What Can You Do with a Biology Degree? Courses, Best Colleges, Careers & Salary

What Can You Do with a Biology Degree? Courses, Best Colleges, Careers & Salary
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Obtaining a biology degree is just the first step towards a career in a wide range of areas. Based on projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a 7% employment growth in life, physical, and social science occupations through 2028 that will result in about 97,400 new jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). 

Which field you enter and how much professional success you achieve is only limited by the amount of effort and time you are willing to spend on pursuing further studies in biology. Thus, it is important to learn more about different careers in biology as you progress in your studies. 

If you have been wondering what can you do with a biology degree, we researched entry-level occupations you can immediately explore after college. We also included options if you have a master’s or a doctorate degree.

Careers in Biology Table of Contents

  1. Entry-level Jobs for Biology Graduates
  2. Careers for Master’s Degree Holders
  3. Careers for Ph.D. Holders

In 2018, 18% of Generation Z students (born after 1996) in the United States expect a career in biology/biotechnology, which made it the third top career choice behind medicine/health-related and sciences (NSHSS, 2018). Whether you are a high school student interested in pursuing biology in college or you are currently working on your degree and asking yourself “What can I do with a biology degree?” knowing your job options ahead can be a huge help when planning your career path. 

Biology is a diverse area with many career possibilities. According to Chessman et al. (2007), the biological sciences encompass an extensive family of disciplines—from environmental biology and ecosystems to biochemistry and molecular biology—and not a single biologist can really master the complete field; even general biologists will not be able to easily keep up with the growing structure of the biological sciences.

If you prefer to work immediately after graduation, there are jobs that only require a bachelor’s degree. You can also find fulfilling vocational jobs that do not demand advanced training or a degree and do not limit you to teaching, scientific research, or jobs in the medical field. Reiske (2002) argues that earning a biology degree is not an automatic ticket to work in a laboratory. Numerous alternative jobs are emerging, while other careers are becoming a more popular choice for biology graduates.

On the other hand, completing your master’s or doctorate degree can open doors to more job prospects that may offer higher pay and allow you to conduct independent research projects. Keep in mind, though, that this path often requires you to already have the relevant work and research experience, so it is also important to take on opportunities where you can build these required skills early on in your career. 

Source: NSHSS

Entry-level Jobs for Biology Graduates

Science-related Jobs

Obtaining your degree in biology provides you with the knowledge-based education required for entry-level jobs in a variety of industries. These include health management, disease control and prevention, and environmental sustainability.

NOTE: Salary figures are based on Payscale’s average annual salary per occupation and do not reflect the actual entry-level salaries. 

1. Microbiologist

The work of a microbiologist is centered on studying microorganisms such as viruses, algae, fungi, and bacteria. These studies are mostly of industrial and agricultural interest and often include how these microorganisms cause diseases and damage the environment. You can expect to use cutting-edge technology and techniques when performing experiments and studying microbes.

Moreover, you will need to have good attention to detail, patience, and planning as microbiologists spend a great deal of time growing or preparing their samples. These can include analyzing their makeup or optimizing them for a separate experiment.

As a microbiologist, your workplace can be in a hospital or clinical laboratory where you will be analyzing samples from patients and helping colleagues identify pathogenic microbes that attack or invade the body. You might also be asked to do fieldwork and collect samples in local areas in order to support activities related to improving public health.

Average Annual Salary: $53,944

2. Environmental Scientist

As an environmental scientist, you will use your knowledge to protect the environment and human health against the negative effects of pollutants. You often deal with a wide range of issues, from plant diseases to human pollution, industrial processes that affect the environment, and deforestation.

Generally, your work as an environmental scientist may require you to work in an office, laboratory, or on the field, collecting and analyzing data. The results of your studies can be used to help governments and businesses create policies and make business decisions that can positively influence environmental issues.

Average Annual Salary: $51,695

3. Biologist

As a biologist, your work environment is often set in a medical research laboratory where you can expect to use your knowledge and skills in analyzing different levels of human function related to health conditions, diseases, disorders, or injuries. Your tasks may involve collecting samples, investigating, and researching cures for infectious diseases.

Biologists can also pursue roles as nutritionists or dieticians. Other industries where you can apply the same skills include biosafety/security, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and healthcare.

Average Annual Salary: $53,405

4. Food Scientist

As a food scientist, your laboratory work will mostly involve research and experiments on food additives and different methods to prolong a product’s shelf life. You will also study the nutritional value of food sources, determine ways to enhance flavors and make food processing more efficient.

Many food scientists also oversee the quality assurance of food products and processes. They find innovative methods to preserve and package food and work with regulatory agencies to ensure that their company’s products meet government standards.

As a food scientist, you can find employment in manufacturing companies and food production facilities. There are also positions in the federal government, agriculture, and in colleges and universities.

Average Annual Salary: $63,662

5. Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist

Working as a zoologist and wildlife biologist involves studying animals and wildlife and how they interact with their environment. You can expect to carry out research activities and experiments either in a laboratory or on the field. Many zoologists and wildlife biologists, for instance, need to travel and observe their subjects in their natural habitats.

Depending on your employer, working as a zoologist and wildlife biologist may also take place in an office. If you work in a corporate setting, for example, you might be hired as a compliance officer who ensures that company practices meet all legal requirements and government regulations. On the other hand, some jobs you might find may also require you to oversee the daily care of animals, work alone or with other scientists, or hold positions in environmental consulting firms or conservation groups.

Average Annual Salary: $62,456

6. High School Biology Teacher 

As a high school biology teacher, you will teach students various skills and academic lessons they need to either prepare them for college or help them enter the job market. Your lectures will mostly be in a classroom or laboratory, but you may also have to spend time providing consultation sessions with students. This means there will be times when you need to work outside of your regular teaching hours

Aside from classroom lessons, you will also be responsible for creating lesson plans, assessing students and grading their assignments and exams. You might also be tasked to supervise teacher trainees or participate in curriculum development in your school.

Average Annual Salary: $50,013

7. Molecular Biologist

Working as a molecular biologist involves experiments and research work on cells and molecules in order to learn more about how they function and communicate. You can expect to perform experiments related to DNA sequencing, RNA functioning, cloning, and other tests on cellular behavior.

Similar to many science-related occupations, molecular biologists often need to write reports and communicate their findings to other scientists, organizations, or academic publications. This is why you can also find work in institutions of higher education as a molecular biology instructor.

Average Annual Salary: $55,326

8. Forensic Science Technician

As a forensic science technician, your job is to collect and analyze evidence found in the scene of a crime. Your findings can aid police in criminal investigations and can help catch suspects in a case.

Another part of a forensic science technician’s job is to testify in court, especially if they have expertise in DNA analysis, fingerprinting, and biochemistry, among others. You can expect to work not only with the law enforcement officers but also with other specialists, such as doctors, lawyers, the coroner’s office, technology experts, and forensic science consultants.

Your biology degree can help you land an entry-level job; however, it is highly likely that you will also be required to complete on-the-job training.

Average Annual Salary: $56,623

9. Marine Biologist

When you work as a marine biologist, you specialize in exploring and assessing saltwater animal and plant life and studying the ocean itself. You will study changes in organisms and marine ecosystems, which include diseases and environmental conditions that impact their habitat. You will also analyze the effect of the human population and activities on marine life.

Marine biologists also monitor the effects of pollutants on sea life. In some cases, you might be tasked to conduct research and recommend alternative industrial practices to control or minimize the negative effects of human activities on marine species and habitats.

Average Annual Salary: $52,614

10. Biological Technicians

Also called laboratory assistants, biological technicians are the ones who assist biologists and microbiologists in conducting scientific tests and experiments. Using a variety of lab equipment and technology like robotics, your tasks may include collecting samples and analyzing substances such as blood, tissue, soil, or water.

As a biological technician, you may also be required to write and submit reports to other scientists informing them of the outcomes of your experiments. Since you will be utilizing lab equipment, you will also be responsible for setting up, operating, sanitizing, and maintaining this equipment.

Average Annual Salary: $38,000

Vocational Jobs

These vocational jobs do not require you to have a degree in biology but will definitely satisfy your interest in the subject and provide employable skills. They can also be your stepping stone if you ever decide to pursue a biology degree.

On the other hand, if you have already taken college-level courses related to biology, you can try to get credits for those courses. Doing so can help shorten your training. Of course, if you have already obtained your biology degree, these vocational jobs will definitely be a good place to apply your knowledge.

In the U.S., candidates who would like to qualify for vocational jobs often need to finish a postsecondary training program, on-the-job training, or get a certification or a license in order to start their career. Depending on the country you live in, requirements for similar vocational jobs may vary.

