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Life Science Jobs: Options and Requirements

Life sciences include several majors and fields of study. Continue reading for an overview of the programs and majors in biology, ecology, environmental sciences and medicine, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates

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Life science careers vary widely. Some involve research, while other life science careers involve educating or caring for people. A few examples of career options in this field include being a forester, a physician or an environmental scientist.

Essential Information

There are several fields of study within life science such as ecology, botany, medicine and environmental science. Life science careers include research, teaching or medicine. They may require a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree. Read on below to learn about positions in life science and their requirements.

Career Forester Registered Nurses Environmental Scientist
Education Requirements Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree
Other Requirements Master's Degree is recommended for research positions State license Master's Degree is recommended for research positions
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 7% 16% 11%
Median Salary (2015)* $58,230 $67,490 $67,460

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Bioinformatics
  • Botany
  • Cellular Biology and Anatomical Sciences
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • General Biology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology and Immunology
  • Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Biophysics
  • Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • Physiology and Related Sciences
  • Zoology

Career Options

Studying science opens up many job opportunities. Depending on the education level, students can enter the field of research, teaching or medicine. Life sciences offer several career options and numerous programs are available to study and apply. If science excites you, then continue reading to learn about many careers in the life sciences field.

Biology & Ecology

Biology is the examination of living organisms and life. Ecology is a sub-discipline of biology that emphasizes the study living organisms and their relationship with the environment and each other. Applications of ecology include environmental restoration and the maintenance of water, soil and forests.

Job Options

Many students who study biology choose a specialty to focus in which guides their career choices. For example, a focus in microbiology can lead to a career as a microbiology technician. Biologists perform research for businesses, government agencies or schools. Science technicians or research assistant positions are also available to those with a biology background.

Ecologists can find careers in conservation and forestry. Foresters oversee and protect forest environments by directing recreational, environmental, economic and conservation activities. Conservation scientists help farmers and government agencies to conserve water, soil and other natural resources. Ecologists in research positions collect and analyze soil, food, water and air data.

Requirements

An undergraduate degree, preferably a Bachelor of Science in Biology, is required for entry-level jobs. A graduate degree is needed for research intensive position. Some core course requirements in biology programs include classes on ecology fundamentals, cell biology, biology principles, modern genetics and organism biology.

Other bachelor's degrees, in fields like ecology, forestry biology, environmental sciences or natural resource management can also lead to biology and ecology careers. A master's or doctoral degree is needed are research or teaching positions. Students studying ecology will complete coursework in biostatistics, genetics, zoology, forest ecology, wetland ecology, river ecology, ecosystem ecology and community ecology.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) listed median annual salaries of $58,230 for foresters and $61,110 for conservation scientists. The BLS predicts that employment for foresters will increase by 8% during the 2014 to 2024 decade, while jobs will increase by 7% for conservation scientist during the same time period.

Botany

Botany is the study of plant life. Students in botany degree programs can learn to identify poisonous plants and research the medicinal and edible plants that can be used to help humanity.

Job Options

Botanists are biological scientists that specialize in this field. Most botany careers center around teaching and research. Botanists may perform research for pharmaceutical companies, environmental conservation agencies and other organizations. Depending on their education, they may teach at the high school or collegiate level.

For non-research jobs or assistant positions, an undergraduate degree is acceptable for careers in botany. For teaching or research careers, a master's or doctorate degree is needed. Students interested in botany should expect to study plant cell biology, pollination biology, structural botany and research methods. Most programs will require field work where students will collect and analyze plants in the wild.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

Data compiled by the BLS indicates that plant scientists earned a median wage of $60,050 per year in 2015 and are likely to experience job growth of 5% to 8% from 2014 to 2024, which is roughly average. Postsecondary biological science teachers are projected to see faster-than-average job growth during that decade of 16%, and the BLS further reports that those who teach biological sciences, including botany, made a median yearly income of $75,320 in 2015.

Medicine

Medicine is an applied field that combines chemistry, biology and life science. With new equipment and modern techniques, developments in medication, surgery and other treatments have improved the care that patients receive. Those interested in medical careers can apply the art of healing, restoring, preventing and treating illnesses and injuries.

Job Options

Students looking to take on an active role with patients can become physicians, like surgeons, anesthesiologists, psychiatrists or gynecologists. All of these professionals specialize in a different aspect of diagnosis and administration of treatment for injuries and diseases. Preventive healthcare is a major focus of many doctors due to the importance of keeping patients healthy and active. In addition, many medical professionals work as nurses or nurse practitioners. Positions are also available in medical laboratory science. Other medical careers include positions in pharmaceutical and medical research.

Requirements

Becoming a doctor requires completion of four years of undergraduate study, four years of medical school and then up to eight years of residency and internship programs. Working as a physician also requires state licensure and certification. Nursing careers may only require a bachelor's degree plus a state-issued license. Other medical research careers may require a bachelor's or master's degree in microbiology, biology, zoology or a related field. Students interested in medical careers should study human anatomy, epidemiology and diagnostics.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

Physicians and surgeons brought in a median wage of more than $187,200 per year in 2015, according to the BLS, while registered nurses received median annual salaries of $67,490. The BLS predicts employment increases of 14% for surgeons and physicians and 16% for registered nurses from 2014 to 2024.

Environmental Science

The primary goal of environmental science research is develop solutions to problems the environment is facing, including pollution and global warming. A variety of degree programs and job opportunities are available to environmental science professionals.

Job Options

Environmental science professionals can pursue a variety of positions in research science and academia. Environmental chemists study the effects chemicals have on the environment. Protecting animals and plants are the primary focus of environmental biologists. Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the planet. Atmospheric scientists, physics, science technicians, engineering technicians and chemists are a few other job options environmental scientists can pursue. Other environmental scientists may reform and develop environmental legislation by working as lobbyists or policy makers.

Requirements

A college degree is required for these positions. An undergraduate degree is acceptable for most entry-level positions, but a graduate degree is recommended for research careers. Students in environmental science degree programs will study physics, geography, environmental science, chemistry and biology. Students interested in governmental careers may also take classes in environmental law.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

The BLS reported a median yearly salary of $67,460 for environmental scientists in general in May 2015, while geoscientists earned a median annual wage of $89,700 at that time, as per BLS data. Job opportunities for environmental scientists are expected to increase by 11% between 2014 and 2024, states the BLS, during which time geophysicists should see opportunities grow by 10%.

A bachelor's degree is a standard requirement for most professions in the life sciences field. Some careers, such as being a physician, require advanced studies. The specific career path being pursued will determine which specific type of degree is required.

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