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Entomologist


Description

Do you get grossed out when you see a spider or earwig crawling up your wall? Would you rather die than have to touch a beetle? Or does the spider's web and the inchworm's movement fascinate you? Are you the type that would take the initiative to build your own pet ant farm? If the latter two questions describe you, then entomology could be the perfect career for you.

Entomologists study the classification, life cycle and habits of insects and related life forms, and plan and implement insect surveys and pest management programs. They also investigate ways to control insect pests and manage beneficial insects such as plant pollinators, insect parasites and insect predators. Although bugs make some people want to gag, insects play an important role in our world. In fact, life depends on the existence of insects for producing basic food sources and other important factors.

Entomologists usually specialize in a particular field of study, such as applied agriculture and forest entomology, apiculture (bee culture), classification and evolution, insect ecology, insect physiology or insecticide toxicology. They often work with other scientists on joint projects such as developing crops resistant to insects, or containing animal and plant diseases caused by insects transmitting infectious organisms. Some also work with parasitologists and other microbiologists to help develop vaccines and medicine to combat insects that spread disease, such as the malaria-carrying anopheles mosquito.

Entomologists work in jobs that include teaching about insects, raising bees or other insect farms, enforcing quarantines and regulations, doing insect survey work, consulting on integrated pest management topics, selling insecticides, controlling pests, and conducting research on insect classification, taxonomy, biology, ecology, behavior, or control. Those working mainly in research will study the anatomy, habits, life histories, physiology, and classification of insects and investigate various types of chemical and biological controls.

Many entomologists are also involved with research in IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Basically, IPM is a system that utilizes all suitable pest control techniques and methods to keep pests below economically injurious levels. Each pest control technique must be carefully designed so that it is environmentally sound and is compatible with producer and user objectives. IPM is more than chemical pesticide management; it also includes biological, cultural and sanitary control practices.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Entomologists need the intellect, curiosity, creativity, patience and perseverance required to pursue answers to complex research questions about bugs. On a very general level, they are fascinated by bugs and enjoy studying the habits and effects the little creatures have on life. Insects are a complex scientific study, because there are thousands and thousands of species, therefore entomologists must also have a good memory. Entomologists must be able to work well both independently and as part of a team, and communicate effectively with colleagues and the general public.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study insect physiology, distribution and habitat and recommend methods of preventing the importation and spread of harmful insects
  • Investigate and evaluate the role of insect pests in forests, agriculture, human health and the environment
  • Study the evolution of insects and classify them using molecular and other techniques
  • Discover and describe new species of insects
  • Conduct research into the impact and control of insect pest problems
  • Develop and implement pest management programs in urban centers and to increase agricultural and forestry productivity and minimize losses due to insect pest outbreaks
  • Develop biological methods of controlling harmful insects (e.g. using pathogens, predators, parasites or genetic methods)
  • Conduct field and laboratory tests of pesticides to evaluate their effect on different species of insects under different conditions
  • Curate museum insect collections
  • Prepare publications that make it possible to identify insect, spider, mite and tick species
  • Coordinate public awareness and education programs
  • Entomologists may work more than a standard 40-hour week, particularly when involved in research studies. They work both indoors conducting experiments in laboratories and outdoors conducting field research. Field work can be strenuous and may require living in remote locations for extended periods of time. Safety precautions are required to avoid injury when handling poisonous or allergenic insects and toxic chemicals.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Entomologists are employed by governments, postsecondary institutions and museums. Pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing companies and large pest control companies also hire entomologists to conduct research and demonstrate new products for people in the agriculture, forestry and medical communities. A few entomologists are independent consultants who provide insect identification services, advise clients on insect control and/or conduct environmental impact assessments.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Long term advancement will depend on the entomologist's level of education. Graduates of bachelor's degree programs may be hired for technical positions in research programs, or entry-level jobs in forest health survey such as a program coordinator, food products inspector, or sales and customer service positions. A PhD will put entomologists in supervisory and management roles, leading research teams and teaching students at the university level. Some may be hired as researchers by the government and move into other related biological careers such as zoology or environmental biology.
 

  Educational Paths  
Many universities do not have a specialized entomology department, yet do offer courses in entomology therefore many get a general undergraduate degree in biology or zoology and then specialize in entomology at the post-graduate level. Research positions in universities, the government and industrial organizations require either a master's degree or in more cases, a doctorate. For those wishing to lead research teams or teach at the university level, a PhD is a requirement.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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