Careers for Biology Majors
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Biology is the study of living organisms. The field is also subdivided into specialized areas focusing on topics like anatomy and behavior. Careers for a biology major include roles related to research and teaching, public policy, healthcare, and manufacturing. The following guide delves into the benefits of a biology degree and the myriad career opportunities for graduates.
Why Pursue a Career in Biology?
The curricula of biology programs feature rigorous coursework, and biology students typically possess a natural curiosity about the living world. Along with developing a strong work ethic and analytical skills, degree-seekers learn to synthesize and analyze large amounts of data.
While life in a lab may seem like a solitary endeavor, research often provides collaboration opportunities. Outside the lab, biologists thrive in many locations, from the classroom to the ocean floor.
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FAQ: Questions about Biology Jobs
Is biology a good degree?
Biology provides a great option for learners interested in studying the natural world. Biology degrees open the door to careers in areas like teaching, research, and medicine.
What does a biologist do?
Biologists study the natural world. This broad discipline covers all living things, from the tiniest microbial life to giant ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest. Biologists may work in laboratory settings, take part in research in the field, tackle administrative tasks, and deal with the politics and policies surrounding conservation efforts.
What are the fields in biology?
Since biology covers all life on the planet (and beyond), many fields and subfields make up the discipline. Zoology is the umbrella term for animal biology, comprising the more specific fields of herpetology (reptiles), mammalogy (mammals), ornithology (birds), and entomology (insects). Additional fields include botany (plants), microbiology (microscopic organisms), genetics, biochemistry, and ecology.
What is the highest-paying job with a biology degree?
Biologists with a graduate degree often earn the highest salaries in the field. Associate directors of research facilities, biotech research scientists, and principle scientists all earn median salaries of more than $100,000 per year.
Biology Career Outlook
Biology graduates learn skills that apply to many different careers. As a result, biologists work in diverse environments. Some take an educational route, working as teachers or museum employees. Others apply their expertise to public policy, environmental activism, and other nonprofit ventures. The medical field, from veterinary practice to medical technology, also provides opportunities to biology graduates.
The following table provides salary information for a few popular biology careers.
|Medical Laboratory Technician||$39,820||$40,530||$43,680||$46,830|
Top Career Paths
- 1. Marine Biology
- 2. Microbiology
- 3. Conservation and Ecology
- 4. Genetics
- 5. Biochemistry
- 6. Computational Biology
Salaries & Careers with an Biology Degree: Undergrad and Graduate
Many universities offer online and on-campus undergraduate degrees in biology. A bachelor's degree is a good start, as most biology careers require a four-year degree. While pursuing a degree, learners should take advantage of internships, opportunities for additional lab experience, and their college or university's career services department.
There are biology degrees at every academic level. Certifications and membership in professional organizations can also go a long way toward boosting career opportunities.
Associate Degree in Biology
A two-year associate degree in biology provides the life sciences and math foundation needed to complete more advanced coursework. Students also develop general laboratory skills, learning how to formulate research questions, design tests, and assess basic data. Learners also cultivate communication and information literacy skills.
Required courses include general biology, human anatomy, plant physiology, and cultural anthropology. An associate program in biology is a good stepping stone to a bachelor's degree.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Biology?
Working under the supervision of veterinarians, these technicians administer medicine, prepare animals for surgery, and conduct blood and X-ray testing. They also perform daily administrative tasks like scheduling appointments and maintaining records. This career requires excellent communication skills, especially in difficult situations. Veterinary technicians can work in private practices, animal shelters, and zoos.
Medical Laboratory Technician
These professionals can work for a variety of organizations. Their main tasks include collecting, handling, and processing test specimens. They must adhere to laboratory standards and ensure quality control. Technicians also perform clerical duties, including writing monthly reports and maintaining specimen databases.
