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WHAT JOBS DO BIOLOGISTS HAVE?
ResearchThe best research biologists are driven to understand how living systems work. Many practice basic research - seeking knowledge for its own sake. The results of basic research are often put to practical use by applied researchers, who try to find solutions to specific problems. For instance, plant physiologists and microbiologists might measure how much and what kinds of gases are taken up by plants and bacteria under different environmental conditions in a lab. That information could then be used by climate modelers who are trying to estimate how quickly our atmosphere might change. An ecologist might study what makes rodent or insect populations rise and fall. That information could be passed on to epidemiologists, who often track the spread of disease from animals to humans. A cell biologist might study how a single cell develops into a complex organism with numerous tissue types. His or her insights could explain why cancer cells grow out of control and may lead to future treatments.
Many researchers work at colleges and universities, where they also teach. Industry employs research biologists in fields such as biotechnology, drug development, and food processing. Some research biologists work for the government, where they aim to protect and restore the environment, breed better crops, fight human and animal diseases, evaluate food and drug safety, or work on space missions.
Researchers attend seminars, read scientific journals, and write articles to tell others about their results. Some travel to exotic places to do their work. Researchers often need help from skilled people trained in biