What is a Biologist?
Although it depends on your specialty, your work as a biologist will generally involve laboratory studies, field (outdoor) studies and academic activities. One of the main purposes of laboratory and field studies is research. Your research will be geared toward expanding the human knowledge base and finding solutions to problems through scientific inquiry. Academic activities might include teaching at a college or university and writing for scientific publications.
Step One: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree in biology is the minimum requirement for some entry-level jobs in the field of biology. In addition to taking general studies courses, such as liberal arts and social science, you'll take life science courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry, anatomy and mathematics. You'll also take laboratory courses where you'll learn to use lab equipment and conduct experiments.
Step Two: Decide on a Specialization
The majority of biologists specialize in an area of study based on a targeted activity or type of organism. For example, if you choose to receive training as an aquatic biologist, your work would focus on animals, plants and other organisms that inhabit water, such as bacteria. You may decide to further specialize in marine biology, which involves organisms that live in salt water, or limnology, which pertains to fresh water organisms.
If you specialize in biochemistry, your emphasis would be on the chemical composition of organisms, while if you specialize in biophysics, your emphasis would be on physics and its relation to living things. Microbiology pertains to microscopic organisms, and physiology involves life functions and processes of organisms on a molecular and/or cellular or level. The field of botany relates to plant life, and wildlife biology involves the broad-based study of animals. Ecology centers on the biological relationship between organisms and their environments.
Step Three: Complete a Master's Degree Program
You can complete a master's degree program in biology or in a specialty of biology, such as microbiology or molecular biology. You'll receive advance training that consists of laboratory studies and classroom instruction. Some of the coursework you might take includes advanced cell structure and functions, molecular genetics and neurobiology. Most master's degree programs in biology and related disciplines are 2-3 years in duration and may include a research internship or teaching assistantship.
Step Four: Acquire Work Experience
There are many career choices and they encompass a wide range of work settings, such as universities, pharmaceutical companies, in the field, zoos and government agencies. Research activities and internships provide pathways to a number of careers, so you should consider taking advantage of any opportunities to gain work experience while still in college. Your potential salary depends on factors such as specialty, employer and experience.
Three career options are wildlife biologist, biochemist and microbiologist. In May 2014, the BLS reported that the average salary for wildlife biologists was $63,230, with most workers employed by state and federal governments. During the same month, biochemists averaged $91,960, with about 52% working in research and development. Nearly half of microbiologists were employed in research and development (26%) and the pharmaceutical industry (22%); microbiologists overall brought home an average yearly pay of $76,530.
Step Five: Get a Doctorate Degree
Many advanced administrative and research opportunities require a doctorate degree. Common doctorate degree programs include a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biology with concentrations in marine biology, cell and molecular biology, microbiology and immunology. In addition to taking traditional courses and conducting laboratory experiments, you may serve as a consultant, assisting in teaching assignments and research activities. PhD programs are academically rigorous and may take 5-6 years to complete.