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Bioscience Careers

Primatologist

Primatology is the study of nonhuman primates. It is a diverse discipline, and primatologists can be found in biology, anthropology, psychology and other departments. Some primatologists focus exclusively on nonhuman primates, while others study human primates as models for diseases or as part of complex ecosystems. Most people who identify themselves as primatologists hold postgraduate training, and these individuals come from a wide variety of fields and make up a diverse group. Primatologists include scientists, educators, conservationists, medical researchers and veterinarians, among others.

A recent survey of the American Society of Primatologists found that most individuals in the field come from the disciplines of anthropology, psychology, biology and veterinary science. Other represented fields include anatomy, biochemistry, genetics, medical science, pharmacology and physiology. Research interests include primate behavior; biomedical and reproduction studies; ecology and conservation; and animal husbandry.

Career Opportunities

Primatology offers a wide range of diverse careers. An academic position, such as a professor, is one of the most popular careers for a primatologist. It also is the most likely career for primatologists holding a Ph.D., as it includes teaching, research, writing research papers, supervising doctoral students, planning research programs and serving as part of the school’s administration. A professorship provides a great deal of freedom to primatologists because they can switch between teaching and conducting research. Primatologists also can obtain research positions, many of which include continuous work in the field or in a laboratory. These positions can involve anything from direct interaction with primates to perhaps studying their genetics. Typically, primatologists in a research position would work in both primatology research centers and in the wild studying primate behavior.

Primatologists also can obtain government, corporate and institutional positions. In these positions, a primatologist would conduct research, focusing on conservation and the necessity for primates both in research and in the wild. Positions available might include veterinary positions, research managers, behavioral scientists, academic positions, animal caregivers and supervisors, field assistants, environmental specialists and animal and environmental conservation positions.

Education/Training

Students interested in a career in primatology can choose from a variety of educational paths. In addition to the disciplines mentioned above, interested students may pursue undergraduate training in ecology, conservation biology, animal behavior, molecular biology, statistics, computer science, science education, journalism, science writing, bacteriology, virology, neuroscience, paleontology, geology, natural resource management and a variety of other fields. Students may seek postgraduate training at medical or veterinary schools, or at universities with programs in any of the academic disciplines listed above.

Despite the wide variety of educational tracks followed by primatologists, there are some common areas. A student interested in primatology will want to have a strong background in the biological sciences, with a focus on evolutionary biology. His or her education should promote computer literacy and familiarity with statistics as well as the development of good communication skills. Foreign languages will be useful, too, because primatology is an international field. Beyond these basic requirements, students should seek training in any area that will allow them to pursue their specific interests.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual salary for primatology-related careers ranged from $19,550 to $80,510 as of 2009.