Biology Jobs for Science Lovers
2019-03-13

FEW FIELDS SEEM MORE important than biology, the study of life. From global climate change to cancer research, its findings matter in ways both immense and intimate.

"Biology and the understanding of it can have life-or-death consequences," says Jaclyn Reeves-Pepin, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Accordingly, the prospect of a career in biology intrigues many people. They may be surprised to learn that biology jobs don't necessarily require biology degrees. In fact, some are intended for people who graduated from related, but distinct, undergraduate programs. For example, the quickest way for an aspiring nurse to reach the working world is pursuing a degree in nursing, not biology, even though he or she will draw on biology research on the job.

A second factor to consider is that a biology bachelor's degree alone won't qualify workers for some careers in biology, including many coveted health care occupations. There's a lot of hype about the benefits of studying STEM subjects, but savvy students realize that no college degree assures career success, and biology undergraduate programs don't correspond neatly with "biology major jobs."

Only a third of students who earned bachelor's degrees in biological and biomedical sciences in 2016 were employed full time six months after graduation, while another third were continuing their educations, according to research conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Among those who were working, the average starting salary was $35,408, lower than the wages reported by students who earned degrees in the physical sciences, math and engineering.

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So before signing up for a full slate of biology courses, it's worth asking, "What can you do with a biology degree?" and deciding whether the answers suit your interests and goals.

Further, it may make more sense to first figure out which biology jobs are best for you, learn what they require and then pick a matching major. To that end, check out the following careers in biology.

Laboratory assistant analyzing a blood sample
(ISTOCKPHOTO)

Clinical Laboratory Technician

Working behind the scenes, clinical laboratory technicians play critical roles in accurately diagnosing diseases. After physicians order blood, urine or tissue tests from patients, these professionals analyze samples and sometimes help interpret the results and suggest next steps for treatment.

Entry-level jobs are available at both the associate and bachelor's degree levels in settings such as hospitals, doctor's offices, diagnostic companies, government agencies, universities, environmental testing agencies, forensic labs and law enforcement departments.

"What I tell our students is, 'The array of jobs open to you is only limited by your imagination. Take your skills – quality, accuracy, attention to detail – and apply them in a lot of different avenues,'" says Janice Conway-Klaassen, associate professor and director of the medical laboratory sciences program at the University of Minnesota.

To earn the credentials required to work in the field, students should pass up biology programs in favor of medical laboratory science programs, she recommends.

With a median salary of $51,770 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession isn't as highly paid as others tied to health care. But it does offer a sense of fulfillment to many workers who want to make a difference in patients' lives, plus career stability, says Conway-Klaassen: "Health care is recession-resistant."

Relevant job titles include:

  • Medical laboratory technician.
  • Medical laboratory scientist.
  • Phlebotomist.
  • Histotechnician.
  • Public health laboratory technician.
  • Lab scientist.
  • Lab specialist.
  • Histotechnologist.
  • Cytotechnologist.
  • Pathologist assistant.

(JAMIE GRILL/GETTY IMAGES)

Genetic Counselor

Blending genetics knowledge with therapy training, genetic counselors help families navigate the rapidly evolving world of DNA research. Three situations account for most work these professionals do: cancer, pregnancy and rare disease pediatrics.

"For me, it was a fantastic combination of medicine, biology and science, and patient care, which is not a combination you can get in a lot of roles," says Erica Ramos, president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

As of 2018, 33 fully accredited programs offer master's degrees in the subject, which are necessary to work in the industry, according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

"Biology is a fantastic major to go into this field with, but it's not a requirement," Ramos says.

Nearly 80 percent of genetic counselors work in university medical centers, commercial diagnostic labs and hospitals, Ramos says. Most work directly with patients, collecting their medical and family histories, answering their questions, collecting samples of their DNA and helping them make decisions about how to integrate genetic information into their health care.

Median pay for these professionals was $77,480 in 2017, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunity in the field is expanding, Ramos says, noting that 100 percent of respondents to the 2018 National Society of Genetic Counselors survey of new graduates had roles waiting for them.

Zookeepers hold the nine-day-old lioness cubs at Himeji Central Park on July 9, 2013, in Himeji, Japan. (Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)(BUDDHIKA WEERASINGHE/GETTY IMAGES)

Animal Keeper

Caring for lions, pandas and orangutans is a dream many animal lovers share. That widespread passion for the animal kingdom makes zookeeper and aquarist jobs extremely competitive, says Ed Hansen, CEO of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

At the same time, professionals who care for animals tend to not be paid well: median annual pay in 2017 was $23,160, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite needing an associate or bachelor's degree in animal science, ecology, zoology or biology, plus hands-on experience, some animal keepers make minimum wage.

"It's a trade-off," Hansen explains. "You strike a weird balance of, 'I will accept less money with my college degree to do a job I have been pursuing and thinking about since I was old enough to think about what animals are.'"

