Careers in Biology

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From: Biology(Vol. 1. 2nd ed.)
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Occupation overview
Pages: 10
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Careers in Biology


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*protein complex molecule made from amino acids; used in cells for structure, signaling, and controlling reactions

A biochemist is a scientist primarily concerned with the chemistry of biological processes. The four main branches of biochemistry are nucleic acids, proteins * , carbohydrates, and lipids. Most biochemists will generally specialize in one of these areas. The training and scientific focus of a biochemist is what distinguishes him or her from others in related disciplines (molecular genetics, cell biology, analytic chemistry, and biophysics). Biochemists deal chiefly with scientific research of specific biochemical structures, interactions, or reactions. Minimal training for a technician-level position in biochemistry generally requires a bachelor of Page 153  |  Top of Articlescience (BS) in biochemistry or chemistry whereas those wishing for more professional autonomy should attain a graduate degree. Doctorallevel biochemists achieve the greatest autonomy. Before attaining their first independent position they will usually undergo additional training after completion of their in doctor of philosophy (PhD), a postdoctoral position. Biochemists work in the biopharmaceutical and agricultural biotechnology industries, academia, clinical laboratories, and various regulatory and military posts in government.

Michael L. Gleason


Northern Illinois University Career Services. “Chemistry and Biochemistry.” .


A botanist is a scientist who studies plants. The study of plants encompasses their evolution, classification, anatomy, physiology, development, genetics, diversity, ecology, and economic uses. Professional botanists typically specialize in one of these areas, or more likely in a smaller subspecialty, such as the evolution of the angiosperms (flowering plants), the biochemistry of photosynthesis, or the cultivation of roses for the wholesale market. Botanists may be employed by universities as professors or researchers, by the government to (for instance) conduct field studies of plant diversity in a national park or to compare crop planting systems, by agricultural industries to perform research on crops or to breed new types of plant varieties, or by pharmaceutical companies to discover new sources of plant-based drugs in the tropical rain forest or to develop them in the laboratory from plant sources.

A career in botany requires at least a bachelor's degree from a 4-year college. This would enable someone to begin work as a research assistant, for instance. Most professional botanists entering the field today earn a PhD, which gives them the qualifications and credentials to conduct research or manage a plant breeding program, for example. To pursue botany as a major in college, high school students should take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and math, and they would benefit from getting hands-on experience with plants, either by gardening, farming, working in a nursery or greenhouse, or simply exploring the natural world around them.

Richard Robinson

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Botanical Society of America. “Careers in Botany.”

College Professor

College and university professors have satisfying careers because they work in an intellectually stimulating environment and with people who want to learn more about the world around them. Professors need to have many qualities and skills such as excellent teaching abilities, inquisitive minds, a love of learning, and a willingness to dedicate their lives to their profession.

Science professors need to have a great deal of education. A bachelor's degree (bachelor of science or bachelor of arts) is earned after completing a minimum of three and a half to four years of college. A master's degree can be earned in approximately two years of study. To teach in a college or university, the minimum requirement is a PhD degree in one of the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, or geology. The doctorate is primarily a research degree, which takes 3–5 years to complete depending on the topic that is chosen for research. The research topics in science are sharply focused and require experimental study in the field or a laboratory on a subject that has previously never been explored.

In addition to these three degrees, it is common for professors to have postdoctoral (“postdoc”) experience doing research full time for one or more years before they are accepted for a position as a professor.

A professor may teach various courses, which is for many the most exciting part of this career. Professors usually teach two to four courses per semester. Each course requires a great deal of preparation by reading much material about the subject, especially new discoveries, and designing ways to teach the materials so that the students understand it well. Professors are expected to advise students about courses and careers available to them. Faculty members are required to conduct research and publish the results in journals. However, not everything that is written by a faculty member gets published in a journal.

Orin G. Gelderloos


Purdue University. “What Do Biologists Do?”

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An epidemiologist is a scientist who studies how diseases interact with populations. Most epidemiologists study the relationships between germs and people, but some investigate animal or plant diseases. These scientists study the factors involved in every aspect of a disease, including the start, spread, and treatment.

Three primary types of studies/reports are performed by epidemiologists: descriptive, analytical, and experimental. In descriptive studies, epidemiologists determine the physical aspects of existing diseases. Analytical studies report on the cause/effect relationships in a disease, such as the reasons behind increased numbers of cholera cases in a flood ravaged area or a decrease in influenza cases due to a mild winter. In experimental studies, epidemiologists test hypotheses about treatment of diseases such as the efficacy (success rate) of a hepatitis vaccine or testing experimental cures for human immunodeficiency virus infections on animal models.

