
So you've studied science biology, zoology and more for 4-8 years and have finally graduated...So now what?
Well, now it's time to get out there and actually put all those years of learning to use in real life. Of course, easier said than done right...
It's common for recent graduates to finish their education and realise that they don't even know where to start looking for work, or if there are even any jobs openings for them.
To avoid this shock, it's a good idea to start thinking about where you want to end up, long before you actually graduate.
By deciding early that you want to get involved in the conservation of sea life, for example, you can start looking for work experience like internships when you're still at uni and specialise with each unit of study.
But before you can decide, you need to know what's out there. Here are some of the more common options for wildlife biology university grads:
- National Parks and Wildlife officer: Australia is full of large stretches of national parks, many of which are filled with endemic flora and fauna. This work includes maintaining the integrity of the natural environment, as well as education through talks with community members.
- Zoologist: This is probably what you have in mind when you're thinking of a wildlife biologist. They carry out field research by studying animals in their natural habitat or in captivity, gathering that information and then interpreting it. Using this information they can make recommendations to different institutions and governments.
- Zookeeper: This job is a little more practical, and you're guaranteed to have contact with animals every day of your career. You may have to do a little dirty work, like making sure animal enclosures are clean and well-stocked, but you may also be in charge of raising younger animals, observing anomalies in diet or behaviour patterns and more.
- Conservation: For those interested in maintaining the balance between human needs and conserving our biodiversity, conservation work can take many forms. You could consult with food production organisations like fisheries to mitigate their impact on marine ecosystems, or research and rescue endangered species.
- Professor: Of course, after many years in the field, you'll be an expert in everything to do with animal science. You can use that knowledge to teach younger students, whether it's at the high school or university level. Educating students about animals and their conservation can be truly rewarding work.
While these are the most popular general careers, there are obviously so many areas to work in, depending on your interest areas.
There are jobs you may have never heard of, like Ungulates and Carnivore Keeper.
You may also be able to combine your interests, say in animal biology and bioengineering to create a whole new role.
Your high-level qualifications and knowledge should allow applicants easy entry into the world of work, though you may not be able to go directly into the area you're dreaming of.
What does a real Wildlife Biologist have to say?
You may still have a million and one questions, and they can probably only be answered by someone currently working in this area.
Luckily, there are plenty of amazing scientists working across Australia that you can take inspiration from, no matter what your areas of interest may be.
Someone that we think is fascinating is Dr Adriana Vergés. Originally from Barcelona, Vergés is currently leading a research group that focuses on the marine ecological impacts of climate change.
She uses her expertise to tell stories about what is happening at the bottom of our ocean and to consult on productions like 'What's the Catch?', a documentary about the Australian fishing industry.
She is also one of the founders and chief investigator of ‘Operation Crayweed’, which is a restoration project that aims to is re-establish Sydney’s lost underwater forests.
This project gained interaction attention and was awarded a Green Globe Award in 2017.
Let's see what she can help us find out about the life of a Marine Biologist from an interview with Iconic and Vintage...
What inspired her?
"I was drawn to marine biology after spending every single summer during my childhood in a little house perched on a cliff only 50 metres above the sea in Mallorca... What I loved about the idea of studying marine science at university was the thought of delving into the unknown and potentially contributing to some true discoveries."
What did she study?
Vergés completed her Bachelor's in marine science at the Galway University of Ireland, followed by her Masters in Science Communication at Dublin University. She then obtained a PhD in Ecology from the University of Barcelona.
Since then she has gone on to complete large amounts of experimental research with different universities around the world.
Her day-to-day life
Vergés is a great example of a scientist that has been able to continue getting outside and into nature, while still working on researching, teaching and more, as she explains...
"On a good day, I’m diving with sharks and turtles and setting up experiments with algae using my little Go-Pro cameras on beautiful and remote places like the outer Great Barrier Reef or Ningaloo Reef.
I love being underwater and the writing part of my job (and I do spend most of my time writing). On a not so good day, I’m stuck in the office working on budgets for grant applications or marking student exams."
What is she currently working on?
Continuing her work rebuilding ocean forests with Operation Crayweed, Professor Vergés is launching a similar project Operation Posidonia, which focuses on growing sea grass in Lake Macquarie.
She is also a lecturer at the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and often gives talks on her areas of expertise.
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