Population Biologist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Sep 27, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a population biologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

At least a bachelor's degree in biological science or a related field is needed to find entry-level work as a population biologist, while more advanced positions require a doctoral degree. Examples of specializations found in the field of population biology are community ecology and biogeography.

Essential Information

Population biologists may work in labs conducting experiments or performing research. These professionals generally have at least a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field. Read on to learn more.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in biological science
Other Requirements Doctoral degree for advanced positions
Projected Job Growth (2018-2020) 6% for biochemists and biophysicists*
Median Annual Salary (2018) $93,280 for biochemists and biophysicists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Population Biologist Job Description

Population biologists may work for academic institutions, research foundations, government agencies or corporations. They conduct basic and applied research into the factors that affect the population sizes of specific biological organisms, ranging from prolific insects to endangered mammals. Population biology research integrates approaches from statistics, evolutionary biology and ecology. Areas of specialization include population genetics, biogeography and community ecology.

Population Biologist Job Duties

Population biologist job duties vary depending on the individual's degree of experience and organizational affiliation. These professionals may work in applied research and academia among other fields. Experienced population biologists with senior titles typically direct independent research, while less experienced personnel may assist senior researchers with data collection, analysis and reporting.

Academic Research Duties

Research population biologists in academia design and implement research projects and then report their findings to the scientific community. Prior to conducting the actual research, biologists may need to secure funding by submitting research proposals. Once the research has commenced, biologists may collect data in the field by physically observing biological organisms, or by using tools like spectrophotometers or microscopes to examine samples. They then analyze the data using a variety of instruments, including statistical and scientific software programs.

Once they have analyzed their results, academic population biologists compile them into reports that may be published in scientific journals or presented at academic conferences. Population biologists employed by academic institutions may also have teaching duties, and some may ascend to administrative roles within their universities.

Applied Research Duties

Population biologists may work as applied researchers for government agencies, non-profit organizations or even corporations. Inexperienced population biologists may be supervised by more experienced researchers, and their responsibilities may include data collection, data analysis and report-writing.

Senior researchers who work in such settings may not have to teach courses or write grant proposals like their counterparts in academia, but they may still supervise lower-ranking research personnel and write reports justifying their budgets to their organizations. They may be assigned applied research projects or tasks by their employers, rather than pursuing projects that they have chosen.

Job Requirements for Population Biologists

The BLS reports that biologists hoping to secure academic research positions or senior positions in applied research and development typically need doctoral degrees. Some positions in applied research may be available to applicants with bachelor's or master's degrees, though.

Master's degree programs in biology typically take two years to complete, while Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs usually take five or six years, the BLS states. Coursework may include biostatistics, cell biology and biological mechanisms. In addition to holding doctoral degrees, applicants for academic research jobs may need to show that they have independently conducted and published research. Research experience can be gained during the doctoral candidacy, and expanded while holding optional postdoctoral positions.

Specific employment information for population biologists is not available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, the BLS predicted that job opportunities for related occupations in biochemistry and biophysics will grow as fast as the average between 2018 and 2028. Based on May 2018 data from the BLS, these biology professionals earned a mean yearly salary of $105,940.

There are a number of industries where a population biologist may work, including consulting services, research and development, pharmaceutical manufacturing and postsecondary institutions. A bachelor's or master's degree is enough to qualify for many jobs, but research positions call for a doctorate. Job duties vary, but those who work in research design and implement experiments, then compile and analyze the data produced and report it to the scientific community.

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