Studying biology is one of the best decisions you will make. The benefits of understanding how the world around you works are endless. The sheer delight in discovering new species, understanding behaviors, and correlating genetics with evolutionary success are unrivaled. However, once you’ve completed your degree, what types of jobs are available for biology majors?
A biology major will most often work in a scientific field in one or a combination of the following places: a laboratory, a research institute, a school or university, a field-based research station, or for private companies as an analyst. Studying further is recommended as it increases your scope.
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Studying life is one of the best scientific fields to enter as a career line. It is fascinating, challenging, and packed full of possibilities for the keen mind. But what are some examples of careers? Which companies are likely to employ you? And what type of work would you do?
Studying Biology and the World of Opportunity it Opens
When leaving senior high and peering into the horizon of your future, it can often seem quite overwhelming.
You would hopefully have developed a “feel” for the direction you want to move into during your school tenure. Or at least have a general idea of your interest.
If not, don’t worry, you’re not alone! In the eleventh hour, I realized I wanted to study in the biological field, and I haven’t looked back since.
Here are some advantages of majoring in biology:
- Biology is right up your alley if you love nature, especially if you have an inquisitive mind and desire to know more about how the world around you works.
- Although a major in biology is broad in terms of what you learn, it opens up other opportunities to study further into a field of interest.
- Once you start specializing in a particular field of biology, the possibilities to move into other career lines like medicine open up.
- A major in biology prepares you for future studies by preparing you both in learning and course material.
- Scientists in the states have relatively good employment rates and salaries (starting at around $20 000 annually, while roughly $60 000 annually as mid-career, but if you study further into medicine and other specialized areas, you could earn up to $100 000 or more).
The Functions and Fundamentals of Biology Majors
The study of life (the meaning of biology) is an immensely broad topic, and for this reason, it’s important to know what you are getting yourself into during your studies, but more importantly, the purpose of studying biology.
Biology Major Course Outline
Topics covered in your course will include:
- Anatomy (plant and animal, including human)
- Mathematics (including biostatistics and calculus)
- Marine biology
- Physiology (plant and animal, including human)
- Biophysics (Science)
You’ll spend time between classrooms, laboratories, and fieldwork during your studies.
Why Should I Major in Biology?
The answer to why you should study biology is a personal one. However, the importance of what biologists achieve in their chosen fields is incredible.
The overarching function is studying living organisms’ characteristics and their functions and roles in their environment.
Some areas of importance include:
- Research into immunology, bacteria, viruses, and diseases.
- Animals, plants, and their relation to and interactions with one another.
- How ecological processes work.
- Enhancing plants and animals to optimize production and reduce food and farming costs.
Most employment opportunities for biology majors are related to careers in research or academics.
Occupations for Which a Biology Major is Eligible
Now that we have a brief outline and context as to why biology is such a fundamental career, we will look at some occupations available to biology majors. These examples are not an exhaustive list, but they will give you some direction in your career line.
Biology Major Careers: Botany
During your studies, you may discover that plants fascinate you to such a degree that you want to specialize as a plant scientist (a botanist).
The primary functions of a botanist involve:
- Studying plant evolution, distribution, characteristics/properties, and environmental roles.
- Identifying, surveying, and collecting baseline data on endangered and alien species. This information is particularly important at sites that need to be developed but contain many endangered plant species/communities.
- Calculating population densities and changes in these densities as environmental shifts occur.
- They may be contracted to work for agricultural companies in developing fertilizers, food science companies for genetically modified/cultivated foods, or even farms to assist crop production.
- Traveling to exotic places like a rainforest, mangrove swamps, or wetlands to explore species diversity, growth forms, and other adaptations to the environments.
- Studying the effects of climate change and pollution on threatened plant communities.
In botany (as with most natural science careers), there is a high degree of variation in what you do. For months you might be in the field collecting samples on remote islands, followed by time spent in the lab analyzing those samples and reporting on your findings.
A standard biology bachelor’s degree is sufficient for an early career as a botanist; however, further studies into master’s and doctorates are highly recommended to further your career.
Biology Major Careers: Ecology
Careers in anything ecology-related are quite vast as well. Ecology involves studying the plants, animals, and other organisms of an area, how they interact, and how they interact with their environment (the soil, rocks, weather, rainfall, etc.).
As an ecologist, you will generally be involved in:
- Convergent and divergent evolution
- Scientific report writing.