Agricultural and Food Science Technicians
These professionals conduct tests and implement strategies to improve crop yield and food quality. Agricultural technicians work in greenhouses and farms to examine soil quality and eliminate viruses. Food scientists oversee quality assurance and test products for contaminant and nutrient levels. These technicians can work with government agencies, corporations, universities, and individual farmers.
Source: BLS and PayScale
Bachelor's Degree in Biology
Earning a bachelor's degree in biology helps students develop a comprehensive understanding of biological organization, including molecules, microbes, species, and ecosystems. Graduates can pursue careers in health management, genetic engineering, environmental sustainability, and disease control and prevention.
A bachelor's program builds on the core elements of an associate degree, further emphasizing problem-based and experiential learning. Required courses include developmental biology, field ecology, physics, and biogeography. Most programs offer specializations and include an internship and a capstone project.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Biology?
These scientists examine and analyze human functionality using genetics, physiology, and biological anthropology. They often work in medical research laboratories, investigating cures for infectious diseases. Human biologists can also work as dietitians and nutritionists. With additional training, these professionals can pursue careers as human population specialists and organizational consultants.
Marine biologists explore and research saltwater organisms and ecosystems. Using computational assessment methods, these scientists can determine changes to marine animal and plant life. Marine biologists can specialize in areas like disaster cleanup, conservation, and animal rehabilitation. Because they usually work in teams, these scientists need effective communication skills.
Molecular biologists work in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, private companies, hospitals, and universities. These professionals generally work in research roles. They apply findings to improve their employer's production methods.
Master's Degree in Biology
Building on the core laboratory and research skills learned in an undergraduate program, a master's program in biology asks students to apply their training to investigation and analysis. Students often complete a thesis or research project and present their findings to faculty and other experts.
Some colleges and universities attach a teaching component to the curriculum, providing students with fellowships and opportunities to gain experience as lecturers and laboratory coordinators. Advanced course topics include cellular biology, forensic anthropology, and mathematical modeling.
Graduate students benefit from diverse specializations. A master's in biomedical engineering prepares graduates for careers in design and manufacturing. With a master's in biotechnology, graduates can become crime analysts and pharmaceutical consultants.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Biology?
A research scientist's primary duties involve gathering, analyzing, and organizing information. They engage in peer review and publication of articles and monographs. These scientists usually work in academic and research institutions. However, they can also find employment in applied fields, including with private companies.
Biomedical engineers design and develop new ways to treat injuries and illnesses. They also conduct tests on product effectiveness and safety. Medicine is a vast field, so engineers can specialize in areas like surgery equipment, medication, and rehabilitation. Depending on their position, biomedical engineers may need marketing and sales knowledge. Many of these positions require a master's degree.
Genetic counselors work directly with patients, usually in medical facilities. They diagnose and assist in the treatment of congenital diseases. Genetic counselors can also work with pregnant women, identifying possible birth defects and maintaining patient health through the birthing process. In addition to a master's degree, these professionals often hold certification from organizations like the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
Senior Environmental Consultant
These environmentalists work with nonprofits, government agencies, and private organizations. Though their duties depend on their specific role, environmental consultants primarily predict and evaluate environmental impact caused by human endeavors. They also assist with remediation and sustainability efforts. Senior officials work in leadership roles, managing teams and coordinating research projects.
Associate Director, Biology
Associate directors oversee research teams and projects. If they work in an academic setting, they also manage the biology department's faculty training and grant acquisitions. If they work with private companies, they apply their research findings for commercialization. Associate directors must possess exceptional administrative and financial skills.
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Doctoral Degree in Biology
Due to the significant investment of time and money, few students pursue a doctoral degree in biology as a sequential part of their academic training. Furthermore, many doctoral programs only accept applicants with ample work and research experience. Biologists typically earn doctoral degrees so they can advance their mid-level careers, qualifying for positions as tenured professors, head research scientists, and senior consultants.
