Ten Interesting Careers for People With a Biology Degree
A Fascinating Subject
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 students a large 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, behaviour, biochemistry, or ecology. Some researchers study the organisms in a particular environment. For example, marine biologists explore life in the ocean. Cell biologists study a particular level of body organization. There are many other specialties to choose from in biology.
Opportunities for Biologists
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.
This article describes careers in the following areas:
- wildlife conservation or management
- science writing
- scientific illustration
Biologists whose research concentrates on microorganisms, mosses, or aquatic environments may all study Centropyxis aculeata. Different subtopics of biology often overlap.
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 researchers 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 may be able to get a job related to 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 work as an assistant in a research lab when they get their bachelor's degree in order to gain some experience (and money) and then go to graduate school later.
Wildlife Conservation or 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 neighbours. 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 may be useful in a wildlife conservation or management job, but an advanced degree would give more career choices.
A Biotechnology Career
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 might allow a person to get a job as an assistant in biotechnology. As in many areas of biology that involve research or practical applications, however, a graduate degree is preferable for people who want to work in biotechnology.
Computers are useful in any biology job, but there are some careers in which a knowledge of biology, computer science, and 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 probably 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.
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. 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. They should also have a general science background in case they are asked to teach other science subjects in addition to biology. In most cases, they will need to take a teacher training course after obtaining their bachelor's degree in biology. The requirements for becoming a high school biology teacher vary slightly in different parts of the world. A prospective teacher should investigate the requirements in the district in which they wish to teach.
Science writing is another way to inform or educate people about biology. 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 also necessary. 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, and newspapers. They may write for both print and online versions of these publications. They also work in museums, environmental, or health organizations as well as in industry and private companies. Some work on a freelance basis. They create articles for lay people or for professional scientists.
Although the word "science" refers to more than just biology, the term "scientific illustration" often refers to biological illustration.
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 instead of a full time program.
You will need an art portfolio to enter a postgraduate certificate, diploma, or degree program or to show to a potential employer. During your undergraduate studies you should practice drawing, painting, and the creation of digital art regularly and take classes in these areas if possible.
Scientific illustrators work in many different media and use digital art tools, including 3D software, as well as traditional tools. They are sometimes 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 an illustration career during your undergraduate studies, since jobs in scientific illustration are limited. Many illustrators work on a freelance basis, so networking and self promotion are important skills to develop.
Which biology career interests you the most?
Many career options are available for someone who has a biology degree. Someone planning a biology career should do further research to discover the possibilities offered by a B.Sc, M.Sc, and PhD degree in their country. Students should also identify the types of undergraduate courses that will be most useful to them.
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.
References and Resources
- Careers in the biological sciences from the AIBS (American Institute of Biological Sciences)
- Career information from The Wildlife Society
- Information about careers in biotechnology from Wake Forest University
- "How to Prepare for a Career in Biostatistics" from the American Statistical Association
- Information about epidemiologists from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Bioinformatics career information from the International Society for Computational Biology
- A guide to careers in science writing from CASW (Council for the Advancement of Science Writing)
- Careers in science illustration from GNSI (Guild of Natural Science Illustrators)
© 2012 Linda Crampton