You did it! You've graduated (or are about to graduate from) college and are ready to go out into the world with your brand-spanking-new degree in biology. The only question is... what in the world can you do with a bachelor's degree in biology? How much do jobs pay, how can you maximize your earning potential and how can you go about getting a job in biology?
Read on to learn about the benefits of a biology degree, the job market for biology majors and the skills you'll want to develop for a biology-related job.
Why major in biology?
First and most importantly, a biology major is best suited to someone with an existing interest in science. Biology students study the organic world: humans, animals, microscopic organisms and more. Generally speaking, you'll want to major in biology if you're interested in using scientific methods to solve everyday problems or if you want to be a researcher.
Majoring in biology is a great way to explore the natural world and set yourself up for a career that uses science to understand and improve the world around you. It also gives you the opportunity to do field- and lab-based work both during the program itself and afterward, if you pursue certain careers. If this appeals to you, a degree in biology could be a great fit for you.
Down the line, a degree into biology can be used to obtain a job working directly in the sciences, doing science-adjacent research or community-building work or even working in a seemingly-unrelated field where scientific knowledge is useful. If you pursue an advanced degree, your employment options are even broader.
What biology jobs are in demand?
As in many fields, the salaries of people with biology degrees vary widely based on the person's specialization and career. Additionally, the type of advanced study required also varies considerably between various jobs. The jobs below are some of the most popular career choices for biology degree-holders, but represent only a small sample of the career opportunities available to someone with a biology degree.
This is the most obvious biology-related career. If pure research appeals to you and you don't mind the occasionally-lonely nature of conducting your own research, this can be a great career choice. However, it's worth bearing in mind that many researchers do end up having Ph.D.s, especially if they want to teach down the line — so there's a possibility you'll need to go back to school to advance your career down the line. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual wage of $63,420 for zoologists and wildlife biologists as of May 2018.
If cutting-edge research and development is more your thing, a biochemist job designing and executing studies to develop new products may be a good bet for you. To succeed in this job, you'll need a strong grasp of anatomy and physiology (par for the course coming out of a biology program) and laboratory experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual wage for biochemists of $105,940 as of May 2018.
3. Biological technician
If you enjoy lab work, being a biological technician is a great choice. This job involves carrying out studies, documenting their results and performing calculations using the studies' results — all standard skills that you'll develop as a biological major. Many new biology graduates who don't go on to graduate school, or who want to work for a while before going to graduate school, find technical positions as researchers at medical schools, government agencies, nonprofit research centers or pharmaceutical/biotechnology companies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual wage for biological technicians of $48,060 as of May 2018.
4. Pharmaceutical sales representative
If you're a people person with a strong science background thanks to your biology degree, you may find that a career in pharmaceutical sales is perfect for you. Pharmaceutical sales representatives travel to hospitals and medical centers to help drug companies sell their medications to those sites. For these people, a strong science background is important so they can explain how drugs work and what their benefits are. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual wage of $91,830 for scientific and technical sales representatives as of May 2018.
5. Genetic counselor
If, over the course of your biology studies, you find that you're fascinated by genetics and like working with people to help them understand their individual genetics, being a genetic counselor could be the right career choice for you. Genetic counselors assess their clients' genetic makeups and advise them on the risks of transmitting genetic diseases or disabilities to their children. They also work with adults who are concerned about their odds of exhibiting genetic disorders later in life. This field requires a master's degree, so you'll want to pursue further study to become a genetic counselor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual wage of $80,860 for genetic counselors as of May 2018.
6. Health communications specialist / community health worker
If you have strong writing and communication skills in addition to your biology degree, being a health communications specialist could be the perfect job for you. Health communications specialists are usually hired by hospitals, healthcare companies and government agencies to educate communities about public health issues such as communicable diseases, health management and healthy living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual wage of $43,480for community health workers as of May 2018.
7. Health educator
If you enjoy helping others live healthy lives, being a health educator can be a great career choice. To be a successful health educator, you'll need scientific knowledge, a solid understanding of human biology, good verbal communication skills and strong writing skills. Some employers will also require a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential in addition to your bachelor's degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual wage of $59,660 for health educators as of May 2018.
8. Doctor or surgeon
If you enjoy putting biology into practice via medicine, going to medical school to become a doctor or surgeon is the logical next step. While it's a grueling path forward, you'll ultimately be rewarded with a career that helps people live longer, healthier lives. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median wage of $208,000 for physicians and surgeons as of May 2018, with some significant differences in pay between various specialities.