Epidemiologists work for a wide range of employers. Governmental services ranging from the Centers for Disease Control to local city and county health departments employ many epidemiologists. International health centers such as the World Health Organization track worldwide pandemics to localized epidemics across the globe. Hospitals often employ epidemiologists to assist them in disease control within the hospital. Epidemiologists also work in the private sector, often for pharmaceutical companies tracking the success rate of newly introduced drugs.

The degrees held by people working in epidemiology vary from associate degrees in health sciences to doctoral degrees specializing in epidemiology. Important secondary classes that could be taken to prepare for epidemiology training include microbiology, biology (advanced and general), medical terminology, biochemistry, and statistics.

Mark S. Davis


Public Health Online. “A Guide to Careers in Epidemiology.” .

Health and Safety Officer

Most companies, universities, and academic medical centers employ a health and safety officer (HSO). The HSO promotes the health and safety of employees and is in charge of the company's formal health and safety program. The HSO writes policies and procedures that the company and its employees must follow to ensure a safe work environment. The HSO often observes workers to determine causes of injuries and Page 156  |  Top of Articlerecommends ways to avoid injuries or exposure to hazardous materials. The HSO provides personal protective equipment for eye and hearing protection, requires machine guards to prevent injuries, and requires protective clothing to guard against chemicals and bacteria. Sometimes the HSO works with a physician to determine the cause of a worker's illness. Usually a bachelor's degree and a few years of experience in health and safety are adequate for small companies. Large companies and organizations often require formal graduate training in safety and certification (e.g., a certified safety professional). The HSO at a large company often has a bachelor's degree in a biological or physical science plus a master's degree or doctorate depending on the needs of the company.

Richard J. Vetter


Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Occupational Health and Safety Specialists.” .

High School Biology Teacher

Those with a broad knowledge of life science, strong interpersonal and decision-making skills, and an understanding of human development can become high school biology teachers. To prepare for this career, a student should have four years each of science and mathematics coursework, pursue outside interests in science and nature, and spend considerable time working with young people.

Biology teachers work independently and with others to select the material to be taught, apply effective teaching methods for conveying that material to adolescents, and evaluate students' knowledge of the subject. Responsible for the production of scientifically literate citizens and future scientists, they should be able to inspire and instruct.

Teaching generally requires a bachelor's in biology and an additional year of college preparation to learn how students acquire knowledge as well as ways that are effective for promoting learning. Once prepared, individuals seek approval from the state's certifying body, which will attest that the candidate has met the content and pedagogical requirements to teach biology to high school students. Having a criminal-free background, completing a period of supervised practice teaching, and passing a licensure exam are among the requirements. Certified teachers are employed by public school districts and private schools throughout the state of licensure.

Karynne L. M. Kleine


National Science Teachers Association. .

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Laboratory Technician

Laboratory technicians do almost all of the hands-on work in scientific research, development, and analysis. One of the benefits of being a laboratory technician is being the first to see experimental outcomes, whether they are prize-winning projects or more routine medical exams.

The different types of jobs that laboratory technicians have and the skills and training required for those jobs can tremendously vary. In a clinical laboratory, a laboratory technician may examine blood samples for cell counts, examine tissue samples for parasites * , or test fluids for chemical contaminants or drugs. In industrial production environments, laboratory technicians may conduct product quality tests and monitor product quality control. In all settings, laboratory technicians work with the most modern and sophisticated laboratory and computer equipment available. Potential employers include government and private research laboratories, universities, hospitals, and private industries. These employers may have research-, development-, clinical-, forensic * -, or production-oriented objectives. Education and training for a laboratory technician is based in science and technology. Preparation in high school should include college preparatory courses that will support extensive college requirements for mathematics and science. Entry-level positions for laboratory technicians almost always require a two-year associate's or a four-year bachelor's degree in a scientific area (commonly biology, chemistry, physics, biotechnology, or natural resources). In some cases, a master's of science degree or professional certification program and exam must be completed. Almost all beginning laboratory technicians receive additional on-the-job training, and laboratory technicians should expect to continue updating their education and training as technology advances.

Michael G. Scott


Biotech Careers. “Molecular Biology Technician.” .

Marine Biologist

A marine biologist is someone who studies plants, animals, and other organisms of the oceans, ranging from large marine mammals to microscopic plankton. Marine biologists study such subjects as animal behavior and ecology, biomedical uses of the sea, the commercial importance of the ocean's natural resources, and methods for preservation of species and habitats.

*parasites organism living in close association with another from which it derives most of its nutrition

*forensic the application of scientific knowledge to legal proceedings

The need for marine biologists has increased because of growing interest in conservation of the oceans, and many are employed by private and government environmental protection and resource management agencies. For example, marine biologists are needed to determine catch quotas for species of fish to prevent a decline in population. In addition Page 158  |  Top of Articleto performing basic research, they present information to governments and industries to aid in resource conservation decisions. As land development increases, marine biologists are needed to determine its effects on surrounding habitats and whether an ecosystem can withstand human invasion. Marine biologists also find work worldwide teaching in colleges, universities, and even some high schools. Many work on oceanographic research vessels and in laboratories from polar to tropical settings.

