Careers in Biology Labs: Job Options and Requirements

Biological lab workers conduct experiments in laboratories and collect data outdoors or in the field. Familiarization with standard laboratory equipment is essential. Certification and licensure is required for conducting blood, cell, and bodily fluid examinations. Learn about the education and training requirements, career options, job growth and salary information in the field of biological lab work to see if this is a career for you.

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Lab technicians and biological scientists conduct tests and research for a variety of agencies and industries. They need at least a bachelor's degree, and advanced positions call for graduate study. Many of these jobs require licensure or certification.

Essential Information

Many industries and a variety of science research projects require biology lab work. The job duties involved for each position tend to be similar, regardless of scientific specialty. Biology lab jobs generally involve various methods of research, testing and data calculation. As research responsibilities increase, additional education is often required.

Required Education Lab Technician - licensure/certification; Research Associate - B.S. biological sciences; Biological Scientist - Ph.D.
Other Requirements Lab Technician - B.S. biological sciences; Research Associate - master's; Independent Researcher/University Professor - Ph.D.
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Lab Technician, 5%; Biochemists/Biophysicists, 8%; Biological Scientists 4%*
Annual Salary (2015) Lab Technician, $41,650; Biochemists/Biophysicists, $82,150; Biological Scientists, $75,150*

Source *Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Biology Lab Careers: Job Options

Biology Lab Technician

Biology lab technician and technologist jobs are generally available at the entry level. Most biology lab technicians spend their time working in laboratories, though they also might conduct experiments and collect data outdoors or in the field. These technicians must be familiar with standard laboratory equipment, such as microscopes, imagers, chemicals and electronic appliances.

Biology lab technicians and technologists might need to be licensed or certified in order to conduct examinations of blood, cells and other bodily fluids. They conduct tests for researchers, such as biological scientists or research associates. An undergraduate degree in biology or a related biological science is generally necessary to gain entry into the career. Technicians may be able to advance into other positions with experience and additional education.

Research Associate

Research associates work in many disciplines, such as biotechnology, clinical research and molecular biology. They could also be considered research assistants, though some labs might differentiate between an entry-level assistant and a mid-level associate. Research associates can be staff researchers or work on independent projects, depending on where research projects are conducted and how they're funded. Graduates with a bachelor's degree could qualify for these positions, but most require master's, doctoral or postdoctoral education.

Research associates think analytically and objectively when conducting their research. They must be very precise, since even slight missteps can have major consequences and give false test results. Whether working in health care or private industry, research associates must be persistent and possess effective communicate skills.

Biological Scientist

Biological scientists specialize in investigating how living organisms relate to their respective environments. They might study humans, plants, animals or other biological organisms. Within their area of expertise, biological scientists can go by specialized titles, such as ecologists, botanists, marine biologists or biochemists.

These scientists work largely to spearhead research to find cures or improve situations, whether they're addressing a disease or an environmental problem. In the lab, they work with cell counters, microscopes and cutting-edge robotic equipment. An advanced education is usually required in order to become a biological scientist in any discipline or industry.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities for biological technicians is expected to grow by 5% from 2014 to 2024, which is as fast as the rate for all job opportunities within the United States. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for biological technicians was $41,650, according to the BLS. General biological scientists, on the other hand, are reported as earning a median annual salary of $75,150 per year. Employment of biochemists and biophysicists, in particular, is estimated to increase by 8% between 2014 and 2024, which is comparable to the national average for all careers. The BLS does not offer information for research associates.

Biology Lab Careers: Education Requirements

Bachelor of Science in Biology

A four-year bachelor's degree program prepares graduates for entry-level careers in biology fields. Students could also choose to pursue an advanced education in a number of biology disciplines, such as biotechnology or genetic science. Students majoring in biology are introduced to lab procedures and common equipment. Typical courses include:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physiology
  • Ecology

Master of Science in Biology

A master's degree in biology can usually be earned in two to three years and requires core courses in biological sciences, such as evolution, organic development and physiology. Students can often choose from a number of specializations, such as pharmaceuticals, bioinformatics, biotechnology and molecular biology. Common courses include:

  • Cell biology
  • Immunology
  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics

Doctor of Philosophy in Biology

Obtaining a doctoral degree in biology is the standard educational requirement for independent researchers and university professors. Usually taking five to seven years to complete, a doctoral program in biology contains significant research. Students often participate in faculty-led projects, and some schools offer the opportunity to study with professionals at affiliated labs or abroad. At the doctoral level, students focus on their chosen specialization. Courses and research topics can include:

  • Cellular development
  • Infectious diseases
  • Neuroscience
  • Botanical biology
  • Women's studies
  • Human aging processes
  • Embryology
  • Vertebrate and invertebrate biology
  • Marine biology

Both technicians and scientists in biology labs can expect steady job growth over the next decade. Working as a researcher calls for either a master's or doctoral degree, and students can choose an area of specialization, such as embryology, neuroscience or genetics.

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