Biology is the study of living organisms, at the cellular, molecular, and group levels. Students exploring this field will get a comprehensive look at life cycles, from food-to-energy conversions, reproduction, and death. Biology students also examine interactions between different classes of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, animals, and humans. Some biologists will focus on population patterns, examining trends within ecosystems that cause species levels to drop or explode.
Biology majors can work as lab technicians or scientists in a variety of settings once they graduate. Governments need biologists to study organisms that affect agriculture and human disease control. Physician offices rely on biology and health sciences labs to test blood and tissue samples from patients. And food companies need biologists to test and develop their products to ensure the safest and healthiest food possible. These opportunities make biology a very interesting field to work in, since scientists’ skills can be put to use across multiple disciplines.
Students diving into biology courses as undergraduates will start by examining organisms at the cellular and molecular levels, learning about some of the smaller components of life. From here, students will usually move on to biological classification systems, evolution theory, species’ histories, and the biology of infectious diseases. Biology students will have a wide variety of life forms to study within their first few years, including plants, insects, bacteria, fungi, and humans. More advance topics include how organisms work in systems, such as ecology, population patterns, disease pathologies, and outbreak epidemiology.
At the undergraduate level, students who wish to go on to practice medicine can choose to specialize in health and human biological sciences. Another route is to explore a education degree emphasis, which prepares biology students to teach at the secondary level. As they progress toward graduate levels, students can specialize in topics like microbiology, biotechnology, molecular biology, or immunology. Biology specializations can be quite diverse, and the offerings can differ based on one’s school and its resources.
Students can enroll in biology degrees at the associate to Ph.D. level. Each of these degree types will open new career options upon completion.
This two-year program only gives students enough time to explore the fundamentals of biology. Most community colleges offer this degree option so students can get familiar with the field, choose a specialty, and then apply the credits to a bachelor’s program. An associate degree would be considered inadequate preparation for most entry-level biology jobs.
This four-year program will get students acquainted with the fundamental concepts of biology, along with some specialty topics. Upon graduations, bachelor’s degree holders can explore roles as health lab technicians, biology scientists, food quality controllers, environmental technicians, or vet technicians.
Once students enter biology at the graduate level, they often choose to specialize in areas like microbiology, evolutionary biology, or ecology. Before enrolling within a graduate level program, students should take care to examine the quality of the lab facilities at their prospective colleges, since this can influence the type of research they conduct. Master’s students may take on jobs as teaching assistants as they complete their program. Master’s graduates can find work as researchers within government, medical, and environmental offices.
People who continue to study biology at the doctoral level might have to pass a qualification exam, so that faculty members can make sure a candidate meets the program’s rigorous standards. Biology students will be expected to conduct guided research within their specialization, which will be used within their final capstone project, a Ph.D. dissertation. In addition to faculty roles, doctoral graduates can pursue jobs as biological scientists at private and public health institutions, government labs, and environmental organizations.
Students should consider joining a national academic honors society, such as Beta Beta Beta (BBB) or Phi Sigma, which gives scholars the opportunity to network, further your understanding of biology R&D, and apply for merit-based funding options. Professional organizations, such as the American Institute of Biological Sciences, provide access to exclusive biology publications, conferences, and networking opportunities for both students and researchers.
Ideal Candidates for Biology
Highly observant individuals will thrive in a biology program. Students are required to conduct careful study of organisms and biochemical reactions at the cellular level with powerful microscopes. In addition to a keen eye for detail, students must be excellent notetakers and record-keepers; data recordings are instrumental to any biologist’s research. Another crucial trait is patience, since biologist might be called upon to wait longer periods of time to observe a behavior or reaction during an experiment. Patience can also help when researchers have to complete repetitive tasks, such as studying the effects on multiple generations of fruit flies within the lab.
Biologists need to be process oriented, since deviation from safety protocols can result in dangerous exposure, especially with scientists working with harmful chemicals or pathogens. Workflows will be particularly useful in the completion of experiments. Scientists need to carefully follow lab protocols to prevent cross-contamination, imprecise measurement and a number of other failures that can compromise the results of an experiment.
Those who hold an undergraduate degree in biology can often find biological lab technician roles in several different environments, such as government offices, academic institutions, chemical labs and factories, and medical institutions. The median pay for these professionals is $39,750 a year, or $19.11 per hour. This field has an average job outlook, growing at a rate of 10% during the years 2012 to 2022. These technicians analyze lab samples, record data, and assist lab scientists with their research.
Graduate degree holders can become biological scientists, who make an average of $76,220 a year, or $36.64 an hour. These researchers are frequently found in government labs, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions. Physicians rely heavily on biological scientists, who can test blood work, urine, and other patient samples, leading to medical diagnoses.
Prospective biology students can get a firm grasp of their degree program options by reaching out to high school counselors, admissions offices, and faculty members. Honors societies, professional guilds, and on-campus career advising offices ensure that biology students continue to have access to academic and job resources during their studies and after graduation.