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Degree Overview: Graduate Degree Program in Ethology

Majors Overview April 25, 2015

The study of animal behavior is referred to as ethology. Instead of offering graduate programs in ethology, schools commonly offer them as graduate programs in animal behavior. Get information about graduate degree programs in animal behavior and their education requirements, coursework, career choices, and job and wage outlook.

Information on Ethology Program

Bachelor’s degree holders interested in the field can avail master’s and doctoral programs in animal behavior offered by many schools. The study of animal biology and psychology is available in these programs. Students in master’s degree programs spend the most time on the observation and analysis of animal behaviors.

In-depth research in a specialized area may be available in Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in Animal Behavior; these areas include animal ecology. Master’s degree graduates can seek career positions such as field researcher or wildlife biologist while Ph.D. program graduates may seek careers in academia or research.

Master’s Programs in Animal Behavior

Many schools offer — through their psychology department — interdisciplinary animal behavior master’s degree programs that combine psychology and biology. Students learn about applications of psychological principles to the social and cultural interactions of animals and humans. Live observations of animals in wildlife sanctuaries, laboratories, or zoos are performed by students enrolled in some programs.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold an undergraduate degree. Most schools prefer applicants with prior coursework in biology or psychology. In many instances, schools may admit students without relevant coursework if they possess a strong undergraduate record and submit acceptable Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.


Extensive coursework that involves the application of psychological principles to the study of animals augments psychology coursework. Core coursework may often feature laboratory components, which may cover topic areas such as:

•Behavioral ecology
•Comparative psychology
•Behavioral psychology

Career Choices

Those who complete animal behavior master’s degree programs can seek employment in many ethology fields at universities, research facilities, and zoos. They may seek job titles such as:

•Conservation biologist
•Animal curator
•Wildlife biologist
•Field researcher

Ph.D. Programs in Animal Behavior

Students enrolled in animal behavior programs at the Ph.D. level can develop research skills required for the analysis and interpretation of the actions of wild or domestic animals. The focus of their studies may be on types of animals, such as mammals or birds. Often, students may opt for specializations that focus on a facet of behavior, such as evolution, domestication, or foraging. It takes an average of five years for students to complete these programs, which are devised to train them for research and teaching positions.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree. Schools prefer candidates who have some professional experience in an ethology field and a strong history of research and coursework. Students are expected to have completed a combination of courses in genetics, statistics, ecology, animal behavior, and psychology.


Students specialize in a particular focus area and also write their dissertation about it. Core coursework may include topic areas such as the following:

•Cognitive psychology
•Animal ecology
•Animal behavior analysis methods

Career Choices

These professionals may choose from career options such as zoologist or wildlife biologist.

Job and Wage Outlook

Over the 2010 – 2020 decade, job growth rate of 7% have been predicted for ethologists (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). In May 2012, wildlife biologists and zoologists, who perform similar work to ethologists, brought in an average annual wage of $57,710 (BLS).

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