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When you envision a military career, you might picture yourself fighting in a distant land. The military needs qualified, educated scientists to perform a variety of functions both in combat zones and at home. A biology or chemistry degree can prepare you for a strong career in the military, but you'll have to enlist and undergo basic training before you can begin working.
In the Army, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialists play a critical role in fighting the war on terror. You may operate or help develop chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear monitoring equipment, pursue a hazardous materials certification, help minimize the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons or investigate alleged attacks. You'll have to undergo military training and take an aptitude test. Although the job doesn't require a specific degree, a background in biology or chemistry can improve your aptitude test score and make you eligible for a higher-ranking position.
All branches of the military need medical professionals to tend to soldiers on the battlefield, to staff military medical clinics, to offer advice on medical policies, to conduct medical research and to perform similar medical functions. Just like when you become a civilian doctor, you'll have to complete medical or nursing school, but a chemistry or biology degree can help you prepare for your education. In many cases, the military may fund all or a portion of your training. The specific work you do will depend on your training and the branch of the military you choose. For example, an officer in the Navy Medical Corps provides a broad spectrum of medical services, ranging from hospital work to tending to soldiers on naval vessels.
A Role in Research
The U.S. military is always conducting scientific research. With a degree in biology or chemistry, you can aid in such experiments. In the Navy, for example, you might use your chemistry training to become a biochemist conducting research on biochemical challenges that directly affect the Navy or military life. Life scientists typically have training in biology and perform a variety of functions. You might research ways to minimize the spread of disease or contamination, explore how various organisms behave, study how various environments affect human biology or work on food storage challenges. The specific projects for which you'll be eligible depend on your degree, training and aptitude, but the research opportunities in the military are myriad.
From investigating crimes on military bases to analyzing the contents of chemical weapons, forensic experts play a key role in military operations. Navy forensic toxicologists, for example, may work as part of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to solve crimes. Your forensic work might equip you to teach incoming forensic officers about military forensic work. Depending on the type of forensic work you do, your job duties may change from day to day, and you may work in a variety of settings, from research laboratories to the battlefield. You might conduct laboratory experiments to determine possible perpetrators of crime, perform chemical analyses to determine the contents of a chemical weapons attack or gather evidence at a crime scene. You may need advanced training or a graduate-level degree, particularly if you want to manage a forensic laboratory.
The military has a long history of inventing new products and procedures. Many of these products eventually make their way to civilian life. You might work on developing new medications, vaccines or chemical weapons. For example, some military life scientists devise ways to prevent the spread of contamination in close quarters, such as on naval ships. You also might help research new products by testing their efficacy or exploring their effects on human life and well-being.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.