NOTE: Salary figures are based on Payscale’s average annual salary per occupation. Actual salaries may vary depending on your qualifications, experience, employer, etc.  

11. Dental Hygienist

As a dental hygienist, you will work with a dentist in providing oral care to patients, from cleaning a patient’s teeth to conducting examinations to check for diseases. Your tasks may also include teaching patients how to properly take care of their teeth after a procedure or for general dental health.

The exact scope of your work as a dental hygienist will depend on the state where you are working. Some of the most common procedures you are expected to conduct, include taking dental x-rays, administering local anesthetics to patients, and applying fluoride and fillings/sealants for tooth protection.

Average Annual Salary: $59,478

12. Surgical Technologist

Your work as a surgical technologist involves preparing and sterilizing tools and equipment needed for surgeries. You will have to anticipate the needs of a surgeon and patient in the operating room (OR) to ensure that each operation goes as smoothly as possible.

Before the surgery starts, your task as a surgical technologist is to prepare the OR and gather, count, and arrange all tools and equipment needed for the procedure. During the operation, you will prepare medications and administer them to the patient, pass surgical tools to the surgeon, and assist in retracting tissues of the patient. After the surgery, it is your task to count all tools to ensure that nothing is left inside the patient. You will also assist in suturing the incision and disposing of items, such as gauze and needles.

Average Annual Salary: $49,428

13. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

As an LPN, your job is to assist Registered Nurses (RN) and doctors in providing essential patient care, such as helping them bathe, dress, eat, etc. You will maintain records of patients and report minor changes to the entire care team. You will also be working with the patient’s family to help them better understand care procedures and guide them on how to provide care to a sick relative.

Education and training as an LPN usually take about a year and culminates in a certificate. If you decide to further your education, working as an LPN can be a springboard to becoming an RN.

Average Annual Salary: $49,376

14. Paramedic

Working as a paramedic means you will be a first responder to situations where your skills and knowledge can save lives. You will apply first-aid treatment to injured or sick patients. Your skillset includes starting intravenous lines, resuscitating patients with problems, such as traumas or heart attacks, and administering medications.

Your education as a paramedic can last anywhere between six to 12 months depending on the program you take. You can expect to study topics, such as cardiology, human anatomy and physiology, medical procedures, and medications.

Average Annual Salary: $43,600

15. Pharmacy Technician

As a pharmacy technician, you will work under the supervision of a pharmacist. Your tasks will include preparing prescription or over-the-counter medicines, managing dispensaries, informing patients and other healthcare professionals, and supervising pharmacy staff, among others.

Pharmacy technicians are not limited to working in hospitals or pharmacies. You can also work in pharmaceutical production and sales, at a veterinary pharmacy, in the military, prison, or in education and training.

Average Annual Salary: $35,247

Careers for Master’s Degree Holders

Perhaps one of the greatest motivations to pursue a master’s degree is the wage premium you can receive once you start working. Though not all types of jobs guarantee a higher salary, professionals working in STEM fields with a master’s degree can increase their chances of receiving better pay compared to colleagues with a bachelor’s degree.

Environmental scientists with a master’s degree, for example, receive a median annual salary of $80,000, while a bachelor’s degree holder receives $62,000—a wage premium of 29%. Biological scientists with a master’s degree, on the other hand, receive a wage premium of 20% with a median annual salary of $60,000 compared to $50,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree (Torpey & Terrell, 2015).

Wage Premium with Master's Degree

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Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

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NOTE: Salary figures are based on Payscale’s average annual salary per occupation. Actual salaries may vary depending on your qualifications, experience, employer, etc.  

16. Nurse Practitioner  (NP)

As a nurse practitioner, you would have received a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) and advanced training in a specialty area in medicine, thus giving you more authority to administer patient care compared to a Registered Nurse (RN). You will also have similar responsibilities as a doctor and in some states, NPs have full practice authority, which means they do not have to be supervised by a physician.

For example, as an NP, you can prescribe medication, diagnose illnesses, and conduct medical exams. Some of the specialties NPs often focus on include Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, General Nurse Practitioner, and Gerontological Nurse Practitioner.

Average Annual Salary: $96,034 

17. Biomedical Engineer

As a biomedical engineer, you will apply the principles of engineering to biology and medicine to design and create devices, equipment, software, or computer systems that can improve human health and healthcare. Some examples of innovations that were produced by biomedical engineers include pacemakers, artificial organs, advanced prosthetic limbs, new pharmaceutical drugs, and implantable devices.

