Making a living as a naturalist

Is there any way to make money doing this kind of work? I just graduated from Brandeis University—literally yesterday—and realize now I made a major mistake by majoring in anthropology. :roll_eyes: Only too late did I discover my passion and aptitude for this sort of field biology. In just one year, I became one of the top observers in the Metro West (Boston) area and still can’t seem to get enough of it. So, is there any avenue for turning this wonderful hobby into a focused profession from which I could support myself? Would it require additional schooling? I feel so lost.

Edit: Thank you so very much to everyone who has (and continues to) replied on this thread! There’s a ton of thoughtful advice here that I’m gradually making my way through. I sincerely appreciate it. And hopefully, this can be used as a resource for others looking to make a future in this realm.


I’m a wildlife biologist and have been employed as that for 30+ years. My degrees are in biology. I use iNat occasionally with my work but it’s really a hobby that happens to align to some extent with my job. If you learn a way to get paid for doing iNat, I think we’d all like to hear how.


Congratulations. The short answer to your question is, “Perhaps?” Very few people make a living just going out and freely documenting biodiversity. This is a real shame because to do it well is both a serious skill set and significant service to the world. There are naturalists who make a living as researchers, guides, teachers, resource managers, gardeners, and many other jobs that use their naturalist skills, but extremely few people are well compensated just for being a naturalist.
A big part of the reason for this, in my view, is the tradition that naturalists give it away. Very few organizations are going to hire an expert naturalist and pay them as an expert when there are so many of us willing to document biodiversity, lead hikes, identify blurry photos of distant birds, etc. for free.


Thank you. And I totally understand your point. I suppose I’m looking for a job that would at least allow me to make use of this kind of work (like being a wildlife biologist), just with a more focused and deliberate approach. But it seems I would have to go back to school for that…


Have you considered the National Park Service? Ranger jobs there often involve interpretive work with both natural and cultural resources. Your anthropology degree could help there.


Right, right, of course. And I don’t wish to come off sounding so conceited and cocksure—or like I’m somehow special. Relatively-speaking, I’m still brand new to this. I’m just looking for some guidance from people with more experience as to what direction I should go in at this point. Is there a future for me doing this sort of work (without a degree) and being able to support myself on it? Probably not. But that’s also kind of a pity.

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I have, as well as the parks service here in Massachusetts. And you make a good point. Perhaps my degree isn’t so useless after all! I’ll look into it some more.

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Even in big mapping projects, like Atlas Flora Danica, it is really only the principal investigator that partly has it as a living (to the best of my knowledge). You can contact ecologists, biologists etc. at natural museums, universities, zoos to see if they have any research assistant positions available. Any scientific degree helps for applying for such a job. It may not be iNatting 100% of the time, but it may entail other field or biological work. Right now it is actually difficult to find qualified and interested applicants for many positions. It helps being proactive: do a little research and contact people that do work that fascinates you. Most would be happy to describe their work and guide you in the right direction.
Good luck,


I think it would be best to search for jobs that would enable you to use iNaturalist on the job, like biologist or research technician positions. The best-case scenario is a job that requires you to ID organisms for some part of the job, which using iNaturalist would complement. I’ve worked a couple field technician jobs (grassland songbird surveying, fish monitoring) and was in the field a lot during my master’s degree where using iNaturalist on the job enhanced my ID skills and didn’t conflict with my work. These jobs likely won’t pay a ton of money or anything but it’s worth looking around!


Many university jobs also entail community outreach services, for which an anthropology degree could be quite useful.
Pharmaceutical and biotech companies may also have projects involving screening natural resources , where knowledge about species is useful


Thank you. And I think you make an excellent point. I’ve contacted a few such outlets, but I shall try some more. Of course you can’t get paid for iNatting all of the time, but maybe one such research position involves biological fieldwork as a component of the job. Right now, I’m just fearful of my trajectory, which would mean heading to a (still low-paying) desk job that forces me indoors 100% of the time! I appreciate your help greatly.

Yes, yes, exactly. Right now, I’m looking at low-paying desk jobs that would never allow me to be in nature. So I would gladly take a field technician job over that any day (or weather!) of the week. In fact, recently I applied to a shorebird monitor position in Boston—but, alas, they are looking for someone with a formal degree in biology (understandably).

There does seem to be a shortage these days in applicants for summer field technician jobs doing biological research. I got started with such tech jobs; they can be your entry into more permanent jobs. They don’t pay much and might require you to move but they can get you experience in the field.


I might add that if you’re willing to move for a few months, many positions offer housing on top of salary. So if you’re not attached to the area you’re in right now I strongly suggest expanding your options to other states!


So, if the degree is the obstacle, there are other ways to get a degree. The University of the State of New York gives some credits for some types of life experience and with applying your first two years of college (the foundation classes) and the fact that they give upper level college credit for passing the GRE in the subject you want to major in, they can tell you how many additional classes you will need for a biology degree. Just be sure that you can do the work you are applying for.


I have found work in environmental survey for a consultancy firm that is still constantly looking for new people in multiple locations worldwide. There is a lot of growth in the consultancy sector at least partly due to long term efforts to diversify mining and other resource extraction from a handful of developing nations due to geopolitical tensions. Newer projects come with more stringent environmental regulations.


This may seem obvious, but even without a formal degree in biology (and not selling anthropology short), I can see that a strong resumé emphasizing contributions (e.g., observations and identifications) on iNaturalist certainly couldn’t hurt. iNaturalist skills may not be academic qualifications in a formal sense, but I could see them being weighed in a positive light!


I worked as a conservation planner for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in Massachusetts for 20 years. Even my colleagues who were taxon specialists (State Herpetologist, State Botanist, etc.) spent lots of time at their desks.

Yes, a degree in biology will definitely help getting paid work, especially a master’s degree. But many people who graduate with a degree in biology at any level spend many years - a decade, more or less - bouncing around in the continent doing any biology-related job they can get, till they luck into a permanent job they like.

In the meantime, learn as much as you can on your own. Become a Plant Conservation Volunteer for the Native Plant Trust. Go to the Northeastern Naturalists Conference (I may have the name slightly wrong) and chat people up. Join an atlas project (although I can’t think of any in New England right now) and become one of the top contributors. Go on the trips birding clubs offer. Travel widely within New England (I say that because I see most of your observations are clustered in the Boston area) to the best natural areas. Read every relevant book (yes, actual paper books) and article you can lay your hands and eyes on.

Feel free to ask me questions, either here or via private message on iNat, where I’m lynnharper.


Here’s a place to start looking for relevant jobs:


Do you have a knack for teaching/interacting with people? If so, maybe adding an environmental educator certificate to your degree could open up more avenues. I have signed forms for required field work for many folks in that program here in NC ( and from what I know some have gone on to take positions e.g. as park rangers for non-profit as well as government organizations, teaching at community colleges, educational outreach for the Ag Extension Service (focusing on invasive plants and their removal), or running summer camps/outreach programs etc.

(Edited to add: Watch the interview with Libbie linked near the bottom of the page - she basically is getting paid to organize an iNaturalist program for kids.)