Everyone needs to begin their career somewhere. If you think that the above skills and abilities resonate with who you are, and that the role of taxonomist sounds right up your street, then maybe it’s time to think about how to get started in this profession. The following section outlines the steps to becoming a taxonomist. 

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Step 1: Determine if it’s the right job for you

Take careful time to assess if taxonomy is the right career path for you. There is a lot of training involved, so you want to be sure that you have made the right decision. For a good fit, not only will the role sound interesting and make sense from the perspective of salary and hours, but your natural skills — and the ones you enjoy using — should fit with what it takes to be a taxonomist. Think about whether your values and aspirations fit what is expected of the role. It obviously helps if you have a passing interest in life sciences too!

Another good resource to use to understand which roles are a good fit with your skillset and interests is a career assessment. One example is CareerHunter’s six-test assessment. This assessment is created by organizational psychologists and asks you questions based on your career and training, as well as other factors that shape a career. Based on this, you get a result which matches you with jobs and training. This approach will enable you to make the most out of your career. 

Step 2: Focus on the right subjects at school

Becoming a qualified taxonomist will involve higher education, and so preparing for this will mean that you have to carefully consider which subjects to focus on at school. Naturally, the sciences will be a good place to start — not just life sciences or biology, but chemistry and physics as well. Physics often involves learning how to structure experiments and formulate research.

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Other good subjects would be English language and mathematics to support the statistical and analytical elements of the role. If you have the opportunity to study it, Latin can be useful because of how biological classifications are written.

Step 3: Earn a bachelor’s degree

There are several good subjects to major in at university if you continue your journey to become a taxonomist. A bachelor’s degree in biology or life sciences would be a great fit, but degrees in another science (especially physics, as discussed above), ecology, botany, statistics or even mathematics, would be equally beneficial. There are many universities that are renowned for degrees in this area, so it’s worth looking around when considering where to go.

Step 4: Pursue further training

Whereas you can start your practical training to become a taxonomist as soon as you have graduated with a bachelor’s degree (or even earlier, as a school leaver), it is advisable to carry on with higher education and look at obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree (PhD). These degrees would be focused on a major in taxonomy.

The reason further education is important is that firstly, it makes your résumé stand out from the crowd. You will not only have the right credentials, but you will also demonstrate professional credibility. Completing your higher education will also dramatically increase your earning power. Companies and organizations will be more willing to offer high salaries to those candidates who can demonstrate a good understanding of the taxonomist discipline. 

Final thoughts

Being a taxonomist can be a tremendously rewarding role. Not only will you be helping the public and the scientific community advance their understanding of life, but you could also be instrumental in discovering and categorizing new species.

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At the end of the day, taxonomy is a critical element of science, and as such, you need to ensure that the role is right for you and that you concentrate on the correct subjects at school and at university. Research the role and what you will be doing. This way, you can make an informed decision about taxonomy as a career and put your best foot forward in getting started in this really interesting profession. Good luck!


This is an updated version of an article originally published on 22 October 2014.