Also referred to as Bioengineering, BioMed, or BME, this area offers many other subdisciplines you can focus on, from medical imaging to cellular, tissue and genetic engineering, biomedical signal processing, and clinical engineering. You can work in a hospital that provides rehabilitative care or in a manufacturing company producing products for other industries.

Average Annual Salary: $66,604

18. Genetic Counselor

The work of a genetic counselor revolves around diagnosing and treating congenital diseases and interpreting the results of genetic tests. You will work directly with patients, including pregnant women, advising them and their families on the risks of inheriting certain diseases or birth defects and what treatments are available to them.

Moreover, genetic counselors can also work with individuals who are at risk or who have developed genetic disorders. They advise them on risk probability, preventative treatment, and lifestyle changes they may need to adopt when dealing with their disease. As a genetic counselor, you can also specialize in prenatal or cancer genetic testing. On top of your master’s degree, most employers may also require a certification from the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Average Annual Salary: $72,741

19. Research Scientist

Your primary duties as a research scientist involve gathering, organizing, and analyzing information. You will engage in peer review and publication of monographs and different research articles. There might also be times when you will be in charge of arranging research proposals, from gathering funds necessary to accomplish the research work to actually conducting experiments, analyzing the data, and drawing conclusions.

Research scientists can carry out individual research or work with other research scientists in a team. As a research scientist, your workplace will usually be in the academe or in research institutions. But you can also find employment in government or private businesses where you might develop products or technologies.

Average Annual Salary: $79,724

20. Senior Environmental Consultant

Working as a senior environmental consultant makes you responsible for predicting and evaluating the environmental impact of a variety of human activities. You will check compliance with environmental laws and government regulations and provide oversight on projects that may include construction proposals.

Senior environmental consultants can work with government agencies, non-profit organizations, and the private sector. You can expect to take on senior or leadership roles managing different teams or coordinating research projects, including tasks related to budgeting and scheduling.

Average Annual Salary: $86,444

Careers for Ph.D. Holders

The benefits of obtaining a Ph.D. in biology include being able to conduct academic research in addition to meeting the credentials to take on teaching positions at institutions of higher education. Research indicates that anywhere from 60 to 80% of doctoral students in biology are interested in careers in which teaching will be a primary responsibility (Connolly et al., 2016; Golde & Dore, 2001). 

However, keep in mind that biology is such a broad field that when you pursue your doctorate studies, you often need to choose a special area of focus. Your future employment and job responsibilities will then depend on the expertise you have developed. 

NOTE: Salary figures are based on Payscale’s average annual salary per occupation. Actual salaries may vary depending on your qualifications, experience, employer, etc.

21. Biochemists and Biophysicists

The work of biochemists and biophysicists involves examining the physical and chemical bases of living things and of biological processes. As a biochemist, you will focus on molecular-level operations, which include cell structures and functions and how toxins affect organisms. If you are a biophysicist, your work usually complements that of biochemists. You will focus on atomic-level processes and how organisms are affected by the laws of physics.

You can expect to spend a lot of your time designing and conducting experiments, analyzing and synthesizing organic molecules, such as DNA and proteins, developing gene therapies, and researching various types of nutrients and the chemical compositions of drugs and enzymes. Aside from these responsibilities, you might also engage in peer review or help manage a team of researchers and attend conferences to present your research findings.

Average Annual Salary: Biochemist – $60,851/Biophysicist – $67,381

22. Medical Scientists

As a medical scientist, your research activities will be aimed at improving overall human health. You are an expert in diseases, what causes them, how they develop, and how can they be prevented. Some of your responsibilities will include designing and implementing clinical studies, designing data collection systems, writing clinical protocols, and preparing clinical study reports.

Aside from attending to your lab work, you can also expect to collaborate with colleagues in other functional areas. For example, you might need to work with Sales and Marketing, Engineering, or Compliance. There might also be times when you have to meet with external experts to provide timely and succinct information relating to diseases.

Average Annual Salary: $81,673

23. Senior Research Scientist in Biotechnology

As a senior research scientist in biotechnology, you will lend your expertise to organizations, industries, and educational institutions as a primary research investigator, educator, or consultant. You can work in a variety of industries, such as pharmaceutical biotech, agricultural biotech, environmental biotech,

Your experience and specialization might also lead you to a career in industrial development, working with engineers or working at manufacturing companies to develop innovative products and ensure they can be successfully distributed to the market. You can expect to work with other scientists and in teams, either spending time in the laboratory or doing fieldwork.

