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Zoology and Animal Biology - Overview


Zoology and animal biology programs teach people about animals and the systems that keep them alive. Students learn about their anatomy and behavior. They learn about molecular and cell structures.

Here are some amazing facts about nine-banded armadillos that even most people from Texas don't know: They have four babies at a time, all of the same sex. Their pregnancy lasts almost as long as an elephant's. They cross a small river by holding their breath and walking across the bottom. They can't curl up into a ball, although South American three-banded armadillos can.

In zoology and animal biology, you can study armadillos and many other strange or familiar animals. One zoology grad student planned to do his dissertation research in the tropics. But his funding fell through, so instead he studied the stray dogs of Baltimore. This is a very diverse field. It says something about the field that there is no one professional society that dominates and covers all branches of zoology. Instead, there are societies for those who specialize in birds, mammals, fish, wildlife, and so on.

To understand the life processes of animals, you study the inner workings of the cell. You learn about how genetics determine the characteristics of individuals. You study how genes are passed among a population and how they relate to evolution. You study ecology and learn about the flow of nutrients and energy in the food chain. You study how the bodies of animals are shaped by their particular needs. And you also learn about certain common principles of body design. Depending on your interests, you can also study how to maintain populations of wild animals at a healthy level.

As an undergraduate studying zoology and animal biology, you probably should not specialize in one group of animals and may not even have the chance to do so. You generally study a broad range of animals, and plants as well. The exception might be the field of wildlife biology. Wildlife biology is the study of wild vertebrate animals.

A bachelor's degree program usually takes four years of full-time study beyond high school. About 70 colleges offer such a program. Some biology programs may also offer specific concentrations or degrees in a subfield. Be sure to check schools for program availability if you wish to specialize early on.

Like other biology majors, zoology and animal biology gives you a strong background in laboratory sciences. You study biology, chemistry, and physics. These courses teach you basic methods of scientific research. You also study principles of genetics and learn how they explain inherited traits and evolution.

With a bachelor's degree, you may work in certain government jobs or in sales. These jobs usually are in nonresearch fields where you do not have much managerial responsibility. The degree can also be a pathway to veterinary, medical, or dental school. You may go on to graduate study in animal science or some other branch of biology. If you want to stay in the field of zoology and animal biology, you may seek an advanced degree with the goal of doing research or teaching in college. About 30 graduate schools offer the master's degree, and about the same number offer the doctorate. A master's usually requires two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's. The doctorate typically takes an additional three years. At the doctoral level, there is greater emphasis on learning research skills so that you can make contributions to science. You study experimental design and statistics. You undertake an original research project and write it up as your dissertation.

Graduate programs in zoology and animal biology are unusual in that they commonly have almost no specific course requirements. This reflects the diversity of the field. You choose a number of advanced courses in the specialization that interests you. It may be a particular group of animals. Or it may be an aspect of life, such as behavior, genetics, physiology, or development. Some of the courses are seminars in which you do research and report to the class. You also can expect to study research methods, including statistics. Scientific research is mostly quantitative, so you need to be able to process data from experiments and observations. The doctoral program climaxes in an original research project that you write up as your dissertation.

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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