- A Ph.D. degree usually is required for independent research,
but a masterís degree is sufficient for some jobs in applied
research or product development; a bachelorís degree is
adequate for some nonresearch jobs.
- Doctoral degree holders face competition for basic research
positions; holders of bachelorís or masterís degrees in
biological science can expect better opportunities in nonresearch
- Biotechnological research and development will continue
to drive employment growth.
Biological scientists study living organisms and
their relationship to their environment. They research problems
dealing with life processes and living organisms. Most specialize
in some area of biology, such as zoology (the study of animals)
or microbiology (the study of microscopic organisms). (Medical scientists, whose work is
closely related to that of biological scientists.
Many biological scientists work in research and
development. Some conduct basic research to advance knowledge
of living organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and other
infectious agents. Basic biological research continues to provide
the building blocks necessary to develop solutions to human
health problems and to preserve and repair the natural environment.
Biological scientists mostly work independently in private industry,
university, or government laboratories, often exploring new
areas of research or expanding on specialized research started
in graduate school. Those who are not wage and salary workers
in private industry typically submit grant proposals to obtain
funding for their projects. Colleges and universities, private
industry, and Federal Government agencies such as the National
Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation contribute
to the support of scientists whose research proposals are determined
to be financially feasible and to have the potential to advance
new ideas or processes.
Biological scientists who work in applied research
or product development use knowledge provided by basic research
to develop new drugs, treatments, and medical diagnostic tests;
increase crop yields; and protect and clean up the environment
by developing new biofuels. They usually have less autonomy
than basic researchers to choose the emphasis of their research,
relying instead on market-driven directions based on their firmsí
products and goals. Because biological scientists doing applied
research and product development in private industry may be
required to describe their research plans or results to nonscientists
who are in a position to veto or approve their ideas, they must
understand the potential cost of their work and its impact on
business. Scientists often work in teams, interacting with engineers,
scientists of other disciplines, business managers, and technicians.
Some biological scientists also work with customers or suppliers
and manage budgets.
Those who conduct research usually work in laboratories
and use electron microscopes, computers, thermal cyclers, and
a wide variety of other equipment. Some conduct experiments
using laboratory animals or greenhouse plants. This is particularly
true of botanists, physiologists, and zoologists. For some biological
scientists, research also is performed outside of laboratories.
For example, a botanist might do research in tropical rain forests
to see what plants grow there, or an ecologist might study how
a forest area recovers after a fire. Some marine biologists
also work outdoors, often on research vessels from which they
study various marine organisms such as marine plankton or fish.
Some biological scientists work in managerial
or administrative positions, usually after spending some time
doing research and learning about a particular firm, agency,
or project. They may plan and administer programs for testing
foods and drugs, for example, or direct activities at zoos or
botanical gardens. Some work as consultants to businesses or
to government agencies.
Recent advances in biotechnology and information
technology are transforming the industries in which biological
scientists work. In the 1980s, swift advances in basic biological
knowledge related to genetics and molecules spurred growth in
the field of biotechnology. Biological scientists using this
technology manipulate the genetic material of animals or plants,
attempting to make organisms more productive or resistant to
disease. Research using biotechnology techniques, such as recombining
DNA, has led to the production of important substances, including
human insulin and growth hormone. Many other substances not
previously available in large quantities are starting to be
produced by biotechnological means; some may be useful in treating
cancer and other diseases. Today, many biological scientists
are involved in biotechnology. Those who work on the Human Genome
Project isolate genes and determine their function. This work
continues to lead to the discovery of the genes associated with
specific diseases and inherited traits, such as certain types
of cancer or obesity. These advances in biotechnology have created
research opportunities in almost all areas of biology, with
commercial applications in the food industry, agriculture, and
environmental remediation, and in other emerging areas such
as DNA fingerprinting.
Most biological scientists are further classified
by the type of organism they study or by the specific activity
they perform, although recent advances in the understanding
of basic life processes at the molecular and cellular levels
have blurred some traditional classifications.
Aquatic biologists study micro-organisms,
plants, and animals living in water. Marine biologists
study salt water organisms, and limnologists study fresh
water organisms. Much of the work of marine biology centers
on molecular biology, the study of the biochemical processes
that take place inside living cells. Marine biologists sometimes
are mistakenly called oceanographers, but oceanography is the
study of the physical characteristics of oceans and the ocean
floor. (See the Handbook statements on environmental scientists and hydrologists
and on geoscientists.)
Biochemists study the chemical composition
of living things. They analyze the complex chemical combinations
and reactions involved in metabolism, reproduction, growth,
and heredity. Biochemists and molecular biologists do most of
their work in biotechnology, which involves understanding the
complex chemistry of life.
Botanists study plants and their environment.
Some study all aspects of plant life, including algae, fungi,
lichens, mosses, ferns, conifers, and flowering plants; others
specialize in areas such as identification and classification
of plants, the structure and function of plant parts, the biochemistry
of plant processes, the causes and cures of plant diseases,
the interaction of plants with other organisms and the environment,
and the geological record of plants.
