Look Out, Marlin Perkins!

The Gig: Field Researcher on Animal Behavior

The Work: Varies, including but by no means restricted to observing and recording behavior, finding nesting areas, mapping territories, radio-tracking, collecting animals… Some field studies continue year-round. Others are restricted to a species’ breeding season and may continue for only a month or two.

Training/Education/Requirements: Since the good gigs are pretty rare, competition is stiff.

Typically, you’re expected to have an undergraduate degree or at least some coursework in biology, zoology, or related disciplines. But mostly you need to be willing to work hard and independently — and to handle both stifling boredom and the unexpected with maturity and grace. (In many listings, the code for this is “strong work ethic and a commitment to scientific research"). Since the job often requires some schlepping and scrambling, you’ll probably need to be physically fit. And you should be willing and able to live and work in relatively primitive conditions, often in the company of other volunteers.

The Pay: Varies, depending on how well the project is funded, but may include any or none of the following: academic credit, pilot research that can be applied to thesis work, living expenses and housing, transportation expenses, a minimal stipend. ASK!

Downside: Besides the pay (low to minimal) and housing conditions (usually primitive to basic, although the settings can be spectacular), expect: long or irregular hours (many of them spent either sitting still or trudging ever onward) and the possibility of hostile weather conditions, vegetation, and pestilence. In other words, have realistic expectations of what it might mean to observe an animal in its habitat, not yours.

Best Part: Getting a glimpse of an animal’s world that you’ll never see on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel. Finding out that insects, properly observed, are as fascinating as elephants. Interacting with people who make careers out of studying animal behavior. Getting your foot in the door if this is a direction that you’d like to pursue yourself.


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You’ll catch a glimpse of an animal’s world that you’ll never see on Animal Planet.

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