Employment opportunities are available from the bachelor to the doctorate level, with greater independence, decision-making responsibility, and income at the higher levels. A working knowledge of computers is increasingly necessary for data collection and analysis. Satellite imaging and global information systems are common uses of computers in the field.

Lisa Nicole Saladin
Kenneth S. Saladin


American Fisheries Society. “Careers.”

Scripps Institution of Oceanography. .

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. .


Microbiologists are scientists who investigate the world of microscopic organisms, including all bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, along with some algae and fungi. Microbiologists are often associated with determining the microbes involved with causing disease, but their work extends into every other facet of life. Working variously as immunologists, epidemiologists, etiologists, chemotherapists, and microbial taxonomists, microbiologists identify, control, and prevent organisms from causing disease. Microbiologists can study transfer of genetic information from one organism to another (genetics) or the control of chemical metabolism inside organisms (physiology). Industrial applications using microbes can greatly vary. Microbiologists can use microscopic organisms for bioremediation (cleaning the environment), pharmaceutical uses (discovery and production of antibiotics), food microbiology (using microbes to produce/protect food and beverages), and fermentation technology (production/manufacture of products such as vitamins and enzymes).

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Degrees held by microbiologists can vary greatly from a high school diploma to a doctorate degree. Most microbiologists have at least an undergraduate degree in biology. More specific degrees are available in fields such as epidemiology, microbiology, virology, mycology, biochemistry, and food microbiology. Associate degrees or training programs may help train microbiologists to work in hospital departments such as microbiology (identifying organisms), chemistry (profiles of patient physiology), cytology (identifying abnormal cells), and blood banks.

Mark S. Davis


American Society for Microbiology. ASM Careers in the Microbiological Sciences. .

Tortora, Gerard J., Berdell R. Funke, and Christine L. Case. Microbiology: An Introduction. 12th ed. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings, 2015.


A microscopist is any scientist or technician who routinely uses a microscope in his or her work. Although beginning students usually have some experience with simple light microscopes, there are many types of more sophisticated microscopes for special purposes, such as phase contrast and fluorescence light microscopes, scanning and transmission electron microscopes, and tunneling electron microscopes that can see even down to the level of individual molecules. These types of microscopes require specialized training to be able to properly prepare specimens, use the microscope, and record the images.

Positions for technicians typically require a bachelor of science degree, although some are available with only a high school diploma and on-the-job training, an associate's degree, or certification from a training program in areas such as electron microscopy. Independent research in microscopy usually requires a master's degree or doctorate.

Microscopists are employed by universities, medical schools, hospitals, museums, industries, and government agencies. Microscopists work not only in biology but also in medicine, chemistry, geology, materials science, electronics, forensic science, food science, and other fields.

Kenneth S. Saladin
Sara E. Miller

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Microscopy Society of America. “Job Board.” . “Guide to Microscopy.” .

Plant Pathologist

Plant pathologists specialize in the study of the nature, cause, and control of the diseases of plants. Plant pathologists are employed by colleges and universities, agricultural businesses, research organizations, government agencies, and private enterprises and as self-employed practitioners. They teach and conduct research; provide advice on the diagnosis and control of plant diseases; manage greenhouses, parks, golf courses, and farms; and serve as sales representatives and administrators. A career as a plant pathologist typically begins with a bachelor's degree in one of the chemical, biological, or physical sciences. Preparation for most professional positions will include specialized graduate work leading to a master of science and/or doctor of philosophy degree. Graduate plant pathology specialties include virology, bacteriology, mycology, molecular plant pathology, epidemiology, biological control, and diagnosis.

John R. Steele


The American Phytopathological Society. “Plant Pathology/Disease Online.” .

University of Florida. “Plant Pathology Specialties.” .

Science Writer

In 1999, gene therapy researchers accidentally killed a healthy 19-yearold boy and then covered up the evidence. Only the work of two newspaper reporters and a science writer brought the story to light. The science writer's work showed that the scientists had continued risky experiments on humans for months. A science writer is a person who writes about science for newspapers, magazines, television shows, or university public information offices. Most science writers have at least a college degree. Some have no training in science and learn what they need to know on the job by talking to scientists. Others have at least a bachelor of arts in a science, such as biology or chemistry. To become a science writer, one can just start writing articles and try to get them published, perhaps in a college newspaper. Once they have clips from their Page 161  |  Top of Articlevolunteer work, they can show them to an editor and find paying work. Many students enter a graduate program in science writing and then launch their careers by taking an internship or job at a newspaper, radio station, or magazine.

Jennie Dusheck
Katherine W. Silber


National Association of Science Writers. .

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3629800074