How to Become a Biologist: Career Guide
The earlier you can start preparing to become a biologist, the better. Planning out your career path while you are still in high school is a great idea if you can pull it off, but if you can’t it’s not a big deal, as there are many things you can do as a university or college student to get a head start on becoming a biologist.
Education Needed to Become a Biologist
To become a biologist, you need to begin by earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology or a closely related field such as Botany or Biochemistry. Completing coursework in biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics is a great way to build an educational foundation for your prospective career as a biologist. Depending on where your career ambitions and interests lie, you will likely need a graduate degree in biology to become a biologist.
Depending on the requirements of the employer, a Master’s degree in Biology is typically sufficient for many applied research positions. To become a biologist who works in research and university teaching positions a PhD in Biology is needed. Biologists must also complete continuing education throughout their careers in order to keep their skills current stay up to date with advancements in the field.
Tip for Success: Most colleges and universities in Canada and the United States offer a biology program, and many of them allow you to customize your course load to some extent, based on your career goals and interests.
Biologist Job Description: What do Biologists do?
Biologists are responsible for conducting both basic and applied research to increase and apply our knowledge of living organisms for various purposes, such as the improvement of natural resource management, developing or improving medical and agricultural processes and products, environmental conservation and developing nanotechnology.
Biologist Job Duties
• Take inventory and identify various organisms, such as plants, animal or communities thereof
• Design, organize and execute field studies
• Study such things as the population dynamics, genetics, ecosystem or habitat of various organisms
• Collect samples of various organisms
• Design and conduct laboratory testing for the purpose of understanding how organisms function
• Analyze and interpret data from testing
• Prepare detailed reports based on findings and conclusions
• Apply biological principles to areas such as nanotechnology or medicine, depending on area of specialty
• Supervise the work of biological and laboratory technicians
• Prepare and present recommendations regarding the sustainable development of resources
Characteristics Needed to Become a Biologist
Even with the right education and skill set, becoming successful in a career as a biologist is not guaranteed. If you’re reading the list of personality and intellectual traits listed below, and you recognize many of the traits in yourself, you may be well suited to become a biologist.
• An interest, curiosity and appreciation for different forms of life
• An interest in mathematics, statistics and science
• Excellent oral and written communication skills
• Able to use logic and reasoning to solve problems
• Enjoy conducting research and synthesizing information
• Must enjoy working with specialized equipment and instruments
• Stamina and endurance, applicable to long hours of fieldwork
• Attention to detail and excellent observation skills
• Strong organizational skills and ability to keep detailed records
• Ability to excel in a team environment and effectively deal with difference in opinion
Types of Biologist Specialty Careers: Occupational Titles
There are many different forms that biologist careers can take, as there are many areas of specialty within the field of biology. Below are some examples of specialized biologist occupational titles as well as brief descriptions.
Anatomist: Studies the structure of living organisms
Bacteriologist: Studies the presence, structure, and function of bacteria in a physical sample
Biologist (General): Studies various aspects of living organisms and their habitats
Botanist: Studies various aspects of plant biology
Cell biologist: Studies all aspects of cells including cell anatomy, cell division (mitosis and meiosis), and cell processes such as cell respiration, and cell death
Ecologist: Studies the interaction between organisms and their environment
Embryologist: Involved in fertility treatment and reproductive research
Geneticist: Studies genetics, the science of genes, heredity, and variation of organisms
Histologist: Studies the architecture and inter-relationships of tissues and organs
Immunologist: Studies the functions of the body's immune system for the purpose of diagnosing and monitoring diseases and disorders
Marine biologist: Studies various marine ecosystems and the organisms there within
Microbiologist: Studies the structure and processes of microorganisms, cell tissues, proteins, and biological medicines
Molecular biologist: Studies the interactions between the various systems of a cell as well as how these interactions are regulated
Parasitologist: Studies parasites and their relationship with their hosts
Pharmacologist: Studies the relationships between chemicals and living organisms
Physiologist: Studies an organism's vital functions such as the absorption and processing of nutrients and the functioning of different tissues and organs, among others
Protozoologist: Studies protozoa to learn more about how they are formed, how they cause illness in humans, and how they relate to the cells in other organisms
Toxicologist: Studies the impact of toxic materials and radiation on human and animal health, the environment, and the impact of future technology
Virologist: Studies the viruses that infect humans, animals, bacterial cells, and plants
Zoologist: Studies the development, behavior and diseases of animals
Who Hires Biologists?
