Biology is a broad field of study concerned with the natural sciences, including the life, classification, function, and evolution of living organisms. Within the actual field, there are several different degrees you can obtain, and a diverse range of jobs you can land with any one of them. In this guide, we’ll cover several careers in biology that someone with a degree in a related science can consider, and how they differ according to the distinct field of biology to which they belong.
If you don’t have a degree in biology yet, and are just contemplating your career options before you pursue one, this is also a great way to see where specific types of biology degrees can land you. For some entry-level study material to gauge your interest or supplement your studies, check out this introduction to basic biology course.
Biology is a broad field which can be broken up into three main categories: organismal biology, molecular and cell biology, and field biology. Each has a general focus, but within each sub-category is a number of specific focuses. Below, we’ll go over five types of careers you can expect to find in each field. For more study material on the subject, check out this introduction to biology course.
Organismal biology is the study of evolution, structure, and other elements in relation to living organisms. It’s the larger category that most people think of when they think “biology,” since it deals with living organisms such as plants, animals, and even bacteria.
Of course, organismal biology is much more specific than that, and there are fields dedicated to specific types of living creatures (birds, fish, germs), with various associated careers. The amount of overlapping jobs and studies is outstanding. Remember that if you’re interested in more than one field, chances are there’s a way to find a job where both those fields intersect.
If you want to be a plant biologist, botany is your field. Within the field of botany, a biologist can specialize in the anatomy, ecology, genetics, taxonomy, cytology, and morphology of plants, among other things, applying this knowledge on the field in a number of ways. You could work with crops in agronomy, studying soil and its various macronutrients. That’s right – soil sciences is a real field! Learn more about the different types of soil in this guide.
Physiology is the study of living systems, and the various parts and functions that make them work. Somebody with a degree in physiology could apply their knowledge in a lab as a biomedical engineer or a biotechnical scientist, which you can learn more about in this course. Someone specializing in human physiology might excel in a health-related position, such as a paramedic or a nutritionist. Get started studying nutrition with these top nutrition courses.
3. Animal Behavior
If studying plants or humans aren’t your thing, then hopefully you’ll enjoy working with animals! Studying animal behavior can land you a job in a zoo or a museum as a researcher or curator. You’ll be in charge of obtaining specimens, caring for them, and instructing others on how to manage day-to-day dealings with the animals. Opportunities for applied and theoretical research can arise in a position like this as well.
Someone in a career like this might find themselves in a great position to take up photography as a hobby. Learn more about wildlife photography in this course.
Parasitology… the study of parasites. It isn’t the most pleasant sounding field, but someone has to do the research. If parasites, parasitic hosts, and the relationship between both interest you, a job in a medical or biochemical field might be for you. With a focus on parasitology, a biologist could become a veterinarian, studying diseases in domestic animals, or a pharmaceutical researcher, developing medications and other therapeutic drugs.
Ornithology is a zoological branch of study focusing on birds. Like most animal biologists, an ornithologist with a degree specializing in the field would likely have a career in education or research. An ornithologist could work at a wildlife reserve, researching endangered species. An ornithologist’s field of study might even overlap with one like parasitology, discussed above. Someone in this position would focus on parasites exclusive to birds, or perhaps even become a veterinarian.
Molecular and cell biology is the study of biology at its most foundational levels, and as such it overlaps greatly with the study of chemistry. Folks considering their options in molecular biology might also want to consider taking an introductory course on chemistry. Biochemistry in particular studies the chemical processes that keep organisms alive and running.
Someone working in the field of biochemistry might shift their focus towards medicine, studying the human immune system and chemical reactions to various bacteria or viruses to develop more effective pharmaceutical drugs. They might work on manufacturing or improving drugs, or focus on the actual diagnostic tools that help medical professionals detect and classify diseases in the first place.
2. Forensic Science
Another biochemist might focus on forensic science. Forensic lab technicians work to identify biological samples, such as blood, during a criminal investigation. Their line of work might overlap with toxicology, as they may be responsible for identifying poisons or other substances. Forensic scientists work on the field, at crime scenes, and back at the lab, analyzing physical samples and the resulting data. They may be required to see some gruesome scenes, as they’ll be working in the criminal justice field, so that should be considered when pursuing a job in this field. If you think you can handle it, learn more about landing a job in forensic science with this course.
Plants are living organisms too, and a molecular biologist or a biochemist might work in the field of agriculture to study the health, behaviors, and lifespan of crops. Their research can help the agricultural industry genetically engineer crops that are resistant to harmful environmental effects such as weather (drought, frost, etc.) or disease (insects or bacteria). Learn about the various agricultural careers out there in this course.
4. Genetic Engineering
A molecular biologist or a biochemist working in the field of genetic engineering might focus their career on hereditary diseases, and how to use pharmaceuticals and antibiotics to combat ills associated with human genetics. Someone with an education in genetic engineering could work with animals, too, or plants (as explained above), or even commit to stem cell research and work on cloning or genetically engineering organs for transplant. Interested in cloning? Read this guide to learn how the cloning process works.
As with any scientific field, there’s the opportunity to commit to research and instruction rather than lab technician work. Someone with a degree in biochemistry could specialize in and teach in any of the fields listed above, though a Ph.D is required to become an educator at a university. This guide provides a good breakdown of the various types of college degrees.
The “field” portion of “field biology” has nothing to do with the various scientific fields that the category encompasses, but the nature of the careers involved instead. Unlike organismal and molecular biologists, field biologists spend less time in a lab researching samples, and more time out on the actual field. Of course, that doesn’t negate the time they do spend in a lab, committed to research.
Most of the time, field biologists specialize in fields like ecology, physiology, taxonomy, and so on, and are employed by country, state, or federal wildlife agencies to monitor the health, safety, and legality of a natural environment. In this sense, a career in field biology might even overlap with a career in law enforcement, as a park ranger or related position might require them to regulate and enforce environmental laws. Learn more about environmental law in this course.
A field biologist might be a toxicologist or a soil scientist, taking samples from local reserves and monitoring for chemical imbalances. Or a field biologist might work in a national park as an environmental conservationist, while leading tours and providing educational instruction for other employees or tourists in their down time. Field biologists might also work in more of a health-related field as a veterinarian in a zoo or reserve, in which case they’d probably also hold a degree in animal behavior, physiology, or some other organismal biology field.
If you don’t want to be tied down to one organization, field biologists have the freedom of working independently, as a self-employed wildlife or environmental consultant to related firms and agencies that would benefit from their services. For more field biology related job ideas, check out this guide to environmental science careers.
If none of these careers in biology sound interesting to you, consider overlapping an organic science career with a mechanical one. The biotechnology careers in this guide utilize both an understanding of biology and engineering to further the scientific front. You can shed the biological and chemical side altogether and learn how to land a career in general engineering with this course.