A degree in natural history is a step in the ladder of becoming an expert on ancient animals and plants. Natural history combines the concepts of biology with the study of the past. Students of natural history study the plants and animals that existed on the earth long ago.
Natural history students also study the relationships of species based on their origins, as well as the history of science itself. Many museums are dedicated to the relics discovered and studied by natural historians. Millions of people every year visit these museums to see how animals and plants evolved and adapted to different conditions. Natural historians use observation far more than other “hard” sciences rather than experimentation.
Degrees in natural history are usually conferred through a college’s biology department, although some universities have their own natural history departments. The curriculum begins with two years of core classes including history, biology, chemistry, and mathematics, as well as writing. Although each school is different, most colleges require language study or other electives to support learning in your upper division classes.
Your last two years will be taken up with biology, anthropology, botany, zoology, chemistry, geology and other science classes as well as upper-division math, research, and related classes. You may wish to continue your study of language, or you may decide to take classes toward a minor in another field.
Natural historians examine the world to determine the relationships between organisms, how they developed and evolved, and how they interact with their environment. Many of the job opportunities for natural historians are in museums. Natural historians are employed as consultants and experts in museums that feature natural history displays, and may also conduct seminars or educational activities for adults or children.
Natural historians may also work in research capacities for museums or universities, or they may take teaching positions at universities or colleges. Teaching natural history usually requires a PhD, although some natural history professors have master’s degrees. A four-year degree is sufficient to work in a museum, although many natural historians go on to attain higher degrees so they can take better jobs or move up in their current positions.
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a specific division for natural historians, it does list zoologists and wildlife biologists as a job classification. The median annual salary for these jobs is listed at $57,430 with a bachelor’s degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also lists museum curators with a median annual salary of $42,310. It is reasonable to assume that the median annual salary of a natural historian will fall somewhere between these two amounts.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the job growth outlook for zoologists and wildlife biologists is seven percent between 2010 and 2020, although this is based on projected budget cuts for many federal and state programs. The job growth rate for museum curators is much higher, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics listing a project 16 percent growth between 2010 and 2020. Natural history jobs will probably tend to follow museum curator rates rather than biologist rates given the nature of the job. Natural historians are closely tied to museums in many cases, so it seems reasonable to equate museum job growth with that of opportunities in natural history.
If you have a love of history and science, or if you are interested in the evolutionary biological processes of plants and animals, you may be interested in a career in natural history. Whether you decide to teach, work in a museum or study in a research capacity, natural history can be an exciting and fulfilling career choice.