Caring for animals is physically demanding work that comes with smells and messes. Animals don't take days off, which means the people who care for them often work on weekends and holidays.

"You're working rain, shine, snow or 110 degrees," Hansen says.

Yet devoted zoo or aquarium professionals endure it all to live out their love for wildlife, Hansen says: "They take the good with the bad."

(GETTY IMAGES)

Drug Developer

Students of science who like conducting research but prefer collaboration to lonely laboratory hours may be well-suited to careers in the pharmaceutical industry.

"Across the board, there's tremendous need within the pharmaceutical sector for people with a background in biological sciences," says Ken Kaitin, director of Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. "It's a team sport. Having a background in something that says, 'I can be a valuable member of the team' would increase the likelihood a pharmaceutical company would pick you up."

Getting a job in the industry usually requires a graduate degree. Specialized knowledge of particular diseases or body systems can make candidates especially attractive to companies that produce relevant medicines.

Outside of pure research roles, drug companies also need professionals who can navigate federal regulations, recruit patients for clinical trials and market products to consumers. Having an MBA degree can help prepare people with biology backgrounds for these opportunities.

"A basic understanding of business concepts will get you out of a lab-based environment and make you a more valuable participant in the team exercise of drug development," Kaitin says.

Pay in the industry varies by position. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, executives make median salaries that exceed $100,000, scientist salaries range from the mid-$70,000s to high $80,000s, and science technicians earn median wages from the high $40,000s to low $60,000s.

A high school biology teacher explain a human skeleton. (GETTY IMAGES)

Biology Teacher

From evolution to sex ed, biology teachers impart essential lessons to students throughout their academic lives.

Teaching biology "takes someone who wants to improve science literacy and promote scientific thinking in the culture at large," says Reeves-Pepin.

Median pay for secondary school teachers in 2017 was $59,170, with salaries varying by county and state. Rather than following a specific pipeline, people come to the profession using different paths. Some study biology in college, then earn master's degrees in education, others study both subjects simultaneously as undergraduates, and still others work first in research or industry and later earn alternative credentials to find second careers in the classroom.

"It's a very dynamic field, because people are moving in and out of it," Reeves-Pepin says.

Not all teachers work in schools. Some biology educators take jobs in museums, foundations, publishing houses or corporations that need professionals who can communicate effectively about science.

No matter what biology job you ultimately pursue, you've probably got a biology teacher to thank.

"None of these other careers could exist without them," Reeves-Pepin says.

Biology Jobs Include:

  • Clinical laboratory technician.
  • Genetic counselor.
  • Animal keeper.
  • Drug developer.
  • Biology teacher.

Rebecca Koenig, Staff Writer

Rebecca Koenig is the careers reporter at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes feature st...  READ MORE

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FEW FIELDS SEEM MORE important than biology, the study of life. From global climate change to cancer research, its findings matter in ways both immense and intimate.

 

"Biology and the understanding of it can have life-or-death consequences," says Jaclyn Reeves-Pepin, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers.

 

Accordingly, the prospect of a career in biology intrigues many people. They may be surprised to learn that biology jobs don't necessarily require biology degrees. In fact, some are intended for people who graduated from related, but distinct, undergraduate programs. For example, the quickest way for an aspiring nurse to reach the working world is pursuing a degree in nursing, not biology, even though he or she will draw on biology research on the job.

 

A second factor to consider is that a biology bachelor's degree alone won't qualify workers for some careers in biology, including many coveted health care occupations. There's a lot of hype about the benefits of studying STEM subjects, but savvy students realize that no college degree assures career success, and biology undergraduate programs don't correspond neatly with "biology major jobs."

 

Only a third of students who earned bachelor's degrees in biological and biomedical sciences in 2016 were employed full time six months after graduation, while another third were continuing their educations, according to research conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Among those who were working, the average starting salary was $35,408, lower than the wages reported by students who earned degrees in the physical sciences, math and engineering.

 

So before signing up for a full slate of biology courses, it's worth asking, "What can you do with a biology degree?" and deciding whether the answers suit your interests and goals.

Further, it may make more sense to first figure out which biology jobs are best for you, learn what they require and then pick a matching major. To that end, check out the following careers in biology.

 

Clinical Laboratory Technician

Working behind the scenes, clinical laboratory technicians play critical roles in accurately diagnosing diseases. After physicians order blood, urine or tissue tests from patients, these professionals analyze samples and sometimes help interpret the results and suggest next steps for treatment.

Entry-level jobs are available at both the associate and bachelor's degree levels in settings such as hospitals, doctor's offices, diagnostic companies, government agencies, universities, environmental testing agencies, forensic labs and law enforcement departments.

"What I tell our students is, 'The array of jobs open to you is only limited by your imagination. Take your skills – quality, accuracy, attention to detail – and apply them in a lot of different avenues,'" says Janice Conway-Klaassen, associate professor and director of the medical laboratory sciences program at the University of Minnesota.

