Life Scientist: Job Description, Duties, Salary and Outlook

Learn about the education and preparation needed to work as a life scientist. Get a quick overview of the field as well as details about education and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

A life scientist works in a variety of different fields, some of which include food science, zoology and microbiology. Although the minimum educational requirement to work in the life sciences is a bachelor's degree in a related subject area, positions involving research or education may require a Ph.D.

Essential Information

A life scientist may be any scientist whose work centers on the study of living things - whether plants, animals, bacteria, or humans. All careers in this field require at least a bachelor's degree in a life science such as biology, chemistry, or genetics. A Ph.D. may be required for research or to teach at universities.

Career Food Scientist Zoologist Microbiologist
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry or genetics; Ph.D. may be necessary for research or postsecondary positions Bachelor's degree in zoology or ecology; Ph.D. may be necessary for research or postsecondary positions Bachelor's degree in microbiology or closely related field; Ph.D. may be necessary for research or postsecondary positions
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 3% (food scientists and technologists)* 4% (zoologists and wildlife biologists)* 4%*
Average Annual Salary (2015) $65,840 (food scientists and technologists)* $59,680 (zoologists and wildlife biologists)* $67,550*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Life science comprises a number of different fields and specializations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), several types of scientists that may be grouped under the major category of life scientist are include food scientists, epidemiologists, zoologists, microbiologists, plant scientists, and biologists.

The particular duties of life scientists may depend on their field of work. Nonetheless, there are certain core responsibilities that virtually all life scientists may share, regardless of their area of study. Most life scientists may be required to conduct research either in a laboratory or in the field. Some scientists may conduct what is called basic research, which is studying a subject for the sake of understanding more about it. Others may conduct applied research, which is research for the purpose of developing a product, treatment, or technique for the market.

The employment outlook for life scientists in general varies depending on geography, field of practice, and education level, among other factors. As with the employment outlook, the salaries of life scientists may depend on several factors, such as geography, field of practice, and education level.

Food Scientists

Food scientists may work for private corporations, academia or government in researching and developing many aspects of food, such as nutritional content and additives. Some food scientists may also ensure that government food regulations are enforced. Although a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or related subjects may be sufficient, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) may be required for food scientists aspiring to research and/or teach at universities.

The BLS forecasts the number of food scientists and technologists to increase by 3% between 2014 and 2024. In 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for food scientists and technologists was $65,840.


Zoologists may research and study the biological and behavioral foundations of wildlife by methods such as dissecting animal cadavers or collecting biological samples from live animals. As with food scientists, a bachelor's degree could be sufficient for certain research positions. Nonetheless, a Ph.D. may be required for administrative, academic, and independent research positions.

According to the BLS, the number of zoologists and wildlife biologists was expected to grow 4% from 2014-2024, which is slower than the national average for all occupations. The median salary for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $59,680 as of 2015.


Microbiologists often study microorganisms like bacteria, algae, fungi and viruses to learn how they live and grow. They may conduct research, including drug development. They often are responsible for supervising technicians and other workers within a laboratory environment. A bachelor's degree in microbiology or closely related field is the minimum academic requirement. However, A Ph.D. is necessary to conduct independent research or work as faculty/staff at most at colleges and universities.

Employment opportunities for microbiologists were projected to increase slower than average, at 4% between 2014 and 2024, according to BLS data. In 2015, these professionals earned a median salary of $67,550 per year.

Almost all life scientists are responsible for conducting research in a laboratory or in the field, regardless of their specialization. Educational requirements can range from a bachelor's to a doctoral degree. Projected job growth statistics for careers in the life sciences range from 3-4% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS.

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