Frequently asked questions


1. What major should I choose in college if I am interested in going to graduate school in primatology or interested in a primatology career?

Primatologists come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, depending on the area of the field in which they work. Some common undergraduate degrees for primatologists include anthropology, zoology/biology, psychology, and veterinary medicine. The major you select should provide the background you will need to pursue your particular area of interest in the field. For example, if you are interested in behavioral studies, psychology might be an appropriate major, while if you want to care for primates in a zoo or research center, you might pick a degree in veterinary medicine.

Primate Info Net offers several resources for helping you choose the best major for your interests. You can read testimonials written by primatologists working in various areas of the field to see what academic backgrounds are common for that area of primatology (What Is A Primatologist?). You can also periodically check the job postings on Primate-Jobs. Most postings list the qualifications for the position in question, including the educational requirements. Reading the job postings will give you an idea of the educational background needed for various jobs in primatology.

No matter what degree program you choose, a strong background in biological sciences and evolutionary biology is recommended to all students interested in the field. Statistics, communication, computer, and foreign language skills are also important. Remember, primatology is a multidisciplinary field, and it may be necessary to complete course work in several academic departments in order to build the background necessary to succeed in the field.

2. What classes should I take in college if I am interested in primatology?

As with picking a major (see answer to FAQ #1), your choice of course work will depend upon your particular interests in the field. Many students interested in primatology take anthropology, zoology/biology, psychology, or veterinary science classes. Other possible areas of course work include genetics, anatomy/physiology, pharmacology, ecology/conservation science, animal behavior, paleontology/geology, journalism/technical writing, or molecular biology. The classes you take should prepare you for the type of primatology job you are working towards.

You can also investigate primatology programs at different universities and look at the classes required in the curriculum, as well as any prerequisites that are required for admission. Our Careers/Education Programs section has listings of both undergraduate and graduate programs in primatology.

In general, a strong background in biological sciences and evolutionary biology is recommended to all students interested in the field. Statistics, communication, computer, and foreign language skills are also important in primatology. Because primatology is a multidisciplinary field, it may be necessary to complete course work in several academic departments in order to build the background necessary to succeed in the field.

3. What colleges offer primatology as a major? What is a good school to go to?

Few colleges and universities offer undergraduate degrees in primatology. However, most schools do offer some classes in the field, often in their anthropology, psychology, or zoology/biology departments. Students can often get good undergraduate backgrounds in primatology, even if their school does not offer a degree in the field, by majoring in fields like anthropology, psychology, or biology and taking related courses in other departments.

See our Careers/Education Programs section for more information. Among the resources available on this webpage are links to directories of undergraduate and graduate programs in primatology.

You can also look for information about educational programs through the International Directory of Primatology (IDP). The IDP lists educational programs in the field from all over the world.

4. What can you do to get into primatology if you have no experience or degree in the field?

Although a degree in primatology is not necessary for a career as a primatologist, you may want to take some classes to build a general background in the field. Because a strong background in biological sciences (particularly evolutionary biology) is recommended to all students interested in primatology, classes in biology, zoology, and anthropology may help you prepare for a career in this area.

You may also want to contact someone who works with primates at your local zoo to see what advice they have for someone in your situation. Similarly, you can contact primate facilities in your geographical area to see what suggestions they may have for you. To find organizations close to you, you can search the International Directory of Primatology (IDP).

Volunteer and internship positions are another good way to “get your feet wet” in the field and gain experience working with primates. For information about how to find volunteer and internship positions, see the response to FAQ #7.

5. What can a high school student interested in primatology do to prepare for college (extracurricular activities, volunteer, etc.)?

No matter what future career you hope to have, a strong college preparatory schedule in high school will help you prepare for university-level classes. For a field like primatology where a background in biological sciences is crucial, it is important to build a solid foundation in math and science at the high school level. English, speech, and foreign language courses are important in building the communication skills needed in primatology. Students should also become computer literate before entering college.

Extracurricular activities and volunteer experience play an important role in the college admission process. If you are interested in activities related to primatology, you can contact your local zoo to see what opportunities are available for high school students. You can also search the International Directory of Primatology for primate facilities in your area that may have volunteer positions. Primate-Jobs also lists volunteer positions.

6. What do primatologists do?

Primatology is a very diverse field, and many different types of jobs involve work with primates. Primatologists can be university professors, biomedical researchers, zookeepers, veterinarians, newsletter editors, or conservationists, to name a few possibilities. See What Is A Primatologist? for career testimonials written by primatologists working in different areas of the field.

Another good way to learn about the diverse career paths for primatologists is to periodically check the postings on our Primate-Jobs webpage. These job listings will also provide you with information regarding the educational background, skills, and work experience required for various positions in primatology.

