Biology is a fascinating field of study that explores the intricate workings of life and living organisms. It encompasses a wide range of sub-disciplines, from molecular biology and genetics to ecology and environmental science. Pursuing a career in biology can open up numerous opportunities for individuals passionate about understanding the complexities of life.
If you're wondering "What can I do with a biology degree?" look no further. This article aims to provide an overview of the pros, cons, and job opportunities associated with a career in biology.
What Can You Do with a Biology Degree?
Read catalogs from colleges and universities, and you might be convinced that biology is the right major for anyone and everyone. For example, UC Davis states that biology majors graduate with the ability to enter careers in research or academics. As a biology major, you'll spend time in the laboratory and build your skills in internships. Many suggest that it's a fun and exciting major, and based on the statistics, college students seem to agree.
A biology degree can work as a foundation for advanced degrees in research, but even if you don't build on your degree, a solid biology background could give you the skills you need to begin an exciting and lucrative career.
Pros & Cons of Being a Biologist
With all that said, you still might be wondering: is it hard to find a job with a biology degree?
A biologist studies the science behind living organisms. As general as that sounds, it means biologists can pursue a path into one of many specialized fields — covering everything from morphology to physiology, anatomy, behavior, origin, and distribution. Furthermore, they can specialize in either animal or plant life. Biology graduates in the workforce have been steadily growing at a rate of over 4% per year, from 2.6 million in 2019 to 2.7 million in 2020. So no, it's actually quite easy!
While employment opportunities are all well and good, it's important to consider everything when weighing the pros and cons of majoring in this field.
Pros of Pursuing a Biology Major
Lots of opportunities. As we've already covered, the benefits of being a biologist are felt the most in this regard. Biology graduates are highly sought after as candidates for medical, dental, and veterinary schools.
High salaries. Biology degree jobs make an average salary of $65,000 per year, but $100,000 or more is common for medical workers with biology degrees.
Opportunities for world-class research. Most college biology programs participate in research projects that benefit societies and the planet worldwide.
Learn important problem-solving skills. The skills taught throughout a biology curriculum have many real-world applications, making classes feel more fulfilling as you progress.
Cons of Pursuing a Biology Major
Remember, a con for one person might not be an issue for another. So before you keep reading, don't make your decision based on difficulty and instead base it on interest.
Difficulty. The rewards of a biology major come with many challenges. Courses are considered among the most difficult compared to other majors.
Limited personal time. Biology majors usually report a below-average amount of free time throughout their college experience.
High tuition costs. A lot of biology majors graduate undergrad, then immediately enter a master's or doctorate program, so tuition costs can stack up before you start your career.
Top Careers For Biology Majors
As previously mentioned, there is no limit to the number of opportunities a biology graduate can expect. And while there aren't many disadvantages to being a biologist, the abundance of choice adds its own problems — namely, deciding on which path to take. The trick, of course, is narrowing down your interests so you can confidently pursue the right specialization, which will lead to a fulfilling career. We've outlined some of the most popular jobs for biology majors below.
Biology Teacher: Help Others Love the Field
Your passion for biology developed in the classroom. Your teacher explained basic concepts, guided you through experiments, and provided valuable feedback. As a biology teacher, you can pay that favor forward. Your work will help the next generation of students become biology experts.
You can't teach a classroom with a bachelor's degree in biology. You'll need to do a bit more to prove you're ready to teach young minds. The amount of added work you'll do depends on where you'd like to teach:
High school: Requirements vary between states, but most require you to pass a certification course. You might need to take extra classes, work as an instructional assistant, and otherwise prepare to handle your students. When you've completed those steps, your salary will likely be close to about $62,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Junior colleges, colleges, and universities: You'll need at least one-degree level higher than your students. To teach at a junior college, for example, you'll need a master's degree. To teach at a university, you'll need a doctoral degree. That means you will need at least two, if not four, added years of education. When you're done, you'll make about $98,000 each year, per the BLS.
Working with students can be incredibly rewarding, but a teacher's career can be difficult. Many teachers are paid, in part, by taxpayer dollars. As residents in most states balk at their tax bills, classroom sizes expand. Teachers can't give their students all the attention they require, and sometimes, teachers take on the role of parents for troubled children. Your passion for education may get you through these challenges, but working in an industry where you feel disrespected can be grating.
Want to be a biology teacher?
Botanist: Study the Life of Plants
Researchers say there are close to 400,000 plants known to scientists today. Some are harvested for salads and side dishes. Others are transformed into fuel. And plant fronds also help clean the air we breathe.
As a botanist, you'll study these plants, and your research may help to protect critical species at risk of extinction.
Plants are everywhere, and that means your office space could be limitless, but most botanists work in:
Laboratories. You'll conduct studies on specific plants for fertilizer companies, food organizations, and other similar groups.
Farms. You'll supervise the growth and care of food crops, and you'll help your teams understand what new species to plant.
Construction zones. You'll identify important plants that can't be disturbed, and you'll assist landscape architects as they create an outdoor environment.
Vulnerable areas. You'll travel to far-flung places like the rainforest to study how pollution and climate change affect plant life.
In interviews, botanists point to the variability of work as a major bonus. They seem to do something different each day, from collecting samples to analyzing cells and writing reports.
They also enjoy the challenge of discovery. Identifying new plants or spotting species in places they haven't been seen before can be incredibly exciting.
Botanists make about $76,000 per year, per the BLS, but the salary can vary widely depending on your employer. You'll take home more as a paid employee of a chemical company, for example, than you will as an independent researcher.
Typically, you can begin your career with a bachelor's degree, but if you'd like more authority and a higher salary, you might need to get an advanced degree. It could take you four years or longer to complete that work.
Want to be a botanist?
Environmental Scientist: Help Save the Planet
We're living in an unprecedented age, where the planet's temperature is rising, glaciers are melting, and species are disappearing. While experts argue about the causes, the damage continues. In some cases, it's irreparable.
Environmental scientists work at the frontlines of this battle. Their work helps document changes, and sometimes, it helps stem the tide of losses we all face.
There's no question that the world needs environmental scientists, but the work you'll do might be unpaid. Reports say that environmental scientists are required to show proof of the following:
At the same time, they often work for nonprofit agencies that have little or no funding. They can't get paid for their work since the organization has no funds to spare.
If your passion for saving the world is enough to sustain you, this may not be an issue, but if you graduate from school with a large debt load, this environment could make success difficult.
If you do land a paying job, the BLS states that you can potentially make about $76,000 annually.
Interested in environmental science?
Food Scientist: Protect the Purity of Our Meals
What's really included in that bite you're about to put in your mouth? If the ingredient list gets a subtle tweak, will it taste better or last longer? As a food scientist, you'll answer questions just like that all day long.
Food scientists typically work in laboratories, and their research helps organizations to:
Cut costs. Adjusting soil quality, water distribution, fertilizer composition, or something similar could increase yields and deliver more revenue.
Enhance shelf life. Food preservation is critical, especially if the item must travel long distances. You could look at the ingredients, food processing techniques, or chemical additives.
Ensure safety. Some dyes and chemicals aren't safe for humans to ingest. You might uncover new problems or remove dangerous items from existing product lines.
Boost flavor. Great-tasting products sell faster. You might help to develop a new item, or you could give an older version a reboot.
You'll need a bachelor's degree in biology to get started, and you'll want to complete at least one internship. Additionally, you also have to prove that you know your way around a laboratory and that you can get along with others.
As a food scientist, you can make about $74,000 per year, according to the BLS.
If you'd like to start work earlier with only an associate's degree, you can work as a food science technologist under the supervision of an expert. That job comes with an annual salary of about $44,000, per the BLS.
In surveys, food scientists report high job satisfaction scores. They cite intellectual stimulation and salary perks among the benefits of working in the industry. Alternatively, food scientists also say they work long hours every week, and some struggle to keep a healthy work-life balance.
Interested in food science opportunities?
Zoologist: Research Animals & Wildlife
Animal lovers have plenty of career options, but many of them involve a master's or doctoral degree. These jobs also tend to require interacting with people as much as animals.
A zoologist's job is different. Zoologists study animals both in the wild and in captivity. They examine the physical characteristics of animals, their behaviors, and the impacts humans may have on wildlife and natural habitats.
As a zoologist, you'll make about $65,000 per year, per the BLS. The number of jobs in this field is flat, with about 1,500 openings projected each year, on average, over the next decade. There are fewer than 20,000 jobs in the United States, which means you'll face stiff competition for any position you want.
The role of zoos is also in flux, reports say, as the emphasis moves from entertainment to conservation. Zoologists hope to help rescue some species from extinction, but they need funds to make that possible.
Want to be a zoologist?
What Career Is Right for You?
This is just a small sample of career paths available with a biology major. It's not an exhaustive list. Career diversity is a significant perk of the biology major. You could work in the field for a few years and then switch your emphasis to something new, or you could take your biology background and spin it into an entirely new career. A biology major, for example, could be just what you need to begin a career in health care. It's that diverse.
Spend your career in the sciences, and you're destined to spend each day in engaging, rewarding work. You'll also be surrounded by other people who think and feel like you do.
If this sounds like the life you've been hoping for, we can help. We collect job listings from all across the country and put them into an engaging and intuitive format that's customizable and searchable. Find a wide swath of entry-level biology jobs on Joblist today!
If you're not ready to apply quite yet, use our site to help you understand how many open positions there are and how you can land one. It's free to start searching.