So what does it take to be a good wildlife biologist? I have some suggestions. These are qualities I tend to look for when hiring people for field tech positions—and the qualities I strive to personally improve upon all the time. This is certainly not a complete list but a good start.
2. Flexibility. Wildlife is unpredictable. So collecting data on wildlife is unpredictable. A lot of what we do as biologists is trial and error. Changes in plans, protocols, and scheduling is common—so if you are not ok with that, you are in the wrong field.
3. Good thinker. Although some jobs are very straight forward—go check these traps—many require some extra thought. If you can’t think on your feet to solve a problem or make a decision in the field you might run into problems in this field. Plus, if you plan to go on to higher degrees, a creative researcher mind is very important—but something that can develop with experience.
4. Passion. You won’t make a ton of money doing this work. So you’d better love the work. And I’m not just talking about how cute and cuddly animals are (even though they are!)—we do this to make a difference in wildlife conservation and management. We do get perks though—we travel to amazing places, get to be outside, meet wonderful people, and get to work up close and personal with wildlife. But the perks shouldn’t be the sole reason for getting into this field.
7. Communication and social skills. If you don’t understand how to do something—ask. If you don’t know why you are doing something—ask. If you are having trouble with a crew leader or co-worker, talk to them or someone else who can help. Ask how you are doing and how you can improve. You also have to be able to live and work in close quarters with others—peacefully. Not to mention how important it is in our field to be able to explain what we do and why (verbally and written)—to anyone in the scientific community or someone who doesn’t know what a robin looks like. And who you know and the impression you make on them is also important--networking can lead to the perfect job. Oftentimes people in this field prefer wildlife over people--but people are just not avoidable because they are part of the problem, and a huge part of the solution!
8. Physical fitness. The work can be long and demanding and in bad weather conditions. Think about doing 3 mile owl transect surveys in 3ft of snow. You might have to hike over a mountain every day just to get to your field site. Or kayak to work each day. Or lift 50lb deer carcasses. Backpack into the backcountry with a heavy pack. Sounds like fun? Good.
9. No fear (although a sense of caution is important). Venomous snakes, alligators, lions, tigers, and bears—oh my! We work with wild animals—and some can cause some serious damage. Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Hypothermia. Heat exhaustion. Spiders, mosquitoes, and biting flies. Poison oak, poison ivy, and thorny plants. Bot flies. Intestinal parasites. West Nile disease. Lyme disease. Graduate school advisers. Wildlife biologists often take risks.
10. Finally—a good biologist is ok with NOT KNOWING but has enthusiasm for learning and a desire to contribute to scientific knowledge. If you go to graduate school you will probably feel stupid 80% of the time. We conduct research to find answers—but its not that straight forward. We find support for theories, but its usually not proof. And although most people will never argue with a doctor or architect about how they do their job—many people will argue with a scientist, especially wildlife biologists. Take climate change for example... ::rolls eyes::