Careers in Biology Research: Job Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to have a career in biology research. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and career prospects to find out if this is the career for you.

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Biology is, put simply, the study of life. If you are fascinated by the complexity of life on Earth, you might enjoy a career as a biochemist, microbiologist, wildlife biologist or biological technician. Many careers in biological research require graduate degrees, though as little as an associate's degree may be sufficient for some positions.

Essential Information

Biological research scientists and technicians study plants, animals, bacteria, algae, fungi and other living things to understand how they grow, function and reproduce. They may specialize in fields including plant or animal physiology, marine biology, biochemistry, biophysics, botany and zoology

Career Title Biochemist/Biophysicist Microbiologist Zoologist/Wildlife Biologist Biological Technician
Required Education Ph.D. for independent research or university professor position

Bachelor's or master's degree for entry-level job
Ph.D. for independent research or university professor position

Bachelor's or master's degree for entry-level job
Ph.D. for independent research or university professor position

Master's degree for higher level investigative or scientific work

Bachelor's degree for entry-level job
Bachelor's degree in biology or a closely-related field
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% 4% 4% 5%
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $82,150 $67,550 $59,680 $41,650

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Careers in Biology Research

Biological researchers include scientists and technicians. Biological research scientists and technicians investigate living organisms and how they are influenced by the environment. Those engaged in basic research study plants or animals to broaden their understanding of how these organisms live and function. Those who do applied research study organisms to find solutions to problems, resulting in new products or improved treatments for human illnesses.

Specialties in Biology Research

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aquatic biologists, marine biologists and limnologists study micro-organisms, plants and animals in fresh and salt water. Biochemists and biophysicists often work at the molecular level while microbiologists may work with bacteria, algae, fungi and other microorganisms. Physiologists investigate how plants and animals grow and function. Botanists focus on plants and zoologists study animals.

Biology Research Job Options

The American Institute of Biological Sciences website indicates that researchers may specialize in finding causes and treatments for diseases. They may combine research and teaching as college professors. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Fisheries Service lists research subjects in which biologists might specialize, including marine mammals, marine turtles, seabirds, ecosystems, recreational fisheries and highly migratory species.

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Biology Research Requirements

The BLS reported that a bachelor's or master's degree may be enough to qualify for a job in applied research. Positions as independent researchers and as college professors usually require a doctoral degree. A strong record of publishing research findings is necessary to obtain a permanent basic research position. Biological research technicians generally must have at least a two-year degree, and some specialties require a bachelor's degree.

Biology Research Job Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS provides employment statistics for many biology research jobs. For example, biochemists and biophysicists can expect an 8% increase in job opportunities during the 2014-2024 decade; a PhD is required, however, and the profession is small, so competition for new jobs could be strong. In May 2015, biochemists and biophysicists earned a median salary of $82,150, with most employed in scientific research and development, pharmaceutical manufacturing and at colleges and universities.

Microbiologists also need a doctoral degree to do independent research. In May 2015, they made a yearly median wage of $67,550. Close to half worked in the pharmaceutical industry and scientific research. This profession is expected to grow by about 4% between 2014 and 2024, which is slower than average.

Those without a PhD but who hold an associate's or bachelor's degree can also participate in laboratory research as biological technicians, whose median salary in May 2015 was $41,650. According to the BLS, this profession is expected to grow at a rate of 5% through the 2014-2024 decade, with the majority employed by academic institutions and scientific research and development companies.

Biologists who study animals or sea life are classified as zoologists and wildlife biologists by the BLS. This group of about 18,000 workers earned a median yearly wage of $59,680 in May 2015. More than half were employed by state and federal governments, with the federal government paying some of the highest wages, at a mean of $80,710. Job growth of 4% is expected from 2014-2024.

Career options in the field of biological research include biochemistry, biophysics, microbiology, zoology, wildlife biology and biological technology. Both basic and applied research opportunities are available. Depending on your career goals, education requirements can range from an associate's degree to a PhD.

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