Microbiologists investigate the growth
and characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria,
algae, or fungi. Most microbiologists specialize in environmental,
food, agricultural, or industrial microbiology; virology (the
study of viruses); immunology (the study of mechanisms that
fight infections); or bioinformatics (the process of integrating
molecular biology and information science). Many microbiologists
use biotechnology to advance knowledge of cell reproduction
and human disease.
Physiologists study life functions of plants
and animals, both in the whole organism and at the cellular
or molecular level, under normal and abnormal conditions. Physiologists
often specialize in functions such as growth, reproduction,
photosynthesis, respiration, or movement, or in the physiology
of a certain area or system of the organism.
Biophysicists study the application of
principles of physics, such as electrical and mechanical energy
and related phenomena, to living cells and organisms.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists
study animals and wildlifeótheir origin, behavior, diseases,
and life processes. Some experiment with live animals in controlled
or natural surroundings, while others dissect dead animals to
study their structure. Zoologists and wildlife biologists also
may collect and analyze biological data to determine the environmental
effects of current and potential use of land and water areas.
Zoologists usually are identified by the animal group studiedóornithologists
(birds), mammalogists (mammals), herpetologists (reptiles),
and ichthyologists (fish).
Ecologists study the relationships among
organisms and between organisms and their environments, examining
the effects of population size, pollutants, rainfall, temperature,
and altitude. Using knowledge of various scientific disciplines,
ecologists may collect, study, and report data on the quality
of air, food, soil, and water.
and food scientists, sometimes referred to as biological
scientists, are discussed elsewhere in the Careers
Biological scientists usually work regular hours
in offices or laboratories and usually are not exposed to unsafe
or unhealthy conditions. Those who work with dangerous organisms
or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety
procedures to avoid contamination. Many biological scientists
such as botanists, ecologists, and zoologists take field trips
that involve strenuous physical activity and primitive living
conditions. Biological scientists in the field may work in warm
or cold climates, in all kinds of weather. In their research,
they may dig, chip with a hammer, scoop with a net, and carry
equipment in a backpack. They also may climb, stand, kneel,
Marine biologists encounter a variety of working
conditions. Some marine biologists work in laboratories; others
work on research ships. Marine biologists who work underwater
must practice safe diving while working around sharp coral reefs
and hazardous marine life. Although some marine biologists obtain
their specimens from the sea, many still spend a good deal of
their time in laboratories and offices, conducting tests, running
experiments, recording results, and compiling data.
Some biological scientists depend on grant money
to support their research. They may be under pressure to meet
deadlines and to conform to rigid grant-writing specifications
when preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A Ph.D. degree usually is necessary for independent
research, industrial research, and college teaching, as well
as for advancement to administrative positions. A masterís degree
is sufficient for some jobs in basic research, applied research
or product development, management, or inspection; it also may
qualify one to work as a research technician or as a teacher
in an aquarium. The bachelorís degree is adequate for some nonresearch
jobs. For example, some graduates with a bachelorís degree start
as biological scientists in testing and inspection or get jobs
related to biological science, such as technical sales or service
representatives. In some cases, graduates with a bachelorís
degree are able to work in a laboratory environment on their
own projects, but this is unusual. Some may work as research
assistants, whereas others become biological laboratory technicians
or, with courses in education, high school biology teachers.
(See the statements elsewhere on clinical laboratory technologists
and technicians; science technicians; and teachersópreschool,
kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary). Many with
a bachelorís degree in biology enter medical, dental, veterinary,
or other health profession schools.
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 essential because
employers prefer job applicants who are able to apply computer
skills to modeling and simulation tasks and to operate computerized
laboratory equipment, particularly in emerging fields such as
bioinformatics. Those interested in studying the environment
also should take courses in environmental studies and become
familiar with current legislation and regulations. Prospective
biological scientists who hope to work as marine biologists
should have at least a bachelorís degree in a biological or
marine science. However, students should not overspecialize
in undergraduate study, as knowledge of marine biology often
is acquired in graduate study. Most colleges and universities
offer bachelorís degrees in biological science, and many offer
advanced degrees. Curriculums for advanced degrees often emphasize
a subfield such as microbiology or botany, but not all universities
offer all curriculums. 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 include classroom
and fieldwork, laboratory research, and a thesis or dissertation.
Biological scientists with a Ph.D. often take
temporary postdoctoral research 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 involving basic
research, especially for those seeking a permanent college or
university faculty position. In private industry, some may become
managers or administrators within the field of biology; others
leave biology for nontechnical managerial, administrative, or
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
Biological scientists held about 77,000 jobs in
2004. Slightly more than half of all biological scientists were
employed by Federal, State, and local governments. Federal biological
scientists worked mainly for the U.S. Departments of Agriculture,
Interior, and Defense and for the National Institutes of Health.
Most of the rest worked in scientific research and testing laboratories,
the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry, or hospitals.
In addition, many biological scientists held biology
faculty positions in colleges and universities. (See the statement
on teachersópostsecondary elsewhere.
