Career Focus: What You Need to Know About Becoming an Entomologist

Insects, such as spiders, ants and bees, give some people the creeps. A 2019 survey from Chapman University revealed that 25.7 percent of respondents admitted to fearing insects and arachnids.

Although some prefer to stay far away from these critters, others are captivated by these living creatures. Certain professionals study these insects closely to learn more about them. If you love seeing, observing and discovering various types of insects, a career as an entomologist may be the right path for you.

What is an Entomologist?

Entomologists collect valuable data from insects by studying them up close. Photo by Oregon State University via Flickr Creative Commons

An entomologist is an individual who focuses specifically on the scientific study of insects. Many of these professionals specialize in one branch of insect. An entomologist who specializes in ants, for instance, is a myrmecologist, while a person specializing in the study of wasps is a vespologist.

Entomologists study the habits, life cycle and classification of insects. They’ll often team up with other scientists and professionals on joint projects, such as producing pest-resistant crops that will benefit farmers.

What’s more, an entomologist studies insects and their relationship with the environment, humans, animals and other organisms. This study forms the building blocks for developments in biological diversity, food production, biological and chemical pest control and a range of other fields in science.

These insect-focused scientists can work in various organizations, including government agencies, educational institutions, and research firms.

Duties and Responsibilities of an Entomologist

An entomologist can have a lot of tasks on their plate. The job typically requires the ability to do the following duties:

  • Create and perform experiments with insects or a specific type of insect in natural or controlled surroundings
  • Explain findings by writing research papers, scholarly articles and reports
  • Gather and analyze insect specimen and biological data
  • Monitor, estimate and manage insect population
  • Evaluate the characteristics of insects, including movement patterns, reproduction, diseases and interactions with other species
  • Maintain, research and initiate insect breeding programs

The specific duties of an entomologist will depend on the nature of their employment. Entomologists working as college professors, for instance, will need to have their research findings published, as success in publishing is often a requirement in securing job tenure. Those involved in other areas of education may be responsible for mentoring graduate students, monitoring student research, coming up with lab activities for students, and designing and grading exams.

Types of Entomologists

Entomology provides a range of career possibilities. A few types of entomologists you could pursue are the following:

Research Entomologist

Individuals holding this occupation are experts in the evolution, classification and identification of insects. Pursuing a career in research entomology means that you’ll be spending a majority of your time in the lab testing theories, developing hypotheses, studying specimens and conducting experiments. You could also be out in the field looking for undiscovered insect species.

You’ll then publish your findings to the scientific community or host lectures to educate fellow entomologists.

Medical Entomologist

This career path is for people who love insects and are interested in the field of health and wellness. Many insects, such as mosquitoes, can transmit potentially transmit life-threatening illnesses like dengue and malaria. As a medical entomologist, your job is to study the dangers of these disease-spreading bugs and come up with ways to reduce the threats they pose to people.

The specific duties of medical entomologists differ from one employer to another. These professionals, for instance, may need to work overseas to offer advice eliminating an insect threat.

Forensic Entomologist

Insects may serve as valuable allies for crime scene professionals, private investigators and other law enforcement personnel investigating everything from health code violations to car accidents and homicides. The job of this entomologist is to identify insects related to crimes and assist authorities in solving these crimes.

You may be required to take on one or more of the following duties:

  • Inspect insect stings or bites on auto accident victims to find out if the bug caused the driver to lose control
  • Identify necrophagous critters present in a homicide scene to determine the victim’s time of death
  • Consult with law enforcement about your findings
  • Share your findings in court as an expert witness

Agricultural Entomologist

Although insects can be helpful to investigators, they are unfortunately a nightmare for farmers. Your responsibility as an agricultural entomologist is to study common crop pests, such as beetles and aphids. You’ll also need to develop ways to minimize the presence of pests and mitigate the damage they cause on the field. A government agency or private company may hire you to offer your expertise in insect physiology to help these organizations develop new pesticides.

Structural Entomologist

Insects aren’t just present in farms. You can find them in human dwellings, such as houses and commercial establishments. Structural entomologists study bugs present in buildings, such as termites and cockroaches. They research ways to stop these pests from coming in and figure you how to eliminate them once they’re settled inside a particular dwelling.

Skills and Competencies Required from an Entomologist

An aspiring entomologist should not feel squeamish around spiders and other insects. Photo by Philipp Lansing on Unsplash

You need to possess certain skills and qualities if you want to pursue a career as an entomologist. A few of them are the following:

Comfortable with Insects

An entomologist should not feel squeamish around bugs. They must be willing to handle these critters along with their byproducts.

Communication Skills

Entomologists should possess this practical skill. They need the ability to explain their findings verbally and in writing to students, policymakers, academics and other stakeholders.

Observation Skills

Insect science is a field that requires observing and noting down details regarding an insect’s appearance, environment and behavior.

Critical Thinking Skills

An entomologist should be able to arrive at conclusions from data gathered from experiments, observations and research.

How to Become a Successful Entomologist

A bachelor’s degree is necessary to land an entry-level position in the field of entomology. Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels

Anyone interested in pursuing this career should remember that this profession could be physically and mentally demanding. They’ll be studying bugs in remote areas and sometimes under inclement weather conditions. If you believe that a career in entomology is right up your alley, take note of these success tips:

Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in entomology is the minimum education level necessary to land an entry-level job in this field. An entomology degree program will likely cover a range of topics, including insect physiology and biology, veterinary entomology, aquatic entomology, insect taxonomy, pest management, morphology and insect-borne diseases.

Earn an Advanced Degree

Getting an advanced degree may give you better career opportunities, as higher job positions in the field usually require a relevant master’s degree. A Ph.D., for instance, may be required if you want to work in academia or research.

You can find and enroll in several entomology programs at the graduate level. Students in these programs have the option to take up various specializations, including population dynamics, insect pathology, evolutionary biology and pest management. Standard coursework typically consists of pest suppression, the biology of adult and immature insects, insect ecology and toxicology. Some master’s programs offer non-thesis and thesis options depending on the university you chose.

Consider Earning Certifications

Entomologists looking to set themselves apart can earn voluntary professional certification. The Entomological Society of America (ESA), for instance, allows entomologists with a formal education in the field to obtain a Board-Certified Entomologist (BCE) credential.

The process of getting a certification entails passing a general exam together with a minimum of one specialty exam that covers topics in pesticides, plant-related entomology, industrial or urban entomology and medical and veterinary entomology.

Join Professional Entomology Organizations

Professional organizations, such as the ESA and the Society of Southwestern Entomologists, can give entomologists access to valuable continuing education options. They can also provide additional memberships, including access to professional development resources and opportunities to present and publish research.

Becoming an entomologist can be a rewarding experience. As an insect scientist, you can discover how beneficial insects contribute to the well-being of plants, animals and people. What’s more, entomology is vital to the understanding of human diseases, ecology, agriculture, evolution and biodiversity.

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