Average Annual Salary: $104,320

24. Professor (Post-Secondary Education)

Your work as a professor can involve a wide range of activities, from presenting lectures and seminars to helping students carry out research or laboratory sessions. You will also be expected to provide academic advice on students’ research projects and dissertations/theses.

On top of your duties as an educator, you might still be involved in various research projects to continuously cultivate your expertise. Work might not be limited in the academic world since you might also need to collaborate with organizations as a research lead or consultant or field expert.

Average Annual Salary: $88,296

25. Postdoctoral Research Associate

Though you have a doctorate degree, working as a postdoctoral research associate will not grant you the freedom to do independent research. Your work is at the administrative and laboratory support level. You will work with tenured professors and other principal investigators/researchers, mainly assisting them with experiments, analyzing data, and writing reports.

On top of these responsibilities, working as a postdoctoral research associate can also include guiding lab technicians and graduate students in their research work. So aside from having stable employment, a postdoctoral position also offers a training opportunity (Stephan & Ma, 2005). You will also need to manage documents, help visualize data for presentation, and ensure that laboratory facilities are kept clean.

Average Annual Salary: $49,723

phd holders working outside of academia

The world will continue to need biology experts as we learned from the projections of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,  indicating continuous employment growth in life, physical, and social science occupations through 2028. The key to finding a good career path is to understand that there could still be gaps between the academic training you received and the actual skills and job requirements employers are looking for, considering that undergraduate science programs are not providing graduates with the knowledge base and technical skills they need to be successful in today’s job market (Callier et al., 2014).

Even students pursuing a master’s degree may face challenges when seeking employment since many graduate programs still groom students primarily for academic jobs that most of them will never hold (Beans, 2018). Beans further reported that the majority of biology graduate students step off the academic track to work in government, nonprofits, science journalism, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry, policy, law, and more but most received little or no training on how to identify, acquire, or succeed in these careers (Beans, 2018).

Having a doctorate degree should also not prevent you from pursuing non-academic work. In fact, according to the National Science Foundation’s 2016 Science and Engineering Indicators Report, 55% of Ph.D. holders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields are working outside of academia (NSF, 2016), and less than one-quarter of students who receive Ph.D.s in the sciences end up in the career for which they were trained—academic research (Baker, 2016).

What we can take away from these studies is that a degree can qualify you for a job; however, it will not be a complete foundation where you can build a long and thriving career. In today’s competitive job market, you will need to supplement your knowledge-based education with technical/practical skills and soft skills like curiosity, open-mindedness, adaptability, resourcefulness, and creativity in order to gain access to the employment opportunities you want.

 

References:

  1. Beans, C. (2018). Biology graduate programs educating students for life beyond academia. BioScience, 68 (2), 53-59. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix152
  2. Callier, V., Singiser, R., & Vanderford, N. (2014). Connecting undergraduate science education with the needs of today’s graduates. F1000 Research, 3, 279. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.5710.1
  3. Cheesman, K., French, D., Cheesman, I., Swails, N., & Thomas, J. (2007). Is there any common curriculum for undergraduate Biology majors in the 21st Century? BioScience, 57 (6), 516-522. https://doi.org/10.1641/B570609
  4. Connolly, M. R., Savoy, J. N., Lee, Y.-G., & Hill, L. B. (2016). Building a better Future STEM Faculty: How Teaching Development Programs Can Improve Undergraduate Education. Maidson, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Center for Education Research.
  5. NSF (2016). 2016 Science and Engineering Indicators Report. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation.
  6. NSHSS (2018). 2018 Career Interest Survey. Atlanta, GA: National Society of High School Scholar.
  7. Reiske, H. (2002). What can you do with a biology degree? Bios, 73 (2), 61-65. http://www.jstor.com/stable/4608630
  8. Stephan, P., & Ma, J. (2005). The increased frequency and duration of the postdoctorate career stage. The American Economic Review, 95 (2), 71-75. https://www.jstor.com/stable/4132793
  9. Torpey, E., & Terrell, D. (2015, September). Should I get a master’s degree? Career Outlook. Washington, DC: BLS.
  10. US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020, April 10). Life, physical, and social science occupations. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Washington, DC: BLS.

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