- Advice to managers for better management practices.
- Determining the carrying capacity of an area for certain animal species.
- Studying animals and plants adaptations to an area and coping mechanisms.
- Tracking charismatic animals through telemetry and other technology.
- The effects of alien species on indigenous species.
- The effects of fire, herbivory, and predation in population control, species diversity, etc.
- The effects of pollution on the environment (especially aquatic systems)
As an ecologist, you could find yourself in many different roles, for example:
- Working as a resident ecologist for a particular National Park.
- Working for an environmental services company as a consultant.
- Working for the government as an advisor/scientist.
- Working in education, teaching students about the various cycles (water, rock, etc.).
Ecologists spend a great deal of their time in the field collecting data, which they take back to disseminate and analyze through computer programs.
Biology Major Careers: Educator
A major career line for biology majors is in academia or education. Some examples of the type of jobs in this realm include:
Biology Teacher At A School
One of the more popular career decisions is to become a biology teacher. This position is usually in middle or high school. It goes without saying, but people who choose this career should have a genuine desire to educate children, as teaching is not for the half-hearted or mixed-minded.
Teaching requires you to take an active role in assisting the students in your class, who face many issues both at school and potentially at home. It is a tough but rewarding career to pursue and one where the world of difference is made to individuals daily.
The benefit of this job is that you are in a prime situation to influence the next generation to pursue the wonderful world of biology through educating your classes, conducting experiments, and sharing your passion and enthusiasm.
To qualify as a biology teacher, you’ll most likely need to complete a basic certificate in education and pass a prerequisite test. Although states vary in their requirements, you’ll probably start as an assistant teacher and progress from there.
Biology Lecturer At A University Or College
You require a degree higher than your class to qualify as a lecturer. A master’s degree is sufficient to teach at the junior college level, but you need to have a minimum of a doctorate to qualify as a university lecturer.
These additional degrees require extra years of study to attain. A master’s degree is usually an extra two years, while a doctorate is two years after a master’s (four extra years of study in total).
Biology Major Careers: Environmental Scientist
The role of an environmental scientist is in studying the effects that climate change, pollution, and other “disturbances” are having on our planet. Environmental scientists often work for the government, non-government organizations, and research institutions.
Some of the duties of an environmental scientist include:
- Determining the extent of human influences on climate change.
- Studying the impacts of these environmental disturbances on the ice caps, coral reefs, and other systems.
- Studying the effects of habitat loss and change on species richness and diversity, as well as populations.
- Recording and documenting their findings through articles, press releases, and other communications.
- Comparing records of environmental conditions to current conditions and then predicting future trends.
- Advising governments as to what the best practices are to prevent unsustainable losses.
- Consulting on green energy, environmental impact assessments, and other areas of human/nature conflicts.
With a bachelor’s in biology, you do qualify for this position; however, employers seek higher education employees, so to progress, you need to study further.
Biology Major Careers: Forensic Scientist
I’m sure most of us have watched an episode or two of “CSI” and were fascinated by what they accomplish with technology. With a major in biology, you could also opt to become a forensic scientist.
The primary function of a forensic scientist is to aid in crime scene investigations through the collection and analysis of evidence.
A forensic scientist is mostly found in a lab, and evidence is brought to them by crime scene investigators. They do, however, also get out into the field occasionally.
Some of their responsibilities include:
- Analyzing and interpreting blood splatter patterns, bullets, hair, and other evidence at a crime scene.
- Photographing victims, weapons, and other evidence at a crime scene.
- Looking at autopsies and other evidence and providing insight into the crime committed.
- Drawing conclusions from test results and writing reports communicating their findings.
- Forensic scientists are responsible for adequate record keeping.
- Testifying in court during criminal trials, based on evidence collected and findings.
- Forensic scientists are responsible for maintaining lab equipment, calibrating the equipment, and ordering new stock.
To qualify as a junior forensic scientist, a bachelor’s degree in biology is sufficient; however, studying further for a master’s or doctorate is required if you want to progress.
Companies do, however, hire graduates for junior positions, and on the job, experiences can count for a lot.
Biology Major Careers: Genetic Engineer
Studying biology can open up some particularly interesting career options. One of these options is genetic engineering.
Genetic engineering involves manipulating certain genes in organisms to produce the desired change. This gene manipulation could be for plants to grow better or produce more food, or it could be in humans with disorders or diseases that you can only treat through gene therapy.
They are often employed by research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, governments, universities, or healthcare organizations.
The tasks of a genetic engineer include:
- Working with DNA to better understand how plants and animals work and improve the way they do or obtain the desired outcome.
- Most of their time is spent between the lab and the office. They have little time dedicated to fieldwork.
- Report writing and other means of communicating their findings, like press conferences, etc.
To qualify as a genetic engineer, you would need at least a bachelor’s degree in a biological field that focuses on biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, or a specific genetic engineering course.
Biology Major Careers: Marine Biologist
A marine biologist has the privilege of discovering what sea creatures there are, how they interact with one another, and how they are adapted to live in the ocean.
As a marine biologist, your time is split between fieldwork, lab work, and office work. Marine biologists often work for research institutions, universities, governments, or private organizations (NGOs)
Some responsibilities of a marine biologist include:
- Conducting water samples to test for pollution.
- Tagging fish, sharks, or marine mammals and birds.
- Monitoring distribution patterns of different species.
- Collecting samples and other data through various methods.
- Estimating fishery stocks and advising governments on fishing quotas.
- Discovering new marine species.
- Surveying the environmental impacts that human development and pollution have on marine species
- Conducting toxicology studies and autopsies on animals that die/are caught.
- Analyzing collected data to predict trends and writing reports and communications on discoveries/observations.
Marine biology is a foundational course where specialization in various related fields is possible. Biology alone would not qualify you as a marine biologist; however, it is a good baseline.
Biology Major Careers: Microbiologist
A microbiologist studies microscopic lifeforms (microbes), like algae, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa. They are lab and office-based, and their work benefits the field of healthcare and agriculture.
Some duties of a microbiologist include:
- Conducting experiments on microscopic life forms.
- Discovering new microscopic species, how they reproduce, what they do, where they live, etc.
- Identifying medically important microorganisms, especially those that may be dangerous to humans/livestock/crops or beneficial.
- Writing reports on their findings.
- Maintaining lab equipment
A bachelor’s degree in microbiology will be sufficient for an entry-level job; however, further studies into a master’s and a doctorate are essential to progress in this career.
Biology Major Careers: Science Museum Curator
If you are interested in education but don’t want to deal with students, then a science museum curator might be your top pick.
As a curator, you are responsible for an entire exhibit and all collections contained within the said exhibit.
Some tasks of a curator include:
- The acquisition of new collections and items to enhance the exhibit. This acquisition includes negotiating prices and authorizing the acquisition.
- Safely and correctly storing acquired items that preserve them for display and future study.
- Curators are empowered to buy, sell, trade, or lend various items or entire collections as they deem fit.
- Play an oversight and operational role in the museum’s research projects and educational
- Public relations and fundraising for the museum are part of the job as well.
- Writing reports and grant proposals, keeping records of stock, collections, and other admin duties.
To qualify as a curator, many museums ask for a master’s degree at the minimum. Therefore, additional studies would be necessary for this position.
Biology Major Careers: Science Technician
A science technician is fundamentally a teacher aid in schools or colleges/universities. A science technician is a good entry into the industry if you consider becoming a biology teacher/lecturer.
Science technicians have a vital role to play in the classroom by:
- Setting up experiments before the lesson begins, including assembling various apparatuses.
- Preparing lesson notes for the students.
- Assisting students and the teacher during the lessons/experiments and demonstrations.
- Maintaining lab equipment, which includes calibrating it and ordering new stock.
- Ensuring health and safety measures are adhered to.
Although, for most states, a bachelor’s in biology would make you overqualified for this position, having it goes a long way in putting you above the competition and helping you progress quicker in the field if that is where you want to be.
Biology Major Careers: Scientific Journalist
A science journalist stays on top of current scientific breakthroughs, news, and other developments, often by perusing scientific articles, and then condenses and relays that information to the general public in an understandable way.
Scientific journalists often work for news agencies, newspapers, magazines, or freelancers.
Some of the responsibilities of a scientific journalist include:
- Re-writing scientific jargon and information into an understandable format for the general public to understand.
- The information needs to be sufficiently researched, factually correct, and without bias from the journalist.
- Depending on who they work for, scientific journalists read through vast amounts of scientific literature and decide which discoveries, problems, or breakthroughs are most relevant.
Most often, a degree in biology is not necessary, rather a degree in journalism. However, a biology degree will assist you in understanding some of the topics and jargon used in scientific articles.
Biology Major Careers: Food Scientist
Food science and technology is an increasingly popular field. The purpose of a food scientist is to enhance the growing and production capacity of plants, increase the preservation of products, ensure the safety of the consumer, and reduce the overall cost of production.
A food scientist usually works in a lab, and their responsibilities include:
- Optimizing production by improving the soil properties, nutrients, and water supplied to plants.
- Processing raw food materials into superior versions, enhancing flavors, nutrients, and energy supply.
- Developing new processing methods to enhance quality and reduce waste through additional “waste” materials processes.
A bachelor’s degree in biology should be sufficient for an entry-level position, and additional studies are recommended for career progression.
Biology Major Careers: Wildlife Management
Wildlife managers take an active role in ensuring that a national park, reserve, or other wildlife conservancy area operates efficiently and optimally.
There is a high degree of fieldwork in this job and a lot of office work, with no (or barely any) lab work. Forest rangers and zookeepers are examples of wildlife managers.
Responsibilities of a wildlife manager include:
- Staff management is an integral part of any wildlife manager’s portfolio. Staff conduct surveys, monitoring, firefighting, erosion control, etc.
- Depending on the size of the area and staff component, a wildlife manager may participate in the above and other activities.
- Communicating and liaising with the public are fundamental roles as well.
- Record keeping of plants, animals, research, and other projects.
- Law enforcement of the protected area and monitoring compliance.
- Planning and implementing environmental education.
- Resource management, including water soil rehabilitation.
- Administrative tasks, meetings, emails, stock taking, and procurement.
A degree in biology is beneficial for this line of work; however, a reserve manager/ecology or another related nature degree would also be sufficient.
Biology Major Careers: Zoologist
Zoologists are the animal component of botanists. Zoologists focus mainly on studying animals, their adaptations, behaviors, anatomy, physiology, evolution, phylogeny, etc. Zoologists spend a balanced amount of time between the field, the lab, and the office.
A zoologist will work for many employers, including zoos, government, educational institutes, research institutions, and NGOs.
A zoologist’s duties generally include:
- Research, monitor, observe, collect, and preserve specimens from the field to study in their natural environment or lab.
- Lab work dissects, investigates, and tests to understand how, why, and what certain animals do in their environment.
- Recordkeeping, report writing on their findings, and presenting their findings.
- Population monitoring and instituting control methods.
- Planning and implementing environmental education.
- Welfare inspections and interventions.
A biology degree will help with zoology, but you may need to specialize in that field during your studies.
Fields of Specialization Within Biology
Biology is a vast field. When you complete a bachelor’s in biology, you will have only nicked the tip of the iceberg in terms of information, but you will better understand and have the tools required to progress in the career line.
As you study further into a master’s or a doctorate, you’ll have the opportunity to specialize in a particular field by studying specific topics.
These fields include:
- Conservation biology
- Marine biology
- Medicine: including Veterinary sciences and pharmaceutical sciences
- Micro or Molecular biology
Prospective Employers for Biology Majors
Biology is a science and, therefore, most employers would be science and technology or academia related.
Examples of prospective employers include:
- Government. Both local and national government organizations require scientists to conduct specific research.
- Academia. High schools, colleges, and universities need qualified, capable teachers and lectures to educate the next generation.
- Non-profit and non-government organizations. These associations require researchers independent from government agendas for their own agendas.
- Research institutions. These include agricultural, healthcare, wildlife and marine institutes, and any other research institute which may need a biologist.
- Freelance. This option is challenging as you would need to finance your research
Each employer has its set of benefits and drawbacks. There is a need for biologists and biologists that specialize further.
Biology is a broad field of study but one of the most important to pursue. Without biologists, we would not understand how the world around us works or why. Once you have completed a bachelor’s in biology, it is worth all the effort of studying further into a specialized field of biology; doing so will propel your career to lofty heights and increase your capacity and knowledge base.
Peterson’s: The Advantages of Majoring in Biology
U.S. News & World Report: What You Need to Know About Becoming a Biology Major
QS Top Universities: What Can You Do With a Biology Degree?
The Ecological Society of America: What Is Ecology?
Indeed: How To Become a Genetic Engineer
WiseGEEK: What does a Science Journalist do?