Most biological scientists need a Ph.D. in biology or one of its subfields to
work in independent research or development positions. Other positions are
available to those with a master's or bachelor's degree in the field.
Education and training. A Ph.D. is usually
necessary for independent research, particularly in academia, as well as for
advancement to administrative positions. A bachelor's or master's degree is
sufficient for some jobs in applied research, product development, management,
or inspection; it also may be sufficient to work as a research technician or a
teacher. Many with a bachelor's degree in biology enter medical, dental,
veterinary, or other health profession schools, or find jobs as high school
In addition to required courses in chemistry and biology, undergraduate
biological science majors usually study allied disciplines such as mathematics,
physics, engineering, and computer science. Computer courses are beneficial for
modeling and simulating biological processes, operating some laboratory
equipment, and performing research in the emerging field of bioinformatics.
Those interested in studying the environment also should take courses in
environmental studies and become familiar with applicable legislation and
Most colleges and universities offer bachelor's degrees in biological
science, and many offer advanced degrees. Advanced degree programs often
emphasize a subfield, such as microbiology or botany, but not all universities
offer curricula in all subfields. Larger universities frequently have separate
departments specializing in different areas of biological science. For example,
a program in botany might cover agronomy, horticulture, or plant pathology.
Advanced degree programs typically include classroom and fieldwork, laboratory
research, and a thesis or dissertation. A master's degree generally takes 2
years, and a doctoral degree 5-6 years of full-time study.
Biological scientists with a Ph.D. often take temporary postdoctoral
positions that provide specialized research experience. Postdoctoral positions
may offer the opportunity to publish research findings. A solid record of
published research is essential in obtaining a permanent position performing
basic research, especially for those seeking a permanent college or university
Other qualifications. Biological
scientists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able
to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Those in
private industry, especially those who aspire to management or administrative
positions, should possess strong business and communication skills and be
familiar with regulatory issues and marketing and management techniques. Those
doing field research in remote areas must have physical stamina. Biological
scientists also must have patience and self-discipline to conduct long and
detailed research projects.
Advancement. As they gain experience,
biological scientists typically gain greater control over their research and may
advance to become lead researchers directing a team of scientists and
technicians. Some work as consultants to businesses or to government agencies.
However, those dependent on research grants are still constrained by funding
agencies, and may spend much of their time writing grant proposals. Others
choose to move into managerial positions and become natural science managers.
They may plan and administer programs for testing foods and drugs, for example,
or direct activities at zoos or botanical gardens. Those who pursue management
careers spend much of their time preparing budgets and schedules. Some leave
biology for nontechnical managerial, administrative, or sales jobs.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition
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