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What's biology? Simply stated, it's the study of living things, from the tiniest one-celled organism to the world's largest plants and animals. Because there are many kinds of biology, there are many ways to be a biologist. Biologists can pursue careers in diverse fields, including wildlife biology, forensic biology, microbiology, environmental biology and bioengineering. Depending on their specialty and level of education, they can find employment as forensic biologists, microbiologists, botanists, cetologists, entomologists, ornithologists or biological engineers. While some biologists spend their time in labs studying living things at the molecular level, others work outdoors researching organisms in their natural habitats.
Forensic biologists typically work for law enforcement agencies and private forensic science laboratories. They examine various pieces of biological evidence collected from crime scenes, including human hair and blood. These biologists strive to determine the cause of a death, compile forensic reports for use as evidence in legal proceedings and often serve as expert witnesses.
Aspiring forensic biologists must obtain at least bachelor’s degree in forensic biology to land the job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all forensic science technicians earned an average annual wage of $57,850 in 2017.
Wildlife biologists, who are categorized according to the specific species they study, research wild plants and animals. Cetologists, for example, study dolphins, whales and other marine mammals. Entomologists study insects, while ornithologists, entomologists and ichthyologists study birds, insects and wild fish, respectively. Botanists, on the other hand, research plants, their growth, diseases and uses.
The typical employers of wildlife biologists include zoos, conservatories, aquariums and environmental agencies. Entry-level wildlife biologists typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology, while those with research and teaching positions have doctoral degrees. The BLS reports that the mean annual wage for zoologists and wildlife biologists was $62,290 in 2017.
Microbiologists are lab-based professionals who study organisms that can only be seen through a microscope; while bacteriologists study the effects of bacteria on people, plants and animals, virologists focus on viruses. Mycologists study mold, yeast and other types of fungi, and often identify their benefits to the environment and society, and immunologists study how the immune systems of animals and plants respond to disease-causing micro-organisms.
Microbiologists can work for scientific research firms, pharmaceutical companies, colleges and universities, and agricultural manufacturers. Although graduates with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology can find lab technician jobs in microbiology labs, a doctorate is required for teaching and research positions. Microbiologists earned a mean annual wage of $69,960 in 2017, according to the BLS.
Biological engineering is a bit different than the traditional biology disciplines. Armed with at least a bachelor's degree in bioengineering, biological engineers design equipment for processing foods or manufacturing pharmaceuticals and other biological products. They also manage greenhouse environments and find solutions to environmental biodegradation.
Biological engineers find jobs in food processing plants, pharmaceutical companies, environmental conservation organizations and biotechnology companies. The job site Indeed notes that biological engineers earned an average annual salary of $86,398, as of 2018.
Did You Know?
There's a long list of biologists you may already know, beginning with Aristotle, the first person to develop a system to classify living things. The Greek physician Galen pioneered medical research. Charles Darwin is known for his theory of evolution. Gregor Mendel is considered the founder of modern genetics. Francis Crick and James Watson are famous for their discovery of the structure of DNA, the building block of living organisms. Although they all pursued different types of biology, each was motivated by their insatiable curiosity about the living world.
- California State University San Bernardino: What Can You Do with a Biology Degree?
- Explorehealthcareers.org: Forensic Biologist
- Ferris State University: Forensic Biology
- University of Missouri Department of Bioengineering: Undergraduate Program
- Indeed: Biological Engineer Salary
- The Complete University Guide: 10 Famous Biologists and Their Discoveries
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Forensic Science Technicians
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Microbiologists
- Indeed: Biological Engineers
Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.
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