Difference Between Biologist & Naturalist

May 30, 2020

Comparing Biologists to Naturalists

Both biologists and naturalists are scientists who study the natural world, including plants, animals, and environments. While both careers seek to help foster a greater understanding of the world around us, each specialty requires a distinct set of skills and education. The following article will offer some key similarities and differences between these two scientific careers.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2019) Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Biologist Bachelor's Degree $79,580* 4% to 6%
Naturalist Bachelor's Degree $36,800** 6% (for all biological scientists)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale.com

Responsibilities of Biologists vs. Naturalists

Biologists and naturalists are both scientists who conduct research in an effort to better understand the natural world. Biologists study any one of many different aspects of living organisms, such as origin, anatomy, and development, while naturalists are primarily concerned with the relationships between different species and their environments. Both biologists and naturalists use scientific research in their work. However, biologists typically spend a great deal of time in the laboratory designing and conducting experiments; naturalists may spend much more time outdoors engaged in field research and observation. While all naturalists practice a type of biology, not all biologists are considered naturalists.

Biologist

A career as a biologist involves specialized research and study of a specific aspect of life on Earth. Biologists may study an organism's origin, its evolution, its anatomy, its function, or its environment. They may study plants, animals, insects, water, soil, weather, or microscopic creatures. Research often occurs in the lab, but some biologists do embark on fieldwork or travel quite frequently to collect samples or observe subjects in their natural habitat. Career advancement opportunities most often correlate with advanced post-graduate or doctorate degrees, as well as how many years of experience the biologist has in his or her field of study. Those interested in a career as a biologist should have a strong background in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

Job responsibilities of a biologist include:

  • Gathering and studying information, both in the field and in the lab
  • Preparing reports of research findings for the government, an industry, or the public
  • Communicating effectively with other members of a research team, supervisors, and subordinates
  • Caring for or managing animal or plant populations, depending on specialty
  • Writing grant proposals, research proposals, scientific presentations, or educational materials such as journal articles or training programs

Naturalist

Naturalists are scientists who primarily study the way living things impact each other and the Earth. They look at the world of nature as a whole, examining the ways in which animals, plants, and other organisms in a given environment interact with their own species and with others, as well as what effect these living things may have on their habitat at large. Those considering a career as a naturalist should have an interest in ecology, evolution, conservation, geography, and environmental science. Most naturalists work outdoors, observing their subjects in their native habitat, so there is great potential for travel. Job prospects are typically better for those with advanced post-graduate degrees or doctorates.

Job responsibilities of a naturalist include:

  • Collecting, observing, and comparing field samples
  • Compiling accurate field notes, writing reports, recording data, and preparing analytical reports
  • Photographing or recording video of subjects in the field
  • Preparing educational presentations, reports, and other materials for public outreach
  • Working with state and federal government agencies to develop and strengthen conservation efforts and environmental protection

Related Careers

If a career as a biologist interests you, you may also consider a job as a bio-engineer, another laboratory-based science devoted to researching and developing various medical instruments. Those considering a career as a naturalist may also be interested in a position as a park naturalist, who works to develop informational and educational programs at local, state, or national parks.

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