7. Where can I find out about internships and hands-on possibilities?

Volunteer positions and internships are both excellent ways to gain experience working with primates. Primate-Jobs lists volunteer and internship opportunities in primatology. Another good resource for information regarding volunteer and internship positions is the International Directory of Primatology. You can search this directory for primatology facilities in your geographical area and then contact them to see if they offer volunteer positions or internships.

8. Are there any Internet or distance learning programs in primatology?

While we are not aware of any full online degree programs in primatology, a variety of related courses are available through a number of different institutions. See Education Programs for more information.

9. What is a field school?

A field school is an organization that offers students the opportunity to build skills and experience in field research methods. Field course listings can be found through Primate-Jobs or the Education Programs section.

10. Where do I look for a job?

Primate-Jobs lists professional, animal care, field, volunteer, and other positions in primatology. You can also take advantage of the Position Wanted feature, which allows you to post information about the type of job you are interested in and your related work experience and educational background. See Employment Opportunities for information about other resources.

11. What is the average salary for primatologists?

People who identify themselves as primatologists hold a wide variety of jobs. Working with nonhuman primates can mean being an animal caretaker, a university professor, a zoo director, a field research, a curator of a primate house, a biomedical researcher, the editor of a primate-related newsletter, etc. As you can imagine, the pay associated with such a wide spectrum of jobs varies. Salaries also can vary considerably according to geographic location, as well as the type of work setting (university versus private company, for example).

If you have an idea of the type of job you would like to have as a primatologist, you can research salary information for a person with that career (university professor, veterinarian, etc). There are several online sources of salary information for many different careers. Try the CareerBuilder Salary Calculator or the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook for salary information on many different jobs.

12. What is the demand for jobs in primatology?

Primatology is a highly competitive field, and there are often many more interested job candidates than available opportunities. You can get an idea of job availability in the field by periodically checking Primate-Jobs. You can also read What Is A Primatologist? for information about job demand and competition in various areas of primatology. Several of the primatologists writing these testimonials mention that competition for positions in their field is extremely stiff.

That being said, there are positions available in the field — so what can you do to increase your chances of finding a job? A strong educational background is key, as you will need to be well prepared academically in this very competitive field. Gaining experience with primates (through volunteer, internship, or paid positions) is also very important. Almost as important as being well qualified is being patient. As Kevin Hunt writes in his career testimonial, “Almost all of the primatologists I know simply refused to be told no, and kept trying until they finally got into the field.” Although it is easy to get discouraged, remember that patience and persistence can help you land a job in primatology.

13. Is there a primatologist who I can interview to get more information on his/her perspective on the field?

See What Is A Primatologst? for perspectives and advice from primatologists working in diverse areas of the field. These primatologists offer information about how they got to where they are in their careers, the qualifications for someone working in their positions, and what they do in their jobs. You can also search the International Directory of Primatology for primate facilities in your area that may be able to put you in touch with someone to interview.

14. Is there an area of the field where I wouldn’t have to work with captive animals?

Primatology is a broad field, and it is possible to carve out a niche with which you feel comfortable and that matches your personal beliefs. Field research is one area of primatology that involves working with wild animals. To learn more about this area of primatology, you can read the career testimonial written by field researcher Kevin Hunt. Paleontology, or the study of fossil organisms, is another area of primatology that does not involve work with captive animals. See Eric Delson’s piece on a career in paleontology. Primate conservation may be another career area to explore.

15. How many years of school will I need to be a primatologist? Will I need to go to graduate school?

The level of education necessary for a career in primatology depends largely on the type of position you wish to have. Most positions in primatology do require at least some college course work. Because primatology is such a competitive field, having a graduate degree may increase your marketability and expand the number of positions for which you are qualified.

See What Is A Primatologist? and Primate-Jobs to get a sense of the type of educational background that different positions might require.

16. What should I do if I want to work with nonhuman primates and teach them sign language?

There are only a few current projects involving great apes and sign language. The three main great ape/sign language organizations are the Gorilla Foundation, which works with Koko the gorilla (; the Central Washington University Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (; and Project Chantek, which works with a signing orangutan ( test2/project.html). You can visit these websites for more information about ape language studies. The websites have information about volunteer, apprentice, or paid positions available with the organizations. By reading through the job postings, you can get an idea of the educational background, skills, and experience required to be involved with these kinds of studies. You can contact these organizations for more information on preparing for a career in ape language research.

17. How can I get a job training monkeys that help disabled people?

We suggest you contact Helping Hands, an organization that trains capuchin monkeys to help the disabled. You may also find the following bibliography of references about monkeys trained to assist the disabled to be helpful: http://pin.primate.wisc. edu/askprim/helpcit.html.

Primate Info Net (PIN) is maintained by the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with countless grants and contributions from others over time. PIN is an ever-growing community effort: if you’d like to contribute, or have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.