Possible Careers with a Biology Degree
Biology offers a wide range of fascinating and often exciting careers for people who are interested in the living world. Biologists study nature in the field and in the laboratory. They carry out research, protect and manage living things, educate the public and discover new facts about animals, plants, microorganisms and the functioning of the human body.
Biology is a broad subject that can be subdivided into many different topics, giving biology students a wide choice of concentration areas. Biologists may focus on one group of animals, plants or microorganisms, such as mammals if they are zoologists, flowering plants if they are botanists, or bacteria if they are microbiologists. They often specialize further within their chosen group. A mammologist may study only primates instead of all mammals, for example. Biologists may decide to study a certain aspect of living things, such as their genetics, embryology, physiology, behavior, biochemistry or ecology. Some biologists study the organisms in a particular environment, such as marine biologists, or they study a particular level of body organization, such as cell biologists. There is a huge number of specialties to choose from in biology!
People who have a biology degree can work in research, environmental management, conservation, education or technology. They may find work in an interdisciplinary area such as biostatistics, epidemiology or bioinformatics, depending on the courses that they've taken in addition to biology. Some biologists enter the field of scientific writing or scientific illustration. Others may get a job in business, working in marketing or sales of items related to biology. A biology degree is also excellent preparation for careers that require further training, such as medicine, dentistry or veterinary science.
A Career in Marine Biology
Research biologists study nature in the field and in the laboratory. They carefully design experiments, make detailed observations, record data, analyze the data and then report their findings. Biology labs have sophisticated tools and computer software programs to help biologists do their jobs. Portable electronics are very useful for collecting data in the field and even for doing some analysis. A research biologist may work as a member of a team instead of on their own.
Researchers work for government agencies, private companies and industry. Some educational organizations such as museums, zoos and aquariums also hire biology researchers. University professors carry out research as well as teach.
People with a bachelor's degree in biology can get a job in biology research, but the jobs that involve more responsibility and offer more potential for career advancement require a master's degree or a PhD. Some students obtain a research job when they get their bachelor's degree in order to gain some experience (and money) and then go to graduate school later.
A Wildlife Management Career
Wildlife Conservation and Management
Conservationists work to protect endangered animal and plant populations. They try to solve conflicts between humans and wildlife and help people live in peace with their animal neighbors. They also try to find solutions to problems of habitat destruction and fragmentation. Conservationists monitor the status and health of vulnerable animal or plant communities and attempt to stop the spread of disease through a population. Education of the public is a big part of a conservationist's job.
Wildlife management is not the same as wildlife conservation. Managers are concerned about the health and status of wildlife populations, but they also look at issues of animal overcrowding, interference with human activities and human use of animals. They try to balance the needs of animals with the needs of humans.
Wildlife managers deal with topics such as controlling pests, determining the number of animals that can be hunted without endangering a population and improving habitat to support the lives of certain animals. They may recommend wildlife culls if they think they are necessary.
As in biology research, a bachelor's degree in biology is useful in a wildlife conservation or management job, but an advanced degree would give more career choices.
A major goal of biotechnologists is to change the genome (the complete genetic information) of a living thing in order to benefit humans. Microbes are often used as the experimental organisms, but plants or animals may be used as well. An organism which contains a gene or genes from another organism is said to be transgenic, and the creation of the transgenic organism is known as genetic engineering.
Some results of genetic engineering are the production of bacteria that make human insulin for diabetics, the production of plants that produce their own insecticides and the production of cows and goats that contain human medicines in their milk. The number of biotechnology applications is growing rapidly, although the creation of transgenic organisms is often controversial.
A bachelor's degree would allow a person to get a job in biotechnology, but a graduate degree is preferable.
Examples of Biotechnology
Biostatistics - Making Sense of Data
The Importance of Bioinformatics
More Information about Careers Combining Biology and Computers
Careers That Combine Biology and Computer Science
Computers are useful in any biology job, but there are some careers in which a knowledge of biology, computer science and sometimes math is vital.
Biostatistics, which is sometimes called biometrics, is the use of statistical methods to analyze large amounts of data in areas such as public health, medicine, forestry, agriculture, fisheries and other topics related to biology.
A biostatistician formulates questions that need to be answered, decides how to collect relevant data, analyzes and interprets the data and publicizes the results so that they can be used by others. Some examples of questions that biostatisticians might consider are:
- Does vitamin E improve memory in elderly women?
