Becoming a Biologist: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a biologist's career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a biologist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Biologist Career

Biologists examine organisms and their environments, and can specialize in a variety of areas that coordinate with their interests and passions. Before making a decision on a career in biology, evaluate the pros and cons to make an informed decision on whether it is the right choice for you.

Pros of Becoming a Biologist
High salaries available in some specializations ($84,940 annual median salary for biochemists and biophysicists in 2014)*
Variety of specializations in the field (aquatic biologists, biochemists, microbiologists, etc.)*
Above average job growth in some specializations (19% projected growth from 2012-2022 for biochemists and biophysicists)*
Opportunities available in government, academia and private industry*

Cons of Becoming a Biologist
High preparation requirements (Ph.D. in biology necessary for research positions)*
Competitive job market*
Pressure to meet deadlines and adhere to grant-writing specifications*
Field work can be physically challenging*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Biologists provide information on life processes through the study of living organisms. Some scientists may work in industry applying their knowledge of life science to the development of products, while others conduct research to further biological knowledge. In industry, biological scientists focus their research in areas that result in a new product or process, such as a new drug or medical treatment. They may conduct basic research in colleges, universities and government agencies to develop a greater understanding of biological processes. Scientists may work in laboratories using a wide variety of equipment. Some biologists work in the field studying organisms and life processes in their natural environment.

Career Paths and Specializations

The type of work and duties that you complete daily are typically dependent on your area of specialization. Biologists may specialize in a particular organism or life process, such as marine biologists, who study organisms living in salt water, or wildlife biologists, who study animals and wildlife in their natural habitats. Other specializations in biology include biochemistry, biophysics, botany, microbiology, zoology and ecology.

Job Growth and Salary Info

According to the BLS, employment for biologists is projected to grow at a rate of 7.3% on average between 2012 and 2022. The median annual income varies according to the scientist's specialization. Microbiologists earned an annual median salary of $67,790 in 2014, while zoologists earned $58,270 during the same period. The BLS reported biochemists and biophysicists earned a higher salary during 2014 with a median annual income of $84,940.

Education Requirements

A career in basic research in universities and colleges usually requires a doctorate degree, but positions in applied research, management or inspection are available with a bachelor's or master's degree in biological science. An undergraduate degree program in biology includes courses in biology, physiology, chemistry, mathematics, genetics and ecology. Graduate degree programs allow the student to specialize in an area of biology, such as microbiology, ecology, botany or genetics.

What Employers Are Looking For?

Employers usually seek biologists with experience in an area of specialization, such as zoology or botany. Some employers prefer job candidates with research and lab experience. Below are some examples of job listings for biologists that were available in March 2012:

  • An Oklahoma employer is searching for a senior biologist to conduct surveys and evaluations of wetlands and ecological information for client projects. The biologist must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in biological sciences or environmental planning, along with 6+ years of experience as a biologist, wetland scientist or ecologist.
  • A Missouri company is looking for a molecular biologist to perform sample preparation and testing in the biotechnology industry. The requirements for the position include a bachelor's or master's degree in biology or biotechnology and 1-5 years of research experience.
  • A California employer is seeking a wildlife biologist to collect data, perform analysis and prepare technical reports in the oil, gas and renewable energy industry. The employer requires a bachelor's degree in biology and 8 years of experience in wildlife biology.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Biologists with good communication skills and the ability to translate highly technical information to those without a science background may have an edge in the job market. Business and marketing courses may be helpful to biological scientists planning a career in product development. Positions in the biological sciences can require individuals to spend time in the field, which may require job candidates with physical stamina. Additional skills that may help you secure a position include:

  • Ability to work in a team environment
  • Critical thinking
  • Strategic planning
  • Patience
  • Self discipline

Other Careers to Consider


If you are interested in human biology instead of plants and animals, you may want to consider a job as a physician. The BLS reports the education requirements for doctors are some of the most demanding of all careers; however, the job growth is faster than average at 24% from 2010-2020. A physician must go through an undergraduate degree program, 4 years of medical school and typically a residency to meet state licensing requirements. The salary varies according to the doctor's specialty, but the annual median income for general and family practitioners was $167,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.

Medical Scientist

If you are more interested in working with scientific knowledge in the human arena, you could consider becoming a medical scientist. These workers study and research the conditions and diseases that affect the health of human beings. The work medical scientists perform can help improve the lives and health of people all over the world. A doctorate degree in biological science is necessary to work in the field, but some scientists obtain a doctorate and a medical degree. According to the BLS, the job growth for medical scientists between 2010 and 2020 is expected to be 36%. The annual median salary for medical scientists was $76,000 in 2011.

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