Doctoral biology programs center on self-motivated work. Students spend their first 2-3 years taking specialized coursework, writing proposals, and gathering funding for research. They spend the remainder of their time in the program conducting tests; analyzing data; and preparing for a dissertation defense, publication, and oral examination.
Doctoral students can also access fellowships, through which they gain paid experience as lecturers and undergraduate coordinators. Specializations are available in areas like computational biology, molecular biology, and conservation ecology.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Biology?
Senior Research Scientist, Biotechnology
Biotechnology roles can be found in academia, engineering, and manufacturing. Senior research scientists can work as educators and consultants, helping audiences understand theoretical and technical concepts in their field. They may also pursue industrial development careers, creating new products for distribution.
As leaders of research teams, principal scientists oversee project design, laboratory testing, and data analysis and application. In addition to a firm grasp of scientific inquiry, these scientists must possess strong communication skills to motivate employees and present findings.
Postsecondary Teacher, Biology
College professors teach students through lectures, seminars, and laboratory sessions. They also assist students with research projects and theses/dissertations. Biology professors cultivate expertise through their own research and publication. These professionals can also work for organizations as field experts, research leads, and consultants.
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Other High Paying Biology Careers Paths
Because much of a biology student's training consists of project design, laboratory testing, and data analysis, research science seems like the obvious career choice. However, biology majors can also pursue other professional opportunities, including the five careers presented in the following section.
Fitness trainers help their clients lose weight, gain strength, and rehabilitate from illness and injury. They assess each client's condition, including their general measurements and biochemical compositions. In addition to assisting clients through workout routines, personal trainers provide meal plans and other consultations.
Nutritionist or Dietician
These professionals help clients develop healthy eating behaviors to lose weight and manage medical conditions. Nutritionists and dieticians can also find employment with schools, hospitals, and government agencies. In these settings, they develop meal plans and health programs to improve the lives of communities.
Using their knowledge of physiology and genetics, scientific illustrators visualize anatomy, molecular structures, and environmental processes. They often work in academia, providing illustrations for textbooks and other educational materials. They can also pursue careers in forensic imaging and graphic design. Possible employers include hospitals, specialty publishers, and film studios.
Depending on their specific position, medical writers create training materials, user manuals, and educational literature. Because most of their work involves research and presentation, these professionals need strong communication skills and in-depth knowledge of biology and medicine. Writers can find work with health organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and equipment manufacturers.
Dental hygienists assess patient conditions, looking for signs of oral disease. They also perform general procedures, including cleaning stains and removing plaque buildup. Additionally, dental hygienists fill educational roles, providing consultations on preventative and post-surgery care. Minimum requirements include professional accreditation and state licensure.
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Skills Gained With a Biology Degree
Regardless of what area of biology students choose, the following five skills provide them with the tools needed to pursue careers in many industries.
Locating and aggregating information is one of the primary functions of biologists. To make sense of and use information, biologists need exceptional data analysis skills. Students develop these skills through laboratory training, during which they write reports and work with computers to model their findings.
While biologists may perform many daily tasks individually, they also need to report their findings to team members, employers, and experts in their field. Clear communication skills enable them to summarize their research orally and in written reports and proposals. These skills also allow biologists to present information through graphs and charts.
Laboratory and Research
These skills prepare biologists to perform laboratory and field investigations. As part of their core training, biologists learn to define problems, design experiments, conduct research, and record observations. They also train to use laboratory equipment and computer simulation programs. Advanced research skills enable scientists to interpret results and predict outcomes using statistical tests.
Scientific literacy allows learners to apply knowledge through research and technical skills. Students learn to define potential results, assess risks, inspect specimens, and catalog information using standard databases.
Biology students learn to use the appropriate equipment that is needed to conduct research. Biology majors begin their education by learning to use basic tools, such as droppers, volumetric flasks, and hot plates. As their skills develop, students train with advanced equipment in their subfields.
