Conservation Scientist: What Is It and How to Become

Conservation Scientist: What Is It and How to Become

Becoming a conservation scientist is a rewarding career choice for those who are passionate about preserving and protecting our natural environment. Conservation scientists, also known as conservationists or environmental biologists, play a vital role in the research and management of our ecosystems. They are hands-on researchers who use critical thinking skills to identify the causes of environmental issues and find solutions to conserve and increase the resources within our land and wildlife.

To become a conservation scientist, there are several steps you can take during and after college to ensure a successful career in this field. Firstly, it is important to obtain a degree in a related discipline, such as biology or environmental science. These majors provide a strong foundation in the biological and physical sciences, which are essential for studying and understanding the complexities of our natural world.

Once you have completed your bachelor’s degree, pursuing a master’s degree in a specific area of conservation science can further enhance your knowledge and skills. This advanced degree will allow you to delve deeper into specific topics, such as ecosystem management, wildlife conservation, or rangeland ecology. It will also provide you with opportunities for hands-on research and fieldwork, allowing you to apply your knowledge to real-world conservation issues.

Another important step to becoming a successful conservation scientist is to gain practical experience through internships or volunteer work. These opportunities will not only give you a chance to work alongside experienced professionals, but also allow you to apply the theories and concepts learned in the classroom to real-life situations. This hands-on experience will not only strengthen your research and analytical skills, but also demonstrate your dedication and passion for conservation.

In addition to hands-on experience, effective communication and outreach skills are crucial for a conservation scientist. Conservation scientists often work with diverse groups of people, including policymakers, landowners, and the general public. Therefore, the ability to effectively communicate complex scientific findings in layman’s terms is essential. This includes being able to use statistics and data to support your arguments, as well as being an advocate for the environment within your community and society as a whole.

Lastly, it is important to stay informed about the latest advancements and trends in conservation science. The field is constantly evolving, and new techniques and research findings are continually being discovered. By staying up-to-date with the latest information, you can ensure that your work as a conservation scientist is relevant and impactful.

Step 1: Choose a Relevant Undergraduate Degree

Frequently, those interested in conservation choose degrees in biology, ecology, environmental science, or a related field. These majors provide a strong foundation in the scientific principles and practices necessary for understanding and protecting the natural world.

When selecting a degree, it’s important to find programs that offer hands-on experience and fieldwork. This will help you develop the necessary skills and knowledge to work in remote habitats, conduct research, and advocate for conservation.

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Some colleges and universities even offer specialized programs in conservation biology or natural resource management, which can provide a more focused education and better prepare you for a career in the field.

In addition to coursework, it’s also important to consider obtaining relevant certifications or licenses. For example, if you’re interested in working in forestry, you may need to earn a license as a forester. These certifications can enhance your career opportunities and demonstrate your expertise in specific areas.

Overall, choosing a relevant undergraduate degree is the first step towards a career in conservation. By selecting a major that aligns with your interests and goals, you’ll be on the right path towards becoming a conservation scientist.

Find a degree program in environmental science, biology, or a related field

There are many options to choose from when it comes to degree programs in the environmental sciences. You can pursue a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or even a PhD depending on your career goals and level of interest in the field.

Specifically, a degree in environmental science will provide you with a strong foundation in the biological and physical sciences, as well as an understanding of how human societies impact the natural world. You will learn about topics like land-use planning, natural resource management, and conservation laws and regulations.

In addition to environmental science, other relevant degree programs include biology, ecology, forestry, marine sciences, and agriculture. These programs will also provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills to become a successful conservation scientist.

When searching for a degree program, make sure to consider factors like the curriculum, faculty expertise, and hands-on learning opportunities. Look for programs that offer courses and research opportunities specific to conservation, as well as opportunities for fieldwork and internships.

Overall, a degree in environmental science or a related field will provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to become a conservation scientist. It will give you a strong foundation in the sciences, as well as an understanding of the societal and policy aspects of conservation. With this education, you will be equipped to make informed decisions, educate the public, and support the protection of our natural resources and habitats.

Step 2: Research Graduate Programs in Conservation Science

When researching graduate programs, consider factors such as faculty expertise, available resources, and program reputation. Look for programs that offer courses and research opportunities relevant to your areas of interest, such as wildlife conservation, land-use planning, or forestry.

Many graduate programs also offer online options, allowing you to continue your studies while working or taking care of other commitments. Online programs often provide flexibility and convenience, making it easier to balance your education with other aspects of your life.

Graduate programs in conservation science can vary in length, with some taking as little as one year to complete and others requiring several years of study. It’s important to understand the time commitment and plan accordingly.

Many graduate programs offer financial assistance, such as scholarships, grants, or research assistantships, to help students with the costs of tuition and living expenses. Researching and applying for these opportunities can help to offset the financial burden of graduate school.

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It’s also worth speaking with current or former graduate students in conservation science to get a better understanding of the program and what it’s like. They can provide valuable insight and answer questions about the day-to-day life of a graduate student in this field.

Finally, stay updated on the latest advancements and research in the field of conservation science. Subscribe to journals, attend conferences, and participate in online forums to keep up with the latest information and connect with others in the field.

By researching graduate programs in conservation science, you can find the right program that aligns with your interests and career goals. This step helps you to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to become a successful conservation scientist and contribute to the conservation and preservation of nature and its resources.

Explore master’s and PhD programs in conservation science or a related discipline

Some common titles for graduate programs in conservation science include Master of Science (MS) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Conservation Science, Environmental Science, Ecology, or Biology. These programs typically cover topics like biological principles, water and resource management, and sustainable environmental practices. They may also offer courses in subjects like environmental law and policy, conservation genetics, and wildlife ecology.

Graduate programs in conservation science also often include coursework on conducting research, including data collection and analysis, and developing outreach and education programs. These programs prepare you to become successful conservation scientists by equipping you with the skills needed to assess complex environmental issues, develop innovative solutions, and educate others about the importance of conservation.

Master’s and PhD programs typically require a research-based thesis or dissertation, where you contribute original knowledge to the field by conducting in-depth research on a specific topic. This research may involve fieldwork, laboratory experiments, or data analysis, depending on your area of focus.

Graduate programs in conservation science can vary in length, with master’s programs typically taking 2-3 years to complete and PhD programs taking 4-6 years. It’s important to note that earning a PhD can open up additional opportunities in academia and research, while a master’s degree may be sufficient for many positions in the field.

After completing your graduate degree, you’ll be well-equipped to pursue a career as a conservation scientist, researcher, or educator. These roles may involve conducting scientific research, analyzing data, making strategic decisions on resource management, and educating the public about environmental causes and conservation efforts.

Step 3: Gain Research Experience

Why Research Experience is Important

Furthermore, research experience is highly valued by employers and graduate schools. Having research experience on your resume can set you apart from other job applicants or potential graduate students, as it demonstrates your commitment to the field and your ability to contribute to important research projects.

How to Gain Research Experience

There are several ways to gain research experience as a conservation scientist. Here are some options to consider:

  1. Volunteer or intern at organizations focused on conservation and environmental protection. These placements can provide valuable hands-on experience and networking opportunities.
  2. Participate in research projects at your college or university. Many colleges offer research programs or opportunities for students to assist faculty members with their research projects.
  3. Seek out summer research programs or internships. There are many programs available that offer research opportunities in various conservation-related fields, such as marine biology or plant ecology.
  4. Ask professors or professionals in the field if they have any ongoing research projects that you could assist with. This can be a great way to gain research experience and make connections in the field.
  5. Consider earning a master’s or Ph.D. degree in a conservation-related field. These higher degrees often involve extensive research and can provide you with valuable experience and expertise.
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Remember, the more research experience you gain, the better equipped you’ll be to tackle the challenges faced by conservation scientists.

Participate in research projects, internships, or volunteer opportunities in conservation

Research projects provide an opportunity to contribute to ongoing scientific studies and gain a deeper understanding of conservation issues. You can work alongside experienced scientists and learn how to conduct experiments, analyze data, and communicate research findings. This experience will help you develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for a career in conservation.

Internships and volunteer opportunities in conservation allow you to work in a real-world setting and gain practical experience. You may have the chance to work with equipment, such as GPS devices or water sampling tools, and learn how to collect and analyze data. These experiences also help you network with professionals in the field, who can offer guidance and advice for your future career.

When considering research projects, internships, or volunteer opportunities in conservation, it is important to consider your interests and goals. There is a wide range of conservation topics, including protecting forests, water resources, or biodiversity. Some projects may focus on implementing solutions to environmental challenges, while others may educate communities on conservation practices.

It is important to note that conservation science is a diverse field, and there are various career paths you can pursue. Some job titles in conservation include Conservation Scientist, Forester, Environmental Scientist, Park Ranger, Wildlife Biologist, or Teacher. Depending on your interests and goals, you may choose to specialize in a particular area or pursue higher education, such as a master’s or PhD degree, to advance your career.

Taking part in research projects, internships, or volunteer opportunities in conservation will not only help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to become a successful conservation scientist, but it will also allow you to make a difference in protecting our environment for future generations.


What should I major in if I want to become a conservation scientist?

If you want to become a conservation scientist, it is recommended to major in a field related to environmental science, ecology, biology, or natural resource management. These majors will provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills to understand and study the natural world and make a positive impact on conservation efforts.

Can I become a conservation scientist with a different major?

While it is recommended to major in a field related to environmental science, ecology, biology, or natural resource management, it is still possible to become a conservation scientist with a different major. It may require additional coursework or practical experience in conservation, but a passion for conservation and a willingness to learn can help you overcome any obstacles.

Are there specific colleges or universities that offer programs for aspiring conservation scientists?

Many colleges and universities offer programs or majors specifically designed for aspiring conservation scientists. These programs often include courses in ecology, environmental science, biodiversity, conservation biology, and natural resource management. Some well-known institutions with strong programs in conservation science include the University of California, Berkeley; Yale University; and the University of Florida.

How long does it take to become a conservation scientist?

The time it takes to become a conservation scientist can vary depending on factors such as the level of education pursued and the individual’s career path. In general, it can take around 4 years to complete a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, followed by additional years of experience or education to advance in the field. Some conservation scientists may choose to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees for advanced research or leadership positions, which can extend the time required.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.