9. Physician assistant or nurse practitioner
If medical school doesn't appeal to you, but you enjoy medicine, being a physician assistant or nurse practitioner is a great middle ground. These careers require a good grasp of human biological systems, anatomy and physiology to diagnose medical problems, as well as knowledge of the scientific method to interpret new research about treatment options and medications. Both of these careers require some additional schooling beyond your bachelor's degree, so you will need to be prepared to hit the books again. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual wage of $108,430 for physician assistants as of May 2018 and a mean annual wage of $110,030 for nurse practitioners as of May 2018.
10. Financial analyst
Because most financial analysts are specialized in specific industries, biology majors are well-suited for working as biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical products, health services and environmental analysts. In a financial analyst role, you'll evaluate stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investment opportunities for clients and businesses. Understanding the products that companies are making is essential for a financial analyst; so being a biology major is a major asset for a financial analyst in a scientific industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a mean annual wage of $100,990 for financial analysts as of May 2018.
As is the case with financial analysts, there are subsets of the law in which a biology background can be a major leg up. Specifically, patent and intellectual property lawyers need to understand the science between biotechnology products, drugs and medical instruments to process patent applications and defend clients against lawsuits; environmental attorneys need to understand projects' and policies' potential impacts on the ecosystem; and medical malpractice attorneys need to be able to analyze medical interventions and judge whether health professionals acted properly.
12. High school teacher
Most, if not all, high schools offer biology courses as part of their science class offerings. Generally, they like for the teachers teaching these classes to have degrees in the subject. To be a high school biology teacher, you'll need a teaching certification in addition to your biology degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a medial annual wage of $60,320 for high school teachers as of May 2018.
How to get a job in biology
1. Search job boards for biology-related opportunities.
Jobs in biology-related fields can be found on most career search sites, including Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster and LinkedIn. There are also a number of science-specific search sites, such as Science Careers, Biology Jobs and Science Jobs. If you're interested in academia-related jobs, the Chronicle of Higher Education's job listings include teaching, research and fellowship opportunities around the world.
2. Talk to people who have already leveraged their biology degrees into successful careers.
If you're still in school, talking to your professors or older classmates who are already in the workforce about how they found their first jobs can be helpful. Understanding how others found success in their chosen fields can help you understand how to replicate their success yourself and give you a better understanding of the various opportunities available to you.
3. Focus on your strengths.
As you start applying to jobs and interviewing for them, having a strong grasp of your strengths and competencies will help you speak to them in interview settings. To help yourself do this well, you may find it useful to write down a list detailing what you've learned over the course of your studies, any research or internship experiences you've had and what you learned at each and your specific strengths. All of this can help you give a potential employer a better idea of what you'd bring to the table as an employee and make a stronger case for hiring you.
4. Intern or volunteer to get biology training and exposure to different aspects of biology.
Interning or volunteering to work with biologists or use your biology degree in relevant fields are both great ways to get exposure to jobs in biology before you even graduate with your degree. If you're lucky, you may even receive a full-time job offer upon the conclusion of an internship, saving you from having to apply for full-time jobs during your senior year. Regardless of whether an internship or volunteer experience leads to a full-time offer down the line, it's a great way to build skills and work experience.
5. Cast a wide net.
When you're applying for your first job, it's important to cast a wide net to ensure that you're not putting all your eggs in one basket. Many people believe that the first job is the toughest to get, so it's important to ensure that you give yourself as many opportunities as possible to find your first job. However, with that said, it's also important to tailor your resumé and cover letter, if applicable, to each posting, rather than sending the same generic resumé and cover letter to every place you apply to.
Job-applicable skills that biology majors have
To help populate your strengths list, consider the following skills that a degree in biology tends to develop:
- Critical thinking
- Observational skills
- Outcome prediction
- Data analysis
- Attention to detail
- Chart and graph creation
- Designing and executing studies
- Knowledge of laboratory techniques
- Presenting complex findings in both written and verbal formats
There are only a few of the strengths that you've no doubt developed over the course of your biology studies. Reflecting on your own experiences will help you develop a more comprehensive list that speaks to your experiences both inside and outside the classroom.
As you interview for jobs, tailoring how you discuss your strengths to focus on the skills that are most relevant to the specific job you're interviewing for will help you be a successful and attractive candidate for the role.