Following a career in biology is a rewarding experience for anyone interested in asking questions, making observations, collecting and evaluating evidence, and solving problems about how the natural world around us works.
Biologists focus on learning about living organisms ranging from individual cells to complex structures like plants and animals. They may study specialized subcellular structures like vacuoles or ribosomes, or they may research how living things interact with each other and evolve over time. Biological scientists’ research findings are critical to helping us understand the natural world around us so that we can solve complex problems involving diseases, food supplies, and environmental issues.
Planning Your Future as a Biologist
If you are interested in becoming a biologist, it’s best if you start early at the high school level by taking a variety of courses in chemistry, math and physics as well as in biology. This will help you determine that you really do have an aptitude for this field of study and give you time to explore some possible career options. And high school is a great time to participate in biological science learning activities like a biology club or science fair that can help you get some hands-on scientific training as well as provide an additional highlight on your college entrance application.
It’s also a good idea to actually spend some time talking with biological professionals working in several sub-specialties that you are considering. Arrange an interview with your high school biology teacher, if that is a job that you might be considering.
Or see if your dentist or veterinarian might be able to spare a few minutes to discuss what led them to their profession and what they like and dislike most about it. Most professionals are happy to spend some time answering questions about their careers if you take the time to approach them and set an appointment that fits into their schedule.
Finally, it is very important that you carefully consider your college options, especially since the biological sciences field is such a large one. You want to be sure that you spend your time and your hard-earned money at a reputable institution that will offer classes in whatever area of biology that you are particularly interested in. A school with a great agricultural biology department may not be so good for someone who is planning a career in microbiology.
Take time to research all of the schools that you are interested in by talking to your high school guidance counselor, and to admissions counselors, current students, and faculty at the schools you are considering. Whenever possible, do a campus visit to get a feel not only for the school itself, but for the surrounding area as well.
You will also have to decide how much education you will actually need to achieve your career goals since this will factor heavily in which college you decide to attend. An associate’s degree in biology may be sufficient to work as a research assistant in a university, medical or industrial laboratory. But realistically most jobs in the biological sciences require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, with a master’s degree offering better career opportunities and payrates. And if you want to conduct research, you will definitely need to obtain a doctorate which will likely take 5 or 6 years of intense training to complete.
Starting Your Career in the Biological Sciences
Once you have been accepted to the school of your choice and are on your way to becoming a professional biological scientist, there are a few tips that will help you get your career started right. First of all, introduce yourself to a your faculty advisor or guidance counselor if one is assigned to you. They can give you advice on which classes will be most useful for you, help you evaluate your career path options, and even point you towards job opportunities.
Secondly, once you have completed the basic introductory courses, you can ask your biology professors if they have any part-time jobs that will give you hands-on laboratory, field or research experience. This is a great way to make professional connections that can help you with letters of recommendation or job search networking in the future, and the extra money is always helpful, too.
And if working during the school year isn’t something that’s practical for you given your course load, there are always summer internships. Like other undergraduate jobs, internships help you gain experience and make contacts that can be helpful to you throughout your career. And they also reflect well on you if you choose to apply for graduate biology programs as well.
Job Options for Biological Science Students
As a student or recent graduate with a degree in biology, you have a wide range of career options available to you.
Research biologists, as their name implies, are focused on using current scientific tools and techniques to study the natural world. Depending on their field of study, they may work in a laboratory setting, or in the field in exotic locations.
Biologists who specialize in health care include veterinarians, public health workers, physicians, dentists, and epidemiologists among other specialties. These biological scientists may be responsible for planning and conducting national or worldwide campaigns to eradicate or contain serious illnesses like AIDS or smallpox. Or they may work in the medical field to develop and test treatments for illnesses in human or animal populations.
And biologists in the specialized field of forensic biology work with the police and law enforcement to collect and analyze evidence in criminal cases.
Biologists who select careers in environmental management like conservation or hydrology want to preserve the natural world around us for future generations and solve environmental problems caused by businesses, human populations, and even natural disasters. Informing the public about potential or ongoing environmental issues, and working with governments, businesses and special interest groups to develop environmentally responsible procedures is an important part of their jobs.
Biology majors or graduates can also choose a career in teaching where they can help others discover the fascination of investigating the world around us, or asssit their students with specifically preparing for a biology career. Biology teachers not only work in school classrooms or university research labs, but they can also be found in museums, aquariums, zoos, national parks, and nature centers. In all of these areas they share their knowledge through lectures, workshops, exhibits, and even tours and nature hikes if appropriate. Depending on their position they may also oversee student research projects and manage research programs.
Biologists who specialize in the field of biotechnology are generally found in the medical, food science or agricultural sectors where they focus on making technological advances by developing new products or new strains of crops, or by enhancing existing ones through additional features and capabilities.
For those who are even more technically oriented, specializations like computational biology and bioinformatics rely heavily on mathematical techniques in order to solve complex biological problems like gene sequencing and generating ecosystem models.
It’s no surprise that biologists conduct research and development work with pharmaceutical companies and scientific manufacturing firms to synthesize and test new products. But biological scientists can also use their specialized skills in the marketing, public relations and even sales departments of these organizations as well.
And moving even further out of the laboratory, biological scientists are often in demand as advisors in governmental and legal areas regarding biomedical research and environmental concerns. They can help legislators and attorneys understand complex scientific principles and interpret research findings so that informed decisions can be made regarding public policy or legal issues.
Biologists can also focus on the economic impact of biological issues and help governments and other agencies balance the need to protect the environment, save an endangered species, or minimize pollution with the costs of safety measures or the use of alternative “green” technologies.
The specialized field of science writing is another possible career path for graduates with a biology degree. Keeping the public informed about new discoveries and environmental and health issues is very important, and journalists and writers with a strong biological background who can accurately yet clearly convey scientific information in layman’s terms are always needed.
And for biologists with artistic talent, the area of biological illustration can be a lucrative one. The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words really is true, and biological illustrators who can generate accurate and detailed illustrations for textbooks, trade publications, or even newspapers and magazines targeted towards the general public can usually find work.