Education and Training: Doctoral degree
Salary: Median—$51,200 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Entomologists are biological scientists who study insects. There are nearly a million known species of insects, and thousands of new species are discovered every year. Insects make up over three-quarters of all the species of animals. All insects play roles in ecosystems. Some roles are beneficial and some harmful to humans. Bees, for example, pollinate plants and produce honey. Many other insects help bacteria and fungi break down organic matter and form soil. Some insects damage growing crops and spoil harvests in storage. This causes farms to lose millions of dollars every year in the United States. They can also physically harm humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife. For instance, females of some species of Anopheles mosquitoes carry the causative agent of malaria and can transmit it to humans. Beetles can wipe out entire forests. An insect known as the screw-worm fly kills thousands of cattle each year.
Some entomologists study insects to learn more about their basic life processes. Others direct their research toward finding ways to control harmful insects and use desirable insects to advantage.
Entomologists are specialized zoologists or animal biologists. Their field is known as entomology. About one-third of all entomologists work for government agencies in fields such as agriculture and food inspection. Others are employed by colleges and universities. Companies that make insecticides, pest control companies, medical centers, and museums also employ entomologists.
Although their jobs vary widely, most entomologists do some research or laboratory work. They may study the life cycles and body processes of insects as well as their group behavior. They use scientific instruments and sometimes collect or observe insects in their natural habitats. They are often assisted by biological technicians or pest control workers.
Entomologists are searching for ways to control or eliminate pests in infested areas without destroying other forms of life. Instead of using deadly poisons, they are developing ways to trap insects or to sterilize them so that they cannot reproduce. They are helping to develop crops that are insect resistant. Entomologists are also experimenting with ways to use birds or harmless insects to control the population of destructive insects. Entomologists must have knowledge of related fields, including horticulture, genetics, physiology, forestry, and microbiology. They often work closely with other scientists, such as plant pathologists, who are experts in plant disease, or with veterinarians.
Education and Training Requirements
You generally need a doctoral degree to become an entomologist. You can major in entomology, biology, or zoology as an undergraduate and continue with a specialized study of insects in graduate school. Graduates with bachelor's degrees can find jobs as inspectors of food products, advanced biological technicians, or sales representatives for firms that make insecticides. However, their opportunities for advancement are limited. Those who have earned a master's degree in entomology are qualified for some jobs in teaching or applied research. You usually need a doctoral degree for a job as an administrator or for a teaching and research position at a university. It takes about four years to earn a bachelor's degree and another one or two years to earn a master's degree. You must spend about two or three additional years in school to get a doctoral degree. In order to keep up with new developments in your field, you should continue to study throughout your career.
Getting the Job
Your professors and college placement office may be able to give you information about getting a job as an entomologist. Professional journals, newspaper classifieds, and job banks on the Internet are good sources of job openings. You can also apply directly to colleges and universities, private firms, and government agencies that conduct research concerning insects and insect control. You may have to pass a civil service examination to get a government job.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
There are many advancement opportunities for entomologists, especially for those who have a doctoral degree. They can become directors of research in government agencies or private firms. Those who work in universities can advance to the rank of full professor. Some entomologists start their own consulting or pest control businesses. Others become recognized for important discoveries that result from their research.
Although entomology is a rather small field with a narrow range of issues, there are still many unsolved problems in insect control. Although past research has led to the successful control of insects, more research is necessary as insects and diseases continue to adapt to pesticides and as soil fertility and water quality deteriorate due to the use of harmful chemicals. Both government and private industry are expected to devote funds to research into these issues. The job outlook is good through the year 2014 for entomologists with advanced degrees. Entomologists will also be needed to replace workers who retire or leave the field for other reasons. There will be keen competition for teaching jobs in colleges and universities.
Working conditions for entomologists depend on the type of job. Many spend part of their time in offices and classrooms. Research entomologists usually work in well-lighted, well-equipped laboratories. Those who work with dangerous chemicals and insects must follow safety rules. Entomologists who work and consult with farmers spend much of their time on farms. Entomologists may have to inspect grain elevators or the holds of ships. Other entomologists may find themselves in remote lands studying rare insects or looking for new species. Entomologists involved in pest control may face strong odors and other unpleasant conditions at times. Working hours vary and are often flexible. Entomologists may work more than forty hours per week, especially on field trips or when experiments need to be monitored around the clock. In addition, entomologists must spend time reading and studying to keep up with new scientific developments that affect their work.
Entomologists must have an aptitude for science. They must have the patience to carry out carefully designed experiments over long periods of time. They should be creative and curious to explore new areas in the study of insects. Entomologists should be able to work both independently and as part of a scientific team. They also need to be able to clearly express themselves orally and in writing.
Where to Go for More Information
Entomological Society of America
10001 Derekwood Lane, Ste. 100
Lanham, MD 20706-4876
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings depend on the education and experience of the entomologist, the location, and the kind of job. Entomologists are often grouped with plant scientists when looking at earnings. The median annual earnings of plant scientists was $51,200 in 2004. Entomologists generally receive such benefits as paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.