A list of careers in biology reveals a variety of specialties and workplaces that range from crime scenes to rainforests. Some biology careers require an undergraduate degree, while others demand advanced degrees in specific areas. Pay rates vary depending on the type of employer and biology career you choose. While some traditional biology professions are growing at average rates, others are experiencing explosive growth due to technological advances.
Biomedical Engineer Careers and Salaries
Biomedical engineers support the health care industry by creating medical software, devices and equipment used to diagnose illnesses and save lives. This unique field relies on professionals with knowledge of biology, anatomy, mathematics and engineering to create equipment such as X-ray equipment and artificial human organs. Some biomedical engineers develop software that track the spread of infections in hospitals. Biomedical engineers write research reports, develop procedures for medical technology, and train medical staff on the use of biomedical equipment.
A 2016 survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed more than 21,000 biomedical engineers at work in the U.S. Nearly 40 percent work in areas of research and development and medical equipment manufacturing.
To become a biomedical engineer, you must earn at least a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering or a related discipline such as electrical, mechanical or computer engineering. Biomedical engineering programs include coursework in biological sciences and engineering.
In 2017, biomedical engineers earned a median salary of nearly $90,000, according to the BLS. The median salary represents the middle of an occupation’s pay scale. Research and development positions paid the highest wages.
From now until 2026, the need for biomedical engineers is expected to increase by around 7 percent.
Biological Technician Careers and Salaries
Biological technicians assist scientists in conducting experiments and tests on matter such as bacteria, food and the bodily fluids of humans and animals. The job requires expert knowledge in the use and maintenance of equipment such as microscopes, scales, lab ovens, centrifuges, incubators and test tubes. Biological technicians must analyze, interpret and document the results of tests and experiments.
While many biological technicians work exclusively in laboratories, those working in areas such as wildlife biology or ecology may also spend time in the field collecting test samples. Some work with laboratory test animals, administering treatments or drugs, while observing and documenting experiment results.
The BLS reports that more than 82,000 biological technicians worked in the United States in 2016. Nearly 30 percent worked in research and development, while around 28 percent worked for colleges and universities.
Most biological technician positions require a bachelor’s degree in biology, but some employers accept applicants who hold associate degrees if they have sufficient laboratory experience.
In 2017, biological technicians earned a median salary of nearly $44,000, according to the BLS. Low earners took home around $29,000, while top earners made more than $70,000. Pharmaceutical companies paid the best salaries.
The BLS projects employment opportunities for biological technicians to increase by around 10 percent through 2026.
Genetic Counselor Careers and Salaries
Genetic counselors evaluate and advise clients about their potential for developing medical conditions based on their families’ genetics and health history. By analyzing a client’s DNA test, a genetic counselor can identify risks for some types of cancer or cardiac disorders, as well as conditions such as Down syndrome in unborn children. They provide clients with detailed reports about potential genetic risks and direct them to physicians and specialists who can screen for specific diseases and disorders.
One-third of genetic counselors work in hospitals or private practice, according to the BLS. Nearly 40 percent work in physicians’ offices and medical laboratories. Typically, genetic counselors work regular business hours.
To become a genetic counselor, you must earn a master’s degree. Genetic counseling programs include coursework in areas that include biology, epidemiology, genetics and psychology.
After graduating from a genetic counseling program, your employer or the state in which you plan to practice may require you to pass a certification examination administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Your state may also require you to obtain a license to practice.
In 2017, genetic counselors earned a median salary of more than $77,000. Those at the top of the pay scale took home more than $100,000, while low earners made around $51,000. Medical laboratories paid the highest salaries, while colleges and universities paid the lowest wages.
The BLS projects the genetic counseling profession to grow by nearly 30 percent through 2026.
Epidemiologist Careers and Salaries
Epidemiologists study an array of public health issues that include diseases, violent crime and accidents to develop solutions that lower their risks or curtail their impact on society. To collect data, epidemiologists use a range of tools from surveys to blood samples. After completing their studies, epidemiologists submit reports to the general public, health care officials and lawmakers. Their analysis can offer valuable clues about the causes of and solutions to public health issues.
Epidemiologists work for universities, health departments, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and federal agencies. They often specialize in the areas of environmental health, infectious diseases, mental health, occupational health and substance abuse.
A 2016 BLS survey reports more than 6,000 epidemiologists work in the United States. More than half of them work for state and local governments, while around 25 percent hold positions in hospitals and universities.
Most epidemiologist jobs require a master’s degree or higher in public health, medicine or epidemiology. Positions for research leaders often require a Ph.D. Epidemiology programs include coursework in medical informatics, health care systems, statistics and biological sciences.
In 2017, epidemiologists took home a median salary of around $70,000. Those at the top of the income scale made more than $110,000, while lower earners earned around $43,000. Scientific research companies offered the highest salaries; colleges and universities paid the lowest wages.
According to the BLS, jobs for epidemiologists should increase by around 9 percent through 2026.
