Ichthyology is the scientific study of fish, including their anatomy, behavior, environment, and interactions with other organisms. Professional ichthyologists conduct detailed field and laboratory research on various fish species and write scientific papers about their findings. Some scientists apply their expert knowledge in conservation efforts and fisheries management. A person who wants to become an ichthyologist can gain experience in research assistant positions and pursue an advanced degree in zoology, biology, or fish science. After earning a degree, a new scientist usually enjoys ample employment opportunities at private laboratories, universities, and government organizations.
An individual who believes that he or she wants to become an ichthyologist should carefully consider the responsibilities and personal traits of professionals in the field. The job can be very exciting at times, especially when scientists get to travel to exotic locations or make breakthroughs in research. Most of an ichthyologist's time, however, is spent examining specimens in laboratories, entering data into computers, and writing reports. In general, the career best suits people who are very detail-oriented, organized, hardworking, and truly interested in nature.
A bachelor's degree in biology or zoology is usually the minimum educational requirement to become an ichthyologist. A prospective student can investigate four-year universities with reputable science departments to determine which schools will provide the most opportunities to get started in the field. Classroom and laboratory-based courses in biology, chemistry, and environmental science introduce an undergraduate to the scientific method, terminology, and equipment used by ichthyologists. Many hopeful scientists apply for research assistant positions at university laboratories while pursuing their degrees to gain hands-on experience carrying out actual studies.
Some graduates with a bachelor's degree are able to find full-time field research positions, though an individual who wants to conduct independent studies typically needs to pursue an advanced degree. A two-year master's or four-year doctoral degree program in fish science or zoology can prepare a student to become an ichthyologist. A student typically spends the first half of a graduate program taking advanced lecture and laboratory courses in fish science. The second half is usually dedicated to practical independent research on a particular topic, such as the ecological impact of water pollution or fish genetics. A student presents research in the form of a thesis or dissertation in order to earn a degree.
Near graduation, a student can speak with his or her professors to get leads on potential job opportunities. He or she may be able to become an ichthyologist at a fishery, nonprofit environmental organization or government agency. Some scientists choose to work at universities, conducting research and teaching courses part-time. Most new ichthyologists begin their careers as assistants to established professionals to gain practical experience in the field. With experience, a scientist can begin designing and carrying out independent studies.