As an entomologist, you study insects. You use science to identify, classify, and study insects and their relationships to plants and animal life. Your research plays a huge role in understanding ecosystems: how they function, how they are changing, and how best to protect them. You also play a large role in industries such as agriculture and forestry, and in managing insect populations to protect public health.

At a Glance

Imagine you are walking through a damp coastal forest searching for signs of insect damage on the leaves, stems, and barks of the forest's plants. You are an entomologist working for the provincial government's environment department and your specialty is forest entomology. You have been called out to examine this site after a routine aerial inspection and subsequent ground checks reported a possible insect infestation. You are here to determine what threat this infestation poses to the forest and what should be done to minimize the damage.

As an entomologist, you are an insect expert and you know how critical insects are to ecosystems. When you hear reports of infestations, you know it is never as simple as choosing an insecticide and spraying the affected area; it takes investigation and study to determine the proper course of action. In this case, you start by visiting the section of forest where damage has been reported and documenting the extent of the infestation. You also collect samples of the insects to take to the lab, where you will identify the specimens and determine if they are native to the area or an invasive species.

Infestations are treated differently based on their source, so it is important to know if these insects are normally found in the area or if they have somehow been introduced. Once the species has been identified, you turn your focus to other factors, such as determining what kind of threat the insect poses and to whom. Are these insects carrying diseases or destroying habitat and sources of food for other wildlife? Are there environmental conditions present that are driving this infestation? What effect will control measures have on the area? You will investigate all these questions and evaluate the situation carefully before making any decisions as to the best way to address the infestation and slow or stop the spread of this insect.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an entomologist:

  • Gather and study data on thousands of new and existing insect species.
  • Collect specimens and manage specimen banks.
  • Coordinate insect control programs to protect crops, forests, food supplies, and human health.
  • Conduct research and literature reviews to study insect biology, behaviour, and management.
  • Work with other scientists on related projects, for example developing insect resistance in crops or developing insect control measures.
  • Evaluate the results of control measures and prepare reports.
  • Develop models to map and predict insect outbreaks.

Work Environment

Entomologist work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
  • Developing and implementing management practices and policies to accomplish agency objectives
  • Researching new studies and advancements in entomology, and conducting literature reviews from scientific publications
  • Developing educational material, including workshops, for the public and other stakeholders

In the lab:

  • Processing and analyzing specimens

In the field:

  • Inspecting sites and collecting samples
  • Conducting experiments and research into insecticide effectiveness and environmental impacts

Where to Work

There are a number of places entomologists can find employment. They include:

  • Federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal government departments
  • Colleges and universities
  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Pest and disease-control organizations
  • Other industries, for example, pharmaceutical research, agriculture, and food production, and biotechnology companies
  • Museums
  • Self-employed consultant

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as an entomologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an entomologist is a university graduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an entomologist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Entomology
  • Ecology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Ecosystem Management
  • Toxicology

In most cases, it is not necessary to become certified in order to work as an entomologist, though most practitioners belong to provincial and national entomological societies. In some instances, entomologists working in industries such as forestry and agriculture must be registered professionals with their provincial associations. The requirements for certification and professional status vary among provinces.

Education and Skills

Sandy M. Smith

When I was in school I knew I wanted to observe the actions of living things. I liked to see responsive behaviour and originally intended to pursue microbiology. After looking at Petri dishes and through microscopes for awhile it was obvious that there wasn’t enough going on to keep me interested. I chose insects and I have been fascinated with them for the twenty-two years of my career. I needed a practical application for my education in entomology and I soon found it with Forestry Canada. A couple of years later I joined the University of Toronto and advanced from Adjunct to Assistant Professor and then to Associate Professor.

Through research, hard work, collaboration and sound scientific process I have been able to establish the respect of my colleagues and peers. One of the rewards of this occupation I value most is my autonomy. An entomologist with a doctorate can find employment opportunities in teaching at universities or colleges or research positions in government, private industry or environmental consulting non-governmental agencies. I need to be aware of research priorities, government policies and funding criteria. It is essential to anticipate the next question of importance so you are prepared with a proposal to meet those needs.

To do all this requires me to read constantly from scientific journals as well as the Internet. I also receive current research papers from the university library on topics of interest. Sometimes the amount of information is difficult to manage, however, it is important to keep your standards high. As a university professor, I see increasing pressure to perform better in terms of teaching, research and administration. An emerging trend is to separate the practicing professional working in the field from those that research and those that teach. As the demands on individuals increase, there will often be one person who focuses on teaching and one who focuses on research where before a single person covered those roles. My personal future will include research in other parts of the country where I hope to broaden the scientific basis of my work.

Know what you don’t like and you’ll find what you like. If you work hard and are good at what you do the job will come. Networking is a great way to make connections. The community of entomologists is small in Canada and even internationally so it is easy to get to know many of the people in this type of work. I am a professor at a university so my work is a balance of research and teaching roles. Daily tasks include writing research proposals for funding agencies, designing and setting up experiments, collecting data in the lab, analyzing and interpreting data, writing scientific papers for journals, reviewing other people’s journal papers and writing summaries and annual reports for funding agencies.

My teaching role involves classroom lecture, review of student graduate theses, administrative roles and setting academic programs. I get re-energized by the students. Their positive, critical approach is inspiring and makes me aware of the possibilities for my own learning During my career as an entomologist I have trained thirty-five graduate students in advanced degrees, published fifty-four refereed journal papers, provided a biological pest control alternative to practitioners, taught in over fifteen courses at the university and became President of the Entomological Society of Canada. I was fortunate to receive the C. Gordon Hewitt Award from the Entomological Society of Canada for "Outstanding Achievement in Entomology by an Individual Under 40 in Canada”. These accomplishments are a career-long contribution to the betterment of the environment.

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