Microbiologist Careers and Salaries
Microbiologists work in laboratories, researching parasites, fungi, viruses and bacteria to understand how they live and affect humans, animals and plants. The work of microbiologists plays an important role in understanding infectious diseases and environmental threats, as well as in the development of drugs and vaccines.
The microbiologist’s job requires keen attention to detail along with problem-solving skills and patience during long, demanding research studies. They must possess good documentation skills and excellent communication and writing skills for translating their findings into reports.
In 2016, the BLS estimates about 23,000 microbiologists worked in the United States. More than 25 percent work for companies conducting research and development, while around 16 percent work for drug companies.
Entry-level microbiology positions typically require candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree in microbiology or biological sciences. Microbiology programs often include courses in biological sciences, virology, microbiology, physics and biochemistry. To lead a research team, you typically need a Ph.D.
In 2017, microbiologists earned a median annual income of around $70,000, according to a BLS survey. Microbiologists at the top of the pay scale took home nearly $130,000, while those at the bottom of the scale made around $40,000. The federal government paid the highest salaries, followed by private companies in the life sciences industries.
Microbiologist job opportunities to expected to grow by about around 8 percent through 2026.
Wildlife Biologist and Zoologist Careers and Salaries
Wildlife biologists and zoologists study wildlife in their natural environments and research how human activities and encroachment impacts their lives and habitats. Their research can take place in a controlled setting such as a laboratory or in the field where animals live naturally and unfettered. Research may focus on diseases, reproduction or migration patterns. The work of wildlife biologists and zoologists plays an important role in making policies about land management and wildlife conservation. Although wildlife biologists and zoologists conduct similar tests, wildlife biologists typically focus on studies at an ecosystem level, while zoologists concentrate their research on specific types of animals.
In 2016, nearly 20,000 people worked as zoologists or wildlife biologists in the United States. More than half worked in state and federal government positions.
You need at least a bachelor’s degree to obtain an entry-level zoologist or wildlife biologist job. Wildlife biology and zoology programs include coursework in wildlife biology, anatomy, ecology, wildlife management and botany. Most employers require a master’s degree or Ph.D. to lead a research team.
In 2017, wildlife biologists and zoologists earned a median annual income of around $62,000 according to a BLS survey. The federal government paid the highest wages.
The BLS projects zoologist and wildlife biologist jobs to increase by around 8 percent through 2026.
Forensic Science Technician Careers and Salaries
Forensic science technicians work in laboratories and at crime scenes to gather and analyze evidence involved in crimes. Field technicians collect evidence such as bodily fluids, fibers, fingerprints and weapons, and document crime scenes using photographs and sketches. Laboratory technicians conduct DNA tests on bodily fluids, perform ballistic tests on weapons and projectiles, and analyze evidence such as shoe print impressions. Other forensic science technicians specialize in analyzing computer data.
The work of a forensic science technician requires attention to detail and the ability to communicate findings verbally and in writing. Technicians often submit their reports to police detectives and prosecutors and many must testify during court trials.
More than 15,000 forensic science technicians worked in the United States in 2016. Nearly 90 percent worked for local or state governments, while 5 percent worked for commercial laboratories.
To become a forensic science technician, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in a discipline such as forensic science, biology or chemistry. Coursework in forensic science programs includes pathology, natural sciences and toxicology.
License and certification requirements vary depending on the state or city in which you work. Certifications can help broaden and advance your career even when they are not required for employment.
In 2017, forensic science technicians earned a median salary of nearly $58,000 according to a BLS study. High-earners took home more than $95,000, while technicians at the bottom of the pay scale made around $34,000. Commercial laboratories paid the highest wages, followed closely by state and local governments.
Job prospects for forensic science technicians are expected to increase by around 17 percent through 2026.
Occupational Therapist Careers and Salaries
Occupational therapists help patients recover from illnesses, disabilities and injuries that prevent them from fully functioning in their normal lives. For example, an occupational therapist might work with a head injury victim to help her recover everyday abilities such as bathing and dressing. An occupational therapist might help a disabled worker find the special equipment he needs to perform his job or rearrange an elderly patient’s home to eliminate trip hazards. In schools, occupational therapists equip classrooms for disabled children. Occupational therapists also work with mentally disabled people to help them learn common tasks such as finding a bus stop or taking medications on time.
A 2016 BLS survey found more than 130,000 occupational therapists working in the U.S. Half work in hospitals and occupational or physical therapy practices. Others work for nursing homes, schools and home health care companies.
To become an occupational therapist, you need a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Occupational therapy programs include coursework in physiology and biology, and most include clinical fieldwork.
All states require occupational therapists to pass an examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy before they can obtain a license to practice.
In 2017, occupational therapists made a median salary of around $83,000. Top earners made more than $120,000, while those at the bottom of the pay scale took home more than $54,000. Nursing homes offered the highest salaries, followed by home health care companies and physical therapy practices.
From now until 2026, the BLS expects the occupational therapy profession to grow by around 24 percent.