Passion for Science and Learning Opens the Door to Opportunities
Were you the kid who loved bugs and thrilled at finding an abandoned bird nest? Have you always had a curiosity about the natural world? A career in biology might be right for you. Biology is the study of living organisms and is classified into at least nine "umbrella" fields: biochemistry, botany, cellular biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, genetics, molecular biology, physiology and zoology. With the many fields and subfields in this broad area of science, a wide variety exists in employment options and salary range. There are full- and part-time opportunities at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels, so you should be able to find a career path in biology that is right for you and your family.
What Is Biology?
Biology is the study of living things, from single-celled organisms to the largest plants and animals. Biology is often included with the study of other sciences, including math, engineering and even social sciences. Job opportunities are open in every field; your options will depend on your level of education, chosen specialty and geographic location. Median salaries range from $32,490 for a veterinary technologist to $66,850 for a microbiologist. When median salaries are reported for any job, it means half the people holding the position earn more, while half earn less.
The Bachelor's Degree
Earning a bachelor's degree in biology requires that you earn 120 credit hours, which typically takes four years of full-time study at a college or university. Although you may be able to take some courses online, the laboratory component of a biology major is important to prepare you for employment in the field, so a degree program earned exclusively online is not recommended. Bachelor of arts (B.A.) programs in biology include foreign language and studies in the humanities and social sciences. Bachelor of science (B.S.) programs require additional focus on upper-level science courses.
Depending on the school you choose and the size of the biology department, offerings for both B.A. and B.S. programs will usually include courses in the nine "umbrella" fields as well as classes to prepare individuals for different career paths. Anatomy and physiology, for example, might be offered as part of the track for health care and medical research careers, while marine biology might be an option for students planning to work in the environmental industry. A biology major (or concentration) combined with a degree in education prepares you to teach biology and other life sciences in middle school and high school.
Some job titles you can pursue with a bachelor's in biology include:
- Animal technician
- Environmental consultant or technician
- Food and dairy quality control specialist
- Laboratory technician
- Research assistant
The Master's Degree
The master's degree requires, on average, two years of additional coursework beyond the bachelor's. Advanced study prepares you for greater specialization in areas such as microbiology, environmental science and biotechnology. Graduates typically pursue some of the job titles listed at the bachelor's degree level but may have greater responsibilities and higher pay. Salaries for master's-level biologists, research associates and laboratory managers range from $31,000 to $96,000 annually.
The Doctorate Degree
Earning a doctorate, or Ph.D., takes a minimum of two years of study and research beyond the master's degree. As a Ph.D. candidate, you'll focus exclusively on your chosen subfield to prepare for a career as a research scientist or college professor. Starting salaries can range from $36,000 to over $100,000 annually, depending on your area of expertise. Highly trained life scientists are valuable in a number of industries, from health care to food to the environment.
The level of education you pursue depends on your motivation as well as your ability to devote time and financial resources to it. You may decide to work in the field at the bachelor's or master's degree level and return to school later as opportunities and personal interest dictate. Your employer may even help you further your education by providing financial compensation or flexible work hours that give you the time to study and attend classes.
Denise Dayton, M.Ed., M.S. teaches career readiness and workplace success, along with other business courses, at a small college in New England.