Biologists work in the science careers field called life science. This broad field includes plant life, animal life, microscopic life, such as microbes and viruses, and human life. Most biologists specialize in a subarea of the field. Microbiologists study microscopic organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, and geneticists work on isolating specific genes. Zoologists work with animals, while marine biologists study ocean animals and plants. Botanists investigate plants, while agricultural biologists work with crop plants and domestic animals. Some fields, such as biophysicist and biochemist, straddle two main areas of science, drawing from both.
Research biologists may perform basic or applied research. Basic research is investigations to expand our knowledge of biological systems. Applied research involves development of products, such as new biofuels, medicines, treatments, and improvements in current products. The field of biotechnology has expanding research opportunities as advances in genetics are discovered. Some researchers and biological scientists work for pharmaceutical and medical companies, biofuel industries, environmental regulatory agencies, and manufacturing industries, as well as governments and universities.
A biologist with a bachelor’s degree can work for the government, a company, or a university. Positions involved in research may require advanced degrees, but some research positions are for technicians who have bachelor’s degrees.
The workplace for most biologists is a combination of office and laboratory. Some, such as ecologists, zoologists, and agricultural biologists, spend a large amount of time outdoors.
Biological science, especially biotechnology, is a good field to work in for the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that biological scientists held about 91,300 jobs in 2008. About 40 percent worked for federal, state, and local governments in areas such as the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior, the National Institutes of Health, and state and local health and environmental departments. The BLS forecasts a growth of 21 percent from 2008 to 2018, mostly driven by the growth of biotechnology. This is a much faster level than the average for all other professions.
The salary for entry-level biological scientists in 2008 was about $32,000. The average median pay for biophysicists and biochemists was $82,800; for microbiologists, it was $64,350; for zoologists and wildlife biologists, $55,300. Those working for the federal government earned substantially more—$97,200 for microbiologists; $87,000 for ecologists, and $99,700 for geneticists.
Last Updated: 06/04/2014