Industries Can You Work as a Biology Professional After Completeing Degree
This industry offers opportunities in higher education, where biologists can work as researchers and professors. Professionals can also work in public health and community engagement roles, helping promote disease prevention and sustainability initiatives.
Biotechnology Research and Development
Biotechnology provides the tools needed to improve human and environmental health. Biologists can work in areas like sustainable agriculture, medicine, and food science. They can also pursue industrial careers as designers and engineers.
This industry centers on developing and evaluating medications and related products. Biologists in this area generally work as pharmaceutical researchers or take on compliance roles.
Information Technology Services
With a degree in bioinformatics or a related field, graduates can pursue careers in the IT industry. In IT, biologists apply their communication, data analytics, and database management skills to organize and protect their organization's information.
Medical Device Manufacturing
Biologists in this industry work as researchers, engineers, project coordinators, and managers. They also work in legal roles, ensuring their company's products meet safety standards, government regulations, and import/export laws.
One of the fastest growing industries, healthcare provides career opportunities related to medical treatment, education, nonprofit advocacy, and government policy. Biologists can also work in healthcare analytics and informatics, managing patient information.
Biology majors may pursue hospital careers as nurses, physicians, equipment operators, and other medical specialists. However, they can also work as administrators and directors, ensuring facilities and treatment programs run efficiently.
Interview With a Professional in Biology
Biology Graduate From University Of Michigan
Jeremy Hill graduated with a degree in biology from the University of Michigan and now resides in Phoenix, Arizona. Combining his love of biology and computers, he has worked with the large databases of healthcare companies to better understand trends and costs in epidemiology.
What made you decide to become a biology major?
Like a lot of biology majors, I started college convinced I wanted to be a doctor. I even applied to an advanced seven-year MD program and went to a school that had one of the best medical schools in the country (the University of Michigan).
What skills did you learn while working toward your degree?
There were the usual skills (how to study and manage time), but there were also some skills I didn't expect, like how to plan for the possibility that your lab partner is not going to do their 50% of the writeup.
I also gained basic scientific literacy. I feel that this is sorely lacking in America in general, and it's something that is desperately needed. When one study with a sample size of 20 tells you something that flies in the face of decades of established science, ask questions. Check the underlying data and understand what it means.
I also learned computer skills, such as how to put together a basic program, if for no other reason than automation. If you have to rename 65,000 files and you opt to do it by hand, you're in for a long day.
One of the more esoteric lessons I learned that I love to share (especially with those who aren't so keen to believe evolution) is that the atoms that make up your body here and now were once locked away in the center of stars colliding over and over again.
The bits and pieces that make up your right hand could come from an entirely different galaxy than your left. And once my time in this universe is over, that's exactly where they'll go back to. The sheer odds of the exact elements of anyone's body are so astronomical, and yet here we are.
Puts a bit of perspective on life. Not everything is as big a deal as it seems right away, and for other things, you have to dig to find the wonder.
How did these skills help at work?
Knowing how to plan for the unexpected or to always account for the possibility that something could go wrong has served me well professionally.
One of the things I'm asked to do as part of my job is to estimate how long something will take or when something can be finished. It's a challenge to keep things simple, but never be as precise as you want to be. You build in a bit of a buffer, even if no one admits to doing it.
Secondly, there's a generally accepted principle of economics that in order to sustain economic growth, we have to consistently improve productivity. I try to find one way to be more productive each day. Again, automation is such a lifesaver for me and others I work with. Before any of us get up in the morning, our machines are churning out reports.
If I feel like I am going to spend more than an hour or so doing a task, I stop to ask how I can make it simpler, how I can delegate it to some automatic process, and how it's been done before. Those answers usually drive how I proceed.
Do you have any tips for biology students?
The biology that you learn in high school is very narrowly focused. Undergraduate work in biology encompasses so much more, and there are new applications of biology every day. Don't be afraid to not only explore courses in other areas entirely, but to branch out within biology. I thought I loved microbiology until I really got interested in evolutionary genetics.