Charles J. Krebs

Zoology, Animals, Physiology, Metabolism

Famous for writing Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance (now in its fifth edition), a textbook used worldwide to teach ecology, and for his work on the Fence Effect.

"We should be conservative in the ways we deal with natural systems."

So You Want to Be an Ecologist

A wildlife ecologist never has a typical day. A university professor will spend several hours a week lecturing, many hours talking to students, several hours going to research seminars and many hours reading and writing scientific papers. Krebs typically spends about three months of each year in the field doing physical work: live-trapping hares and other animals, measuring trees and vegetation and doing other field work.

The thing he likes most about being an ecologist is the freedom to explore important intellectual issues and questions whenever he likes, for as long as he wants. He says, “In short, I have the ability to think on my own schedule.” What he dislikes is dealing with uninformed bureaucracies, both in universities and governments.

Wildlife ecologists can work for universities, the government or private consulting companies. Many mining and forestry companies contract out their environmental studies to private consulting firms. If you want the freedom to work on anything you like, then a university career will offer the best opportunities, but if you want to make money you would be better off working for an ecological consulting company.

To become a wildlife ecologist you will need at least a BSc degree (four years) and preferably an MSc (two or three more years). The best jobs with the most freedom require a PhD (three to five more years). Most ecologists are 27 to 30 years old before they complete their training.

The typical salary range in Canada for an ecologist with a bachelor’s degree is about $30,000 to $35,000 a year. A master’s degree raises that to $40,000 to $45,000, and an ecologist with a PhD can expect to earn $40,000 to $60,000. “No one should become a wildlife ecologist if they desire to be wealthy,” says Krebs.

To succeed as an ecologist you will need good skills in all the natural sciences from mathematics to chemistry, physics and, of course, biology, as well as computer skills. You must also learn how to write effectively.

Other scientists who may be of interest:

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