Field Biology Careers: Job Options and Education Information

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

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When data needs to be gathered from outside of the laboratory, field biologists may be asked to go out and obtain that information. Since biology is such a general field, these professionals may choose to specialize in their preferred biology areas of interest.

Essential Information

Field biologists, unlike many other kinds of scientists, do not spend most of their time in a laboratory or research facility. Instead, they perform outdoor studies that supply information about particular organisms, entire communities or larger ecosystems. Specialties within the area of field biology include botany, wildlife studies, ecology, taxonomy and microbiology.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in biological sciences for entry-level work
Other Requirements Doctoral degree for research-based positions
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 4%* (for microbiologists)
Median Annual Salary (2015) $67,550* (for microbiologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Options in Field Biology

Biology can be broadly defined as the study of living things, but there are many careers that focus on more specific subjects, such as zoology and marine biology. Field biologists work to increase knowledge about the world of nature and address problems that affect life on Earth. These include providing sustainable and safe food supplies, controlling pollution and monitoring threats to human and animal well-being.

Soil and Plant Scientists

Field biologists with an interest in improving agricultural production and ensuring a viable food supply may want to work as soil and plant scientists. Soil and plant scientists conduct experiments that are designed to improve crop yields and control destructive pests like rodents or locusts. They may study soil composition to determine how different chemicals and minerals affect plant growth. These scientists often make recommendations to landowners or farmers about methods they can use to increase production and stop problems such as erosion.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), soil and plant scientists may work in scientific research and development within the agricultural chemical manufacturing industry or for technical consulting services. In May of 2015, the BLS reported an average annual salary for this profession of $60,050.

Educational Requirements

Most jobs in this area require at least a bachelor's degree in botany, biology or a related field. A general background in life sciences as well as chemistry, mathematics and technology is also beneficial, according to O*Net Online. Records from the BLS indicate that these professionals may also earn graduate degrees to improve job prospects.

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Zoologist

Biologists interested in learning about animal genetics, diseases, behavior and life cycles might want to become zoologists. Zoologists collect and examine biological data to better understand the effects that varying environmental conditions are having on certain animal species. They may also conduct experiments with live animals in the field and analyze the data they gather. Zoologists may work in fisheries, marine areas, forests or other environments.

The BLS states that in May 2015 zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median annual salary of $59,680. They may work for state or local government offices, in scientific and research firms or social advocacy organizations.

Educational Requirements

Most zoologists have either bachelor's or master's degrees in a biological sciences field like zoology or marine biology. A background in science, mathematics, and technology is needed to obtain these degrees. Coursework may include the study of animal physiology, cellular biology, entomology, ecology and similar subjects.

Microbiologist

The BLS defines microbiologists as individuals who investigate the characteristics of microscopic organisms, such as algae or bacteria. While much of their work is done in a laboratory setting and is aided by the use of microscopes and other technical equipment, microbiologists still work in the field gathering samples and observing environmental interactions. Microbiologists may specialize in one of several areas including agriculture, food or immunology.

In 2015, the BLS notes that the median annual salary for microbiologists was $67,550. They worked for medical and diagnostic laboratories, chemical manufacturing firms or pharmaceutical companies, among other enterprises.

Educational Requirements

As of 2014, of the professionals in this field who responded to survey questions, 36% had received doctoral level training, according to O*Net Online, while 36% had earned only bachelor's degrees, and 9% had obtained post-baccalaureate certificates. Collegiate coursework consists of the study of all life sciences with a special emphasis on cellular biology, immunology and related subjects.

Individuals interested in field biology have a wide range of options available within the areas and sub-areas of biology. Education requirements include the minimum of a bachelor's degree, but graduate degrees are often required as well. Job duties vary by specialty, but in general they include gathering data, observing living organisms in their environments, running experiments, and interpreting findings.

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