Entomologist Career Profile

Butterfly on flower
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Entomologists are biological scientists who specialize in the study of insects.

Duties

An entomologist’s specific duties can vary widely based on the nature of their employment.

Entomologists involved in research may be responsible for designing research studies, caring for the insect subjects, supervising laboratory assistants, recording data, analyzing data, preparing reports, and publishing study findings in professional scientific journals for peer review.

Researchers may be involved in commercial, private, or government work. Studies may take place in the lab or in the field (fieldwork often involves extensive travel).

Entomologists involved in education may be responsible for teaching courses, grading exams, designing lab activities, supervising student research, mentoring graduate students, and pursuing their own research goals. Entomologists employed as college professors seek to publish their research findings, as success in publishing is usually a requirement to secure tenure. Other entomological educators may be employed in public education positions at zoos, museums, or health organizations.

Career Options

Entomologists may find employment with universities, laboratories, research groups, zoos, museums, private or governmental agricultural entities, military agencies, public health organizations, biotechnology firms, and other organizations.

Most entomologists specialize by studying a specific species or group of insects such as bees, butterflies, beetles, or ants. An entomologist who works with bees could choose to narrow their focus to specialize in working with a single species, such as honeybees. They can then specialize even further by studying behavior, nutrition, reproduction, disease transmission, or pest management issues related to their specific species of interest.

Other options for employment include pursuing career paths such as forensic entomology (using insect evidence to assist police investigations) or entomological paleontology (studying insect fossils and evolution).

Education & Training

Entomologists must achieve (at minimum) a Bachelor’s degree in entomology or a related field in the biological sciences. Once they have completed their undergraduate degree, most entomologists go on to pursue graduate level studies at the M.S. or Ph.D. level. Entomologists with graduate level degrees tend to have more options for employment in the field, and graduate degrees are usually required for senior research positions or college teaching roles.

Entomology degrees usually involve coursework in insect anatomy, physiology, reproduction, behavior, genetics, taxonomy, life cycles, evolution, population dynamics, parasitology, ecological impact, biological control, and toxicology. Additional coursework for the degree may include classes in statistics, general biology, ecology, and chemistry.

Undergraduate entomology programs are offered at a number of major colleges and universities including Cornell, Iowa State, University of Delaware, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, Texas A&M, University of California-Davis, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Many other colleges offer minors in the field that also prepare their biological science students to pursue this career path at the graduate level.

The Entomological Society of America is a membership group that (with 6,400 members) bills itself as the largest entomological society in the world. The ESA offers two certification paths: board certification and associate certification. Board certified entomologists (BCEs) must pass two comprehensive exams and generally have completed entomology degrees at the graduate level. Associate certified entomologists (ACEs) must pass one comprehensive exam; these entomologists tend to work in the pest control field.

Salary

The salary for an entomologist can vary widely based on the scientist’s level of education, years of experience, and area of specialization.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a separate category for entomologist salary data, it does record salary data for zoologists and wildlife biologists--fields which are closely related to the field of entomology. The most recent BLS salary survey reported that zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a mean annual wage of $61,660 in 2010. The lowest 10 percent of zoologists and wildlife biologists earned less than $35,660 while the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,450.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that the rate of employment for all biological scientists will increase at a much faster rate than the average for all occupations: a strong 20% gain through 2018. As a subset of the biological science field, entomology should also be expected to grow.

Entomologists holding graduate degrees, especially doctoral degrees, will continue to have the greatest number of employment opportunities in the field.