To earn the credentials required to work in the field, students should pass up biology programs in favor of medical laboratory science programs, she recommends.

With a median salary of $51,770 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession isn't as highly paid as others tied to health care. But it does offer a sense of fulfillment to many workers who want to make a difference in patients' lives, plus career stability, says Conway-Klaassen: "Health care is recession-resistant."

Relevant job titles include:

  • Medical laboratory technician.
  • Medical laboratory scientist.
  • Phlebotomist.
  • Histotechnician.
  • Public health laboratory technician.
  • Lab scientist.
  • Lab specialist.
  • Histotechnologist.
  • Cytotechnologist.
  • Pathologist assistant.

Genetic Counselor

Blending genetics knowledge with therapy training, genetic counselors help families navigate the rapidly evolving world of DNA research. Three situations account for most work these professionals do: cancer, pregnancy and rare disease pediatrics.

"For me, it was a fantastic combination of medicine, biology and science, and patient care, which is not a combination you can get in a lot of roles," says Erica Ramos, president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

 

As of 2018, 33 fully accredited programs offer master's degrees in the subject, which are necessary to work in the industry, according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

"Biology is a fantastic major to go into this field with, but it's not a requirement," Ramos says.

Nearly 80 percent of genetic counselors work in university medical centers, commercial diagnostic labs and hospitals, Ramos says. Most work directly with patients, collecting their medical and family histories, answering their questions, collecting samples of their DNA and helping them make decisions about how to integrate genetic information into their health care.

 

Median pay for these professionals was $77,480 in 2017, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunity in the field is expanding, Ramos says, noting that 100 percent of respondents to the 2018 National Society of Genetic Counselors survey of new graduates had roles waiting for them.

 

Animal Keeper

Caring for lions, pandas and orangutans is a dream many animal lovers share. That widespread passion for the animal kingdom makes zookeeper and aquarist jobs extremely competitive, says Ed Hansen, CEO of the American Association of Zoo Keepers.

 

At the same time, professionals who care for animals tend to not be paid well: median annual pay in 2017 was $23,160, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite needing an associate or bachelor's degree in animal science, ecology, zoology or biology, plus hands-on experience, some animal keepers make minimum wage.

 

"It's a trade-off," Hansen explains. "You strike a weird balance of, 'I will accept less money with my college degree to do a job I have been pursuing and thinking about since I was old enough to think about what animals are.'"

 

Caring for animals is physically demanding work that comes with smells and messes. Animals don't take days off, which means the people who care for them often work on weekends and holidays.

 

"You're working rain, shine, snow or 110 degrees," Hansen says.

Yet devoted zoo or aquarium professionals endure it all to live out their love for wildlife, Hansen says: "They take the good with the bad."

 

Drug Developer

Students of science who like conducting research but prefer collaboration to lonely laboratory hours may be well-suited to careers in the pharmaceutical industry.

 

"Across the board, there's tremendous need within the pharmaceutical sector for people with a background in biological sciences," says Ken Kaitin, director of Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. "It's a team sport. Having a background in something that says, 'I can be a valuable member of the team' would increase the likelihood a pharmaceutical company would pick you up."

Getting a job in the industry usually requires a graduate degree. Specialized knowledge of particular diseases or body systems can make candidates especially attractive to companies that produce relevant medicines.

 

Outside of pure research roles, drug companies also need professionals who can navigate federal regulations, recruit patients for clinical trials and market products to consumers. Having an MBA degree can help prepare people with biology backgrounds for these opportunities.

 

"A basic understanding of business concepts will get you out of a lab-based environment and make you a more valuable participant in the team exercise of drug development," Kaitin says.

 

Pay in the industry varies by position. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, executives make median salaries that exceed $100,000, scientist salaries range from the mid-$70,000s to high $80,000s, and science technicians earn median wages from the high $40,000s to low $60,000s.

 

Biology Teacher

From evolution to sex ed, biology teachers impart essential lessons to students throughout their academic lives.

Teaching biology "takes someone who wants to improve science literacy and promote scientific thinking in the culture at large," says Reeves-Pepin.

 

Median pay for secondary school teachers in 2017 was $59,170, with salaries varying by county and state. Rather than following a specific pipeline, people come to the profession using different paths. Some study biology in college, then earn master's degrees in education, others study both subjects simultaneously as undergraduates, and still others work first in research or industry and later earn alternative credentials to find second careers in the classroom.

"It's a very dynamic field, because people are moving in and out of it," Reeves-Pepin says.

 

Not all teachers work in schools. Some biology educators take jobs in museums, foundations, publishing houses or corporations that need professionals who can communicate effectively about science.

 

No matter what biology job you ultimately pursue, you've probably got a biology teacher to thank.

 

"None of these other careers could exist without them," Reeves-Pepin says.

Biology Jobs Include:

  • Clinical laboratory technician.
  • Genetic counselor.
  • Animal keeper.
  • Drug developer.
  • Biology teacher.
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