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Ecologist (GS-0408) and Chemist (GS-1320) Jobs With the USGS (Part 2)

In the first part of this series we featured the USGS history, programs, and the economist (GS-0110) career path. In part 2 the ecologist (GS-0408) and chemist (GS-1320) career paths are featured.

Ecologist (GS-0408) Career Path

This series covers positions that manage, supervise, lead, or perform professional, research, or scientific work involving the study of the relationships of organisms with each other, with their physical and chemical environments, and with society.

The federal government employs 1,351 in this occupation. Review the ecologist job series definition for additional occupational information and to discover the largest employers of this group with links to ecologist job vacancies.


Ecologist USGS Career Brochure Photo
Ecologist USGS Career Brochure Photo

Kristen Marie Hart is a GS-0408-14, Ecologist, stationed at the Southeast Ecological Science Center in Gainesville, FL.

Hart is a research ecologist and leads a large reptile research program. She designs, plans and leads in the sampling of turtles (both marine and brackish water), crocodilians, and Burmese pythons. Hart deals with rare, threatened, endangered, and invasive species of animals. Hart indicates, “this work is important because we’re often dealing with trying to plan and execute studies to determine vital rates (survival, growth, abundance) for either imperiled populations (such as sea turtles and crocodiles) or invasive species (such as Burmese pythons). This data is critical for assessing population trends and trajectories.”

Hart has to educate the public about the importance of her work and the findings. Hart comments, “I really enjoy the field work, but the discovery of what the data means is very exhilarating!”

Hart relates that you have to “do well in math and science, and learn how to write and know how to do accounting. We have to keep track of our funds, budgeting of projects, and deliverables. There are many scientific papers so writing that is both concise and clear is very important. Finally, take courses in statistics that is used to show the importance or significance of our findings.”

Ecologists may study the distribution and density of organisms that live in ecosystems. Studying changes in the distribution and density before and after specific human activities enables ecologists to model the ecosystem impacts of human activities. Factors in ecology studies including:

  • Quantitative attributes of population, such as population density, birth rate, spatial distribution, age structure, and resource demands;
  • The structure and interactions of populations of species in a community:
  • Environment factors, such as tide pools, salt marshes, grasslands, deciduous forests, rangelands, deserts, vernal pools, and fens, and the interactions between them;
  • Pesticide testing and control;
  • Energy sources; and
  • Air and water quality and flows in urban areas.


The duties of an ecologist can include:

  • Gather, organize, and interpret ecological, biological, physical, public use or other information pertinent to research studies and/or investigations.
  • Plan the approach and data collection. Lead field crews of 1-3 people to carry out complex ecological studies.
  • Utilize established ecological simulation models to evaluate scenarios of potential future climatic and vegetation conditions.
  • Use GIS to assemble layers, run spatial models, and analyze patterns.
  • Write reports or scientific papers including, conducting literature reviews, reporting results, and preparing graphs and tables.
  • Perform data analysis including data summarization and complex statistical analyses of large datasets.

You must be a U.S. citizen to apply for this job. A GS-09 needs to have at least 1 year of experience at the next lowest level. For example, a GS-09 can earn from $48,403.00 to $62,920.00 per year or more depending on the locality salary rate for the area where they work.

Kevin Lafferty is a GS-0408 Ecologist at the Western Ecological Research Center.

Lafferty reveals the best part of the job is “making a discovery that changes the way people think about the natural world.” He suggests that “you need to have very strong quantitative skills. If you are analytical, understand graphs, and have a skeptical attitude, you can develop the scientific skills to excel in Ecology. You also need strong skill areas such as physics, chemistry, mathematics, GIS, computer programming, and good writing skills.”

Chemist (GS-1320) Career Path

This series includes all positions involving work that requires full professional education and training in the field of chemistry. This work includes the investigation, analysis, and interpretation of the composition, molecular structure, and properties of substances, the transformations which they undergo, and the amounts of matter and energy included in these transformations.

There are 5,493 chemists employed in the federal government with 61 working overseas. Review the chemist job series definition for additional occupational information and to discover the largest employers of this group with links to nationwide and overseas chemist job listings.


Chemist USGS Career Brochure Photo
Chemist USGS Career Brochure Photo

Dr. Keith A. Loftin is a GS-1320-13, Research Chemist, located at the USGS KS Water Science Center, Lawrence, KS.

Loftin works on interdisciplinary research teams, and conducts research independently to provide solutions and expanded understanding on understudied environmental issues of public and ecological health concern.

Loftin is a research chemist, this gives him the opportunity to identify and work on solutions to environmental problems with human and ecological health relevance. He relates, “chemistry is used to understand, make, or enhance the quality of agriculture, clothing, building materials, clean drinking water, manufacturing of a full range of luxury items, as well as medications.”

Loftin explains, “chemistry allows a person to breakdown complex systems and processes at a fundamental level that can be used to solve problems.”

Experience and Education

For all grades in this series, you will need at least 1 year of experience at the next lowest grade. The salary range for a GS-12 is$75,333 (Step 01) to $97,938 (Step 10). You have to be U.S. citizen to apply for this career path. Review the qualification standards to determine the requirements for each grade level. Also review the job announcement for the specific education and experience required for each grade level.

Geographers (GS-0150) and Cartographers (GS-1370) will be featured in Part 3.


  • Diane Noserale, USGS Public Affairs Officer, Reston, VA
  • Photos are from the USGS website and career brochures
  • USGS Web Site: http://www.usgs.gov

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About The Author

A Pennsylvania native, Betty Boyd moved to the Tennessee Valley in 1994. She retired in early 2012 after 30 years of Government service. Boyd was an Acquisition Manager/IT Manager/ Project Manager during her 30-year career. Boyd also served as a supervisor and team leader during her career. In 2012 Boyd founded a consulting firm, Boyd Consulting Services, which offers writing services to clients and companies. For more information about these writing services see the following website: http://www.BettyBoydWriting.com/. Betty attended Athens State University, Athens, AL and received a B.B.A. in Management of Technology in 2000. She received her Masters of Science degree from Syracuse University with a concentration in Information Management in 2007. Boyd is a certified Level III contracting professional and she received a Masters level certificate in Project Management from the National Defense University in 2008.