Written by Joanna Hughes

Sure, animals make great pets. But if you are really passionate about animals, why not consider turning that passion into a career? And here’s the best part: Studies in animal science open the door to many different in-demand, high-paying and fulfilling jobs. Here’s a closer look at six potential career paths you can take with an educational background in animal science.

1. Conservation officer

Animals and their habitats are inextricably interlinked. In order to protect the former, we must protect the latter. This is where conservation officers come in. These professionals work to manage, protect, and improve areas of environmental importance in many different ways, ranging from hands-on conversation work, publicity, and scientific monitoring. They are also employed by many different kinds of organizations, including charities, local authorities, wildlife trusts, government organizations, conservation groups and more.

In an interview with GameWarden.org, Corporal Joshua Hudson, a game warden with Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police, said, “When going into college, I decided that I wanted to pursue a pathway that would allow me to work outside and not be confined to a desk. During my sophomore year of college, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do an internship with F&W NRP [Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police] and fell in love with the work that the officers did.”

And while working in the field is one way to go, there are also plenty of options for the office-inclined. As Chief Conservation Officer of the San Diego Zoo, Dr. Allison Alberts is responsible for managing ongoing endangered species conservation efforts at both the zoo and field sites in 35 countries.

Alberts told JobShadow.com of the scope of her role, “I direct a staff of 200 scientists and researchers who are currently working on more than 100 projects locally and globally, and administer an annual budget of over $15 million dollars.  I am responsible for setting the overall strategic direction of our work and determining priorities for how we allocate our time and resources. In addition to overseeing a wide variety of conservation initiatives, I am involved in helping raise funds to support wildlife research and awareness of the issues facing endangered species today.”

The work is demanding, but also uniquely fulfilling. “One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is getting to see species and individual animals that we have worked with for many years in zoos get reintroduced back into the wild.  It is a special experience to release an animal into its native habitat, hoping it will successfully integrate into the wild population and become a functional part of the ecosystem,” Alberts adds.

One last thing to keep in mind if you’re considering a career in conservation? While a degree in animal science, biology, zoology, ecology or a related field is critical, volunteer experience with a zoo or other consideration group can give you an inside edge.

2. Academia

Animal scientists working in academia “conduct research in the genetics, nutrition, reproduction, growth, and development of domestic farm animals,” says the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. They may also be responsible for teaching undergraduate and graduate students, supervising student lab workers, and conducting and publishing their own research.

Professor of animal science Temple Grandin, made famous by the eponymous, award-winning movie of the same name starring Claire Danes, is credited with revolutionizing practices for the humane handling of cattle. Grandin told The Washington Post of her outlook, “I feel very strongly that we've got to give animals a good life. None of those cattle would have lived if it wasn't for us. We bred those cattle, and since we bred those cattle, we owe them a decent life.”

3. Veterinarian

Veterinary medicine is one of the traditional careers pursued by animal science majors. It requires a doctorate in veterinary medicine in addition to postsecondary coursework in chemistry, biology, zoology, physiology, microbiology, and anatomy.

While veterinary work is challenging, it also comes with many intangible rewards, according to Veterinary Practice News. These include receiving love and gratitude from pets and their owners; using all of your senses to perform your job; enjoying working in a complex environment; valuing and respecting the profession’s ethical responsibilities; thriving at overcoming challenges; lifelong learning; and the development of stress management skills.

And then there’s the impact your work will continue to have. “Years of honest, dedicated service to even the smallest of communities will build a legacy that will live on in the hearts and minds of people touched by your actions,” explains Steve Pearson, DVM.

Also worth keeping in mind if you are considering a career as a vet? It’s not just about the animals. People skills -- and a sense of humor -- are also essential.

“In veterinary medicine you’ve got to do two things: you treat the animal, and then you’ve got to use psychology on the owner. Every day I put up with people like that. And I make the joke that one end of the leash is easy to deal with. The other end of the leash is very difficult to deal with. If a person can’t deal with these individuals that are very demanding, that read the internet too much, that think they know everything, if you can’t look past those people, and, bite your tongue at times, you won’t get very far,” reveals one vet in an interview with JobShadow.com.

4. The food industry

In a roundup of non-traditional career pathways for animal science students shared by the American Society of Animal Science, the food industry -- in the form of global nutrition research -- is highlighted.

Sylvia P. Poulos, PhD, RD/LD, a scientist with The Coca-Cola Company with a PhD in foods and nutrition, reveals that her role is to “identify and evaluate potential ingredients and delivery of technologies to improve the health and wellness of consumers.” Her duties include meeting suppliers and scientists, conducting literature reviews, developing product and protocepts, conducting preclinical evaluations, and planning and sponsoring clinical trials. She also collaborates locally and globally with other scientists, regulatory groups, product developers, claims substantiation groups, purchasing, legal, marketing and brand divisions.