- Do women who take a certain medicine during pregnancy have babies with a lower birth weight?
- Does eating a certain food additive raise LDL cholesterol?
Biostatisticians use computer software to store data, help them analyze the data and publish their conclusions. Biostatisticians with a biology degree need to know how to use a computer effectively and must have a very good knowledge of math. Some students approach the career from a different direction, getting a math degree and taking biology courses as well. Many (but not all) biostatisticians have an advanced degree.
Epidemiology is the study of the distribution of diseases and health problems within populations. Epidemiologists try to find out why an infection or a particular health problem has appeared within a certain group of people. They also try to discover how the problem is spreading within the group. The epidemiologist's data and analyses are used to plan intervention, management and prevention strategies.
Epidemiologists need to have a math background. They use computers in their work, including biostatistics software and software that creates mathematical models. An example of a model that might be created is one that predicts the spread of a disease. Just as in the preparation for a biostatistics career, students majoring in biology as undergrads need to make sure that they take computer science courses and lots of math courses if they are thinking of becoming an epidemiologist. A student will need to obtain a master's degree in epidemiology once he or she has a bachelor's degree in biology. Some epidemiologists are medical doctors, but many aren't.
Bioinformatics is the use of computers in the acquisition, storage, management and analysis of biological and medical data. It's frequently used in the fields of molecular biology and genetics. Huge databases of biological information are being created. With the aid of computers, people who are interested can access these databases and make use of the information. By examining and analyzing the information they sometimes discover new facts about biological and medical processes.
Students who plan a career in bioinformatics need to study computer science and statistics as well as biology. They will also need to study for a master's degree in bioinformatics after getting a bachelor's degree in biology. As in most careers that are related to biology, a PhD degree will offer the best career opportunities.
Some universities now offer a bachelor's degree in biostatistics or bioinformatics, which provides another route of entry into these careers.
Epidemiology in Action
Teaching and Education
Biologists are hired by universities to teach students and do research. Colleges and high schools also require biology teachers. Naturalists and park rangers teach the general public. Museums, zoos, aquariums and conservation organizations hire people to educate their visitors, and they sometimes send biologists into schools and libraries to make presentations.
University professors generally need to have a PhD degree. College professors need a PhD or a master's degree. Potential high school biology teachers need a good knowledge of general biology and should also have a general science background. They will need to take a teacher training course after obtaining their bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree in biology is necessary for many other jobs in education.
Science writing is another way to inform or educate people, hopefully in an interesting way. Someone with a goal of becoming a science writer should have an intense curiosity about biology or another science and also needs great research skills.
Potential science writers should take English or writing courses during their university studies. Science training is necessary, and for some positions an advanced degree is useful. Students should also make sure that they take courses that qualify them for another biology career in case they can't get a job as a science writer or in case they can only find part time work in this area.
Science writers work for textbook publishers, magazines, newspapers, museums, environmental or health organizations, industry and private companies. Some work on a freelance basis. They create articles for lay people or for professional scientists.
Learning Natural Science Illustration
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Scientific, Medical and Natural History Illustration
Scientific, medical or natural history illustration can be a wonderful career for someone who likes both biology and art. If you are planning a career as an illustrator, after getting your bachelor's degree in biology you will probably need to apply to a specialized program that will teach you scientific illustration skills. You might be able to get a job without this program, but the extra study will be a great help. It may be possible for you to take a continuing education course in scientific illustration.
You need to have art skills in order to take a scientific illustration training program, so during your undergraduate studies you should take art classes and practice your illustration and photography skills regularly. You will also need an art portfolio to enter a postgraduate certificate, diploma or degree program or to show to a potential employer.
Scientific illustrators work in many different media and use digital art tools, including 3D software, as well as traditional tools. They may also be required to create animations. They're employed by textbook publishers, universities, museums and research organizations. It's very important to prepare for another biology career as well as for an illustration career during your undergraduate studies, though, since jobs in scientific illustration are limited. Many illustrators work on a freelance basis, so networking and self promotion are important skills for a potential scientific illustrator.
There are many possible careers for someone who has a biology degree. Research tools and techniques are improving rapidly, enabling biologists to make some fascinating and very important discoveries about human biology and the biology of other organisms. It's a great time to be a scientist!
© 2012 Linda Crampton
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