Employment of biological scientists is projected
to grow about as fast as average for all occupations over the
2004-14 period, as biotechnological research and development
continues to drive job growth. However, doctoral degree holders
face competition for basic research positions. The Federal Government
funds much basic research and development, including many areas
of medical research that relate to biological science. Recent
budget increases at the National Institutes of Health have led
to large increases in Federal basic research and development
expenditures, with research grants growing both in number and
in dollar amount. Nevertheless, the increase in expenditures
is expected to slow significantly over the 2004-14 projection
period, resulting in a highly competitive environment for winning
and renewing research grants. Furthermore, should the number
of advanced degrees awarded continue to grow, applicants for
research grants are likely to face even more competition. Currently,
about 1 in 3 grant proposals are approved for long-term research
projects. In addition, applied research positions in private
industry may become more difficult to obtain if increasing numbers
of scientists seek jobs in private industry because of the competitive
job market for independent research positions in universities
and for college and university faculty.
Opportunities for those with a bachelorís or masterís
degree in biological science are expected to be better. The
number of science-related jobs in sales, marketing, and research
management for which non-Ph.D.s usually qualify is expected
to exceed the number of independent research positions. Non-Ph.D.s
also may fill positions as science or engineering technicians
or as medical health technologists and technicians. Some may
become high school biology teachers.
Biological scientists enjoyed very rapid gains
in employment between the mid-1980s and mid-1990só reflecting,
in part, increased staffing requirements in new biotechnology
companies. Employment growth should slow somewhat, along with
a slowdown in the number of new biotechnology firms; some existing
firms will merge or be absorbed by larger biotechnology or pharmaceutical
firms. However, much of the basic biological research done in
recent years has resulted in new knowledge, including the isolation
and identification of genes. Biological scientists will be needed
to take this knowledge to the next stage, which is understanding
how certain genes function within an entire organism, so that
gene therapies can be developed to treat diseases. Even pharmaceutical
and other firms not solely engaged in biotechnology use biotechnology
techniques extensively, spurring employment increases for biological
scientists. For example, biological scientists are continuing
to help farmers increase crop yields by pinpointing genes that
can help crops such as wheat grow worldwide in areas that currently
are hostile to the crop. Expected expansion of research related
to health issues such as AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimerís disease
also should create more jobs for these scientists. In addition,
efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve
the environment will continue to add to job growth. More biological
scientists will be needed to determine the environmental impact
of industry and government actions and to prevent or correct
environmental problems such as the negative effects of pesticide
use. Some biological scientists will find opportunities in environmental
regulatory agencies; others will use their expertise to advise
lawmakers on legislation to save environmentally sensitive areas.
There will continue to be demand for biological scientists specializing
in botany, zoology, and marine biology, but opportunities will
be limited because of the small size of these fields. New industrial
applications of biotechnology, such as changing how companies
make ethanol for transportation fuel, also will spur demand
for biological scientists.
Marine biology, despite its attractiveness as
a career, is a very small specialty within biological science.
Prospective marine biology students should be aware that those
who would like to enter this specialty far outnumber the very
few openings that occur each year for the type of glamorous
research jobs that many would like to obtain. Almost all marine
biologists who do basic research have a Ph.D.
Biological scientists are less likely to lose
their jobs during recessions than are those in many other occupations
because many are employed on long-term research projects. However,
an economic downturn could influence the amount of money allocated
to new research and development efforts, particularly in areas
of risky or innovative research. An economic downturn also could
limit the possibility of extension or renewal of existing projects.
Median annual earnings of biochemists and biophysicists
were $68,950 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$49,430 and $88,540. The lowest 10 percent earned less than
$38,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $110,660.
Median annual earnings of microbiologists were $54,840 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $41,000 and $74,260.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,630, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $101,720. Median annual earnings
of zoologists and wildlife biologists were $50,330 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $39,150 and $63,800. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,450, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $81,200. Median annual earnings
of biochemists and biophysicists employed in scientific research
and development services were $73,900 in May 2004.
According to the National Association of Colleges
and Employers, beginning salary offers in July 2005 averaged
$31,258 a year for bachelorís degree recipients in biological
and life sciences.
In the Federal Government in 2005, general biological
scientists in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions
earned an average salary of $69,908; microbiologists, $80,798;
ecologists, $72,021; physiologists, $93,208; geneticists, $85,170;
zoologists, $101,601; and botanists, $62,207.
Many other occupations deal with living organisms
and require a level of training similar to that of biological
scientists. These include medical scientists, agricultural and
food scientists, and conservation scientists and foresters,
as well as health occupations such as physicians and surgeons,
dentists, and veterinarians.
|Sources of Additional Information
For information on careers in the biological sciences,
- American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1444 I St.
NW., Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.aibs.org/
For information on careers in biochemistry or
biological sciences, contact:
- Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology,
9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814. Internet: http://www.faseb.org/
For a brochure titled Careers in Botany,
- The Botanical Society of America, 4475 Castleman Ave.,
P.O. Box 299, St. Louis, MI 63166. Internet: http://www.botany.org/
For information on careers in microbiology, contact:
- American Society for Microbiology, Career InformationĖEducation
Department, 1752 N St. NW., Washington, DC 20036. Internet:
Information on obtaining a biological scientist
position with the Federal Government is available from the Office
of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Governmentís
official employment information system. This resource for locating
and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the
Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)
461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may result.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,