And while people with backgrounds in many different scientific fields are useful to food companies, people with backgrounds in animal sciences offer unique value, asserts Poulos. These strengths include a basic understanding of various scientific and agricultural fields, such as soils, crops, genetics, molecular biology and more, as well as knowledge of the animal production process comprising breeding and genetics, reproduction, growth, feeds and environment, raw products, and consumer products.

5. Zoology

“Zoologists study animals and their interactions with ecosystems. They study their physical characteristics, diets, behaviors, and the impacts humans have on them. They study all kinds of animals, both in their natural habitats and in captivity in zoos and aquariums,” explains EnvironmentalScience.org. This work is pivotal given the many threats facing us as humans today. “Their knowledge is critical to preserving important habitats and managing wildlife's adaptations to climate change,” the website adds.

While duties vary depending on the job, typical zoologist responsibilities may include analyzing the lifecycle of animals and their functions in the ecosystem; conducting population assessments of species; collecting, processing, and preparing specimens for study; analyzing data and experimental observations and evaluating study results; preparing and publishing scientific papers to report findings; acting as advocates and spokespeople for wildlife and ecosystem issues within your area of expertise; interacting with other scientists, professionals and advocates; drafting reports and presentations; collecting samples and conducting observational research in the lab and field; managing data/specimen collection and record-keeping; communicating with initiatives aimed at sharing and assessing data; continually reviewing current research in the field; consulting on environmental and site assessments; traveling to field assignments; conducting and overseeing wildlife population surveys providing technical expertise on wildlife survey design; preparing wildlife management plans; and monitoring trends in wildlife populations.

Because of the inherently diverse nature of their work, zoologists work in a breadth and depth of settings, including zoos, wildlife centers, wildlife parks, and aquariums, where they are responsible for the care of animals, their distribution, and their enclosures. They also work in conservation, at museums, in research, and in offices and laboratories.

And while competition is fierce for zoology jobs, the work is extraordinary for those who prevail -- particularly if the profession is your calling. Zoologist Justin Gerlack told the Journal of Young Investigators, “I was always interested in the world around me, with a childhood obsession with animals that never left me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a zoologist.” His advice to those considering following in his footsteps? “Don’t think too much about what is ‘useful,’ as everything is connected in science so whatever you do will give you a useful perspective. I think you should follow your interests.”

6. Animal trainer for films and productions

If a job on a movie set sounds like the perfect way to combine your love of animals with an interest in the film industry, training animals for films and productions might be a viable option.  Before choosing this route there are some things you should know, however. First, animal training is not an easy profession to break into, and when you do, there are very few jobs -- and fewer by the day given that digital technology is more frequently used instead of live animals. That means the competition for these jobs is also growing. 

Secondly, it’s not all glitz and glamour: movie animal trainers often work long hours in difficult conditions, and the training process takes a lot of dedication and patience. And it’s more than just teaching an animal to perform or complete specific tasks.  Good animal trainers will need to be aware of laws and regulations surrounding animal care and welfare. They must have safety at the forefront of their minds - the safety of the animal, the people interacting with the animal, and their own. They need to understand animal behavior and be able to communicate the capabilities - and limitations - of specific breeds or species to producers and industry managers who may have unrealistic expectations.   

In fact, a lot of the work that animal trainers for film do is with humans.  Julie Tottman, a UK-based animal trainer who has worked on big projects like the Harry Potter films and Game of Thrones, told Refinery 29 that films where the actors frequently interact with the animals "require extensive one-on-one work."  Animal trainers will often work with the actors to help them bond with or overcome their fear of an animal costar. And trainers have to establish directions and rules for animal interaction.

Tottman says that it helps when the human actors are "really into the animal." But the emotional aspect of animal training can be another challenging aspect of the career. Animal trainers will often work closely with specific animals - both personally and professionally. And while the idea of having animal colleagues or working with your best fuzzy friend may sound like a dream come true, it's not always easy. When asked about his advice to aspiring animal trainers, Mark Dumas, whose worked on movies ranging from Best in Show to Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, told Dogster.com, “ I would say have a tough emotional stature because most animals have much shorter lifespans than humans and it can be hard to become so emotionally invested in animals only to lose them ten years later.”

These six careers are just the start when it comes to what you can do with an animal science degree. From wildlife rehabilitation to biotechnology, a passion for animals and sciences adds up to many exciting opportunities.

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Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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