Biologist careers can take many different forms, as there are many employers, representing many different sectors of industry that are interested in the skills and knowledge of biologists. Below is an example of the types of employers that hire biologists.
• Agricultural research agencies/firms
• Biological photography companies
• Biological supply companies
• Biotechnology firms
• Colleges, universities, and plant research centers
• Ecological consulting companies
• Environmental and biotechnical regulatory agencies
• Environmental impact research and assessment organizations
• Federal biological/botanical agencies
• Food production companies
• Food regulation department of government
• Marine/freshwater biological organizations
• Museums and conservatories
• National, state/provincial parks
• Pharmaceutical firms
• Schools (teacher)
• Science journals
Find Biologist Job Postings
Work Environment for Biologists
The work settings, conditions and duties of biologists can vary greatly from one field of specialty or one employer to the next. Below are examples of the primary types of settings for biologist careers:
Office: Biologists working in an office setting provide advice and counsel to businesses, environmental groups or government agencies. Biologists that work in office settings typically work during normal weekday hours.
Classroom: These biologists typically conduct lectures, grade papers and advise students. They have working hours that can fluctuate from very few hours a week to a very heavy workload. They may work normal weekday working hours with extra hours put in for preparing lesson plans, grading papers and performing other duties during evenings and weekends. Some biologists teaching in universities and colleges may teach classes exclusively, or they may be involved in research as well.
Laboratory: These biologists spend the majority of their time conducting, documenting and analyzing research in a laboratory setting. Working in a laboratory typically involves working with hazardous organic materials and inorganic chemicals. These biologists typically work during normal weekday hours.
Field work: Field biologists are involved in the identification and documentation of species, ecosystems and habitats, as well as the collection of biological samples. Biologists who perform work in the field are subject to a variety of weather conditions and work hazards. Their work may also involve traveling for long periods of time on research ships, or it may involve them traversing remote and rugged terrain for various lengths of time.
In the United States it’s difficult to determine the exact expected salary for biologists, as reliable figures for the salary levels of general biologists are hard to come by. However, the U.S Labor and Statistics Bureau reports that the median salary for Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists, who typically perform duties very similar to those of general biologists, was $57,430 USD per year. The Labor and Statistics Bureau also reports that the median salary level for Microbiologists was $65,920 per year (2010 figures).
In Canada, the salary figures for Biologists are equally difficult to come by, with the most reliable figures being available for biologists working in Alberta. According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, those working the in Biologists and Related Scientists occupational group in Alberta earned an average salary of $22,500 to $93,800 CAD per year. The average salary for employees in this group was $58,400 CAD per year.
Note: Salary levels can vary greatly for biologists, depending on the level of education, who the employer is, and the amount of experience of the biologist.
Make Biology Career Preparations in High School
Taking courses in math, biology, physics and chemistry is a great way to get a head start on becoming a biologist. These courses will give you a solid understanding of the scientific principles at work in biology.
Learn what biologists do: Speaking with biologists and related scientists can give you a great idea of what it’s like to become a biologist. You can also speak with professionals in related occupations, such as doctors, dentists, pharmacists and veterinarians in order to gain an idea of what other careers related to biology are like.
Choose a university or college to attend: Deciding where to go to college and what to study is a daunting and thorough task. Make it a little easier on yourself by talking to your school’s guidance counselor. They will be able to help you find schools that suit your professional ambitions and interests, as well as provide you with tips on which programs will be of interest to you.
Tip for Success: Speaking with your school’s guidance counselor will also provide with confidence in knowing you have support!
Get the right summer job
Getting a summer job, internship or volunteer experience in a laboratory, medical office, veterinarian’s office or in a similar setting as a high school student can be great exposure to what scientific professionals do.
Tip for Success: Getting a summer job related to biology or lab work is a great way to develop contacts!
Careers Similar to Biologist
Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Biologist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.
References: How to Become a Biologist
Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a biologist.
Alberta Learning and Information Service website: alis.alberta.ca
Service Canada website: www.servicecanada.gc.ca
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Microbiologists website: www.bls.gov
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists website: www.bls.gov
Scholarships for Becoming a Biologist
The Applicable Majors section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a Biologist. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our Biochemistry Scholarships, Biology Scholarships and Botany Scholarships pages.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Becoming a Biologist: Applicable Majors
Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a Biologist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!