BlogScienceHow to Become a Biologist – Experiences of a Wildlife Conservation Biologist

How to Become a Biologist – Experiences of a Wildlife Conservation Biologist

Are you studying Biology in high school? Or perhaps you’re in the faculty of Science at university and you’re interested in the field of biology!

Biology spans far and wide from biomedicine to investigative science. But for today, we’ve talked to Wildlife and Conservation Biologist, Michael Weston, to hear what a biologist does in his field.

Let’s find out!

Meet Michael
What is a Biologist?
Steps to Becoming a Biologist
Future Outlook
Best Thing & Worst Thing
Advice for Aspiring Biologists

Meet Michael

Michael is an Associate Professor at Deakin University and has experience in research and fieldwork as a Wildlife and Conservation Biologist. 

As an Associate Professor, Michael also mentors Honours and PHD research students.

“My main interest is about trying to achieve sustainable coexistence between people and wildlife, so I’m interested in finding that balance between people and wildlife. Really that’s a process of conservation and trying to understand how we can have both large populations, but also leave enough room for the wildlife in our world. 

“So animals, and in particular birds, in how they respond to the presence of humans in their environment,” Michael said. 

Studies and Experience

Michael studied a Bachelor of Science majoring in Psychology and Zoology at the University of Melbourne, where he was able to merge the two areas of study together.

I didn’t have a lot of direction when I was young, but my course advisor on the first day of uni said, ‘You should try Biology’… because I mentioned that I loved being outside and loved exploring new places. So I did it, and I was totally hooked from the first class!” Michael said. 

He gained experience with a number of different bird and wildlife organisations, including Birdlife Australia, not only in Australia, but across the world!

What made you want to work in this industry?

I did as much Psychology as I did Zoology, and I thought why not bring them together into some sort of animal behaviour? So I did! My interest emerged late and I travelled around Australia for a year and discovered that I loved birds. It almost became such a natural link that I hadn’t realised my interests were overlapping,” Michael said.

What is a Biologist?

A biologist is someone that studies and researches a specific area of science, specifically anatomy, environment, wildlife, physiology and more. 

The work of a Biologist is particularly broad and can encapsulate a number of different jobs and areas of expertise. Essentially it’s about understanding the biology of how humans and life came to be, it’s about people and animals; how they behave and respond to different environments. 

Roles and Responsibilities

Depending on your position as a Biologist you might find yourself in a laboratory almost every day, or rather out in the environment researching and gathering information.

“In my day to day life, I’m both an active teacher of students, and I do lots of my own research, a lot of which is with research students. I have this sort of wonderful mixture of doing research which aims to create a positive change in the world and if I’m not doing that I’m teaching students,” Michael explained.

My field research can take me all over the world. So I’ve worked in Sri Lanka, China, South Korea, Africa… most of it is, of course, in Australia. But it’s enabled me to travel the world and work with people in different countries to try and find better solutions for wildlife and people.”

Which industries can this career be found in?

The term Biologist is incredibly broad because you can enter an immense pool of industries with an education in Biology. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Medicine
  • Agriculture and forestry
  • Not-for-profit sector
  • Construction and development
  • Telecommunications
  • Scientific professions
  • Government 
  • Education
  • Research

Characteristics and Qualities

What Does a Biologist Do? - Characteristics

The top 5 areas of knowledge you need to become a Biologist are:

  1. Biology
  2. Mathematics
  3. Chemistry
  4. English
  5. Computers/Electronics

In terms of skills, you need to be an active learner, be a clear speaker, skills in reading and writing, and scientific understanding. 

As work in Biology is often quite collaborative, it’s also important to have confident oral and written expression alongside comprehension. This means being able to understand research and communicate ideas both verbally and written.

Being a Biologist would involve a range of indoor and outdoor activities, meaning you’re often out doing fieldwork and first hand research. Of course, this depends on the area of biology you’re heading into.

Generally speaking, however, you’ll be collecting and organising research and information, conducting investigations, analysing research for changes, and maintaining a current knowledge base on the topic at hand.

Steps to Becoming a Biologist

What should you study?

To become a Biologist it’s common to study any sort of Bachelor’s degree in the faculty of Science, and often your interest or chosen major will steer you into a specific area of Biology. 

Here are some options for universities you can pursue a Bachelor of Science at in order to become a Biologist:

How long does it take to become a Biologist?

Realistically, with enough experience and interning during your degree, you can land yourself a job in Biology as a university graduate. However, these are generally starting jobs and over years of experience and further exploration of the field, you’ll likely find yourself moving jobs and job positions. 

Michael worked as a Research Conservation Manager where part of his job was hiring research students. It was this role that led him to pursue academia and become a university professor. 

“Teaching has become a real passion for me, and I’m learning new ways of doing things in research that I can bring into the classroom,” Michael mentioned. 

Industry Knowledge

As a Biologist you’ll be using a range of different tools and systems that can aid your research and representation of information. 

In wildlife and conservation, Michael uses Geographical Information System (GIS) Mapping programs.

However, with recent changes in technology, this kind of work is more commonly completed with coding, specifically in R. There are also certain statistical softwares, but like GIS mapping, it is mostly now completed in R. 

What will this career look like in the future?

How in-demand is this career?

A career in the Biology industry continues to have a consistent demand, particularly with evolving technologies and in the area of biomedicine. 

Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?

With the Biology industry there are a range of different opportunities to continue growing and expanding throughout your career, particularly as you gain more experience and knowledge within a specific career. 

Even if you do find yourself moving to the end of the ranks, there are always new pathways and specialisations for you to explore as a Biologist. 

I worked in natural conservation for 17 years in birds with that organisation. I progressed to the top and I really just wanted a new challenge!” Michael discussed.


SalaryFuture GrowthSkill Level Rating
$93,000+Stable over the next 5 yearsVery high skill

Influential Trends

Like everything in our world, technology has a substantial impact on the Biology industry. As previously mentioned, shifts from GIS mapping and statistical software to coding languages like R, changed the way in which Biologists record and present their research.

The Future of this Industry

Michael said, “There are lots of environmental forecasts in the future and lots of different and new types of roles coming in. I think there’s been some big changes that we’ve seen pan out with adaptation to a changing climate, so we’re seeing lots and lots of opp around disaster management like bushfire, flood, coastal sea level rise, and a lot more focus on people trying to understand how we can adapt to this changing world.

“As we put more and more stress on the natural world we need to find ways to avoid and fix the damage that we’re doing.”

Best Thing & Worst Thing

What do you enjoy most about this job?

What Does a Biologist Do? - Quote

I particularly enjoy working with my students. They’re energetic, enthusiastic and they’re going to be delivering the solutions the world needs,” Michael shared.

What do you feel is the worst part of this job?

It can mean a lot of time away from home… For me extended times from home can be the best and the worst. 

If you’re in the field there’s always challenges… it might rain or you can’t find the animals. I’ve made a trip to Sri Lanka and we couldn’t find the elephants!” Michael said. 

Advice for Aspiring Biologists

What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?

“My advice would be just to go for it and don’t be worried about what other people think about your prospects for success. If you work hard, apply yourself, make sure you genuinely want to learn, then you will succeed.

Calm the farm and enjoy the experience!” Michael said. 

Why should people consider taking on this career?

Michael said, “Firstly, study hard and learn, but also go out there and volunteer — there’s lots of opportunities to get hands on experience… so if you’re getting out there and getting those skills, even just planing a tree, whatever it is, that’s greatly encouraged!

When I was hiring young people I would look at their CVs and if they had volunteer experience I knew they were passionate in what they were doing.”

Job Flexibility

In Michael’s position as a Conservation Biologist, his role involves time for fieldwork, which can mean travelling across the globe. 

“My job is always changing and there’s always a challenge to overcome. I really enjoy that, but it’s not a job that you can clock on at 9 and clock off at 5,” Michael said.

If you prefer office hours and being able to structure your time at work separately from time at home, perhaps a role in laboratory work is more suited towards you. Essentially there can be flexibility if you choose a role in Biology that permits it. 

What is the workplace culture like?

Working as a Biologist most often translates to working in a team of researchers. So you would expect a highly collaborative and productive workplace culture whereby you are constantly sharing new research, reports and other informative findings. 

Check out what it’s like as a Marine Biologist here!

Nandini Dhir is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Marketing) and a Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Media and Communications), as a Dalyell Scholar, at Sydney University. She enjoys covering local issues in her area and writing about current events in the media. Nandini has had one of her pieces published in an article with the Sydney Morning Herald. In her free time, Nandini loves doing calligraphy, ballet, and sewing, or is otherwise found coddling her cats.   

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