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Pros & Cons of a Biology PhD

The study of biology can lead to many different career options, but graduate programs in this life science discipline are not without their drawbacks. If you're deciding whether to earn a PhD in Biology, consider the following list of pros and cons.

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Biology is life science that includes several different subdisciplines. A PhD program in this field allows you to take a closer look at pretty much anything that is living and can prepare you for a research career. In this article, we'll take a look at the biology PhD and what might make it a good or bad degree for you.

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Pros of a PhD in Biology

There are several positives to continuing your education. From earning more to landing leadership positions, you might find that earning your PhD comes with a lot of plusses.

Entry Into Academic Careers

A PhD is the most common track for individuals who want to find work in academia. With a PhD, you'll have the experience needed to teach and research cutting edge discoveries in the biology field. Though some colleges accept prospective teachers with master's degrees, a PhD is the standard requirement for teaching at 4-year colleges and universities. A bonus of becoming a professor is that if you get tenure, you'll find that you have the freedom to research whatever you'd like.

A Variety of Specialization Options

As a PhD candidate, you can pursue a program concentration or research interest in such areas as microbiology, biochemistry, neurobiology, and genetics. Some biology PhD students even couple their degree program with a medical degree (MD) in order to become a medical doctor as well as a research scientist.

Good Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many professions that can be sought with a PhD in Biology were projected to have a faster than average job growth over the 2016-2026 decade. Some career options for biology PhD graduates and their employment outlooks are outlined below.

Position Job Growth (2016-2026)* Number of Positions Opening (2016-2026)*
Biochemist or Biophysicist 11% 3,600
Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist 8% 1,500
Biological Sciences Professor 15% 9,400
Medical Scientist (except epidemiologist) 13% 16,100
Microbiologist 8% 1,900

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Good Pay

As your education increases, typically your salary will as well. Biologists with the ability to conduct independent research projects make more money than the technicians who have only a bachelor's degree. For instance, PayScale.com reports that the average salary for a holder of a master's degree in biology is about $60,000, while biology PhD holders make an average of $91,000 a year as of October 2018. Additionally, as a biology professor, you could see an average salary of $93,010, according to 2017 figures from the BLS.

Cons of Earning a PhD in Biology

When deciding on a biology PhD, you must also consider some reasons why a PhD may not be in your best interest.

Research-Heavy Curriculum

If you are not interested in reading, researching, and writing, earning a PhD is not a good path for you. Students in PhD programs spend the majority of their time learning research methodologies and conducting research in a lab setting. Results are used to write a dissertation for publication.

High Dropout Rate

According to the American Society for Cell Biology, PhD candidates do not always have the best graduation record. Of the roughly 16,000 students who begin biology PhD programs each school year, nearly 37% of them drop out before they graduate, according to 2012 data from the National Institutes of Health. Unless you are fully dedicated and have the home support you need, you might want to consider this stat carefully before deciding to enroll in a biology PhD program.

More Student Debt

You can find work in many biological professions after completing only a bachelor's degree program. If you want to earn a graduate degree, you'll spend more time in school, and in turn, spend more money on tuition and books. Student loans can add up quickly, especially since you do not need to make payments toward them while you're enrolled. Once you graduate, though, compounded interest is added to your loans and you must begin paying off all that debt.

As you can see, biology PhD programs can lead to many great job opportunities with good pay. The outlook is favorable for biological scientists, but you must get through the program to earn the degree. If you're not supported at home in your educational endeavors or you cannot afford the student loans, think carefully before beginning your PhD.

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