What to Do with a Biology Degree: Career Options and Outlook
College graduates with a biology degree can become research biologists, often with additional study, but they have many more options. Career choices for biology majors can include teaching science, writing about science or even becoming a veterinarian. Many biology-related careers are growing, but some have high interest from many potential applicants.
Someone who can't get enough of test tubes, Petri dishes and lab notebooks might enjoy a career as a research biologist. Technician-level jobs in the lab may be available to those with a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree or Ph.D. is often necessary for advanced independent positions. A bachelor's degree in general biology can provide good background for entry into graduate school in specialty fields of biology; research experiences during the college years are an especially good sign.
Biology covers the study of everything that's alive, but each individual biologist typically chooses a more specific focus. Marine biology, for example, comprises research on ocean or river creatures, while zoologists learn about animals. Biologists interested in tiny things might choose microbiology to learn about bacteria, viruses and other one-celled organisms or biochemistry and genetics to learn about the microscopic workings of larger animals and humans. Those concerned about the environment might choose the broad field of ecology or focus in on botany, the study of plants.
As technology advances, biological scientists will be needed to drive research and development. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected between 7% and 13% employment growth for all biologists from 2010 to 2020 (www.bls.gov). Biochemists and biophysicists, with the highest subfield increase, could leap 31%. However, great interest in biologist jobs leads to high competition for positions, especially in popular or dramatic fields like marine biology.
Teachers at the middle school or high school level can specialize in teaching science or biology with an endorsement on their teaching licenses. Undergraduate education coursework added to a biology degree is one way to become a biology teacher. After graduation, biology majors can consider state-sponsored alternative teacher certification programs or master's degrees in teaching.
There's high demand for teachers in the United States, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and many school districts have a particular need of science teachers. Between 2010 and 2020, the needed number of high school teachers was expected to grow 7%, with a 17% jump for middle school teachers. Rural areas and poor inner city districts have an especially high need, with correspondingly good opportunities for teachers.
Biology degree holders with a talent for writing can learn accurate reporting skills to become science writers, explains the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (www.casw.org). Science writers in public relations may work for universities and research labs. They write press releases that announce new developments at their workplaces to journalists.
Science journalists can work for newspapers, magazines, websites and radio or TV stations. They read scientific journals and press releases to find informative, important stories their readers will enjoy. Some work as freelancers, selling stories to multiple publications.
Between 2010 and 2020, the number of journalists was expected to drop by 6%, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Competition for the remaining jobs, especially at high-profile national publications, should be high. Smaller local employers may offer better chances.
In contrast, public relations jobs are on the rise, with 21% expected growth in that decade. However, many people study communications with an eye to PR jobs, so applicants may outnumber career openings.
A biology degree, especially with internships or experience in animal care, can be a great first step along the path to become a veterinarian or animal doctor. English and communication classes are also important so students can learn to interact with patients' owners. After 3-4 years of college, veterinary school lasts four years. Students learn about animals' anatomy and physiology, as well as how to diagnose illness and provide appropriate treatments.
As veterinary science developments make advanced medicine, such as cancer treatment or hip replacement, available to animals, demand for veterinarians is rising. Job growth of 36% between 2010 and 2020 was the prediction from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Once someone has become a veterinarian, there are good job prospects for the individual to gain one of those 61,400-and-counting positions. That's because the U.S. has only 28 veterinary schools, for a total of about 2,500 graduates emerging each year. That low number, however, is due to the difficulty of getting into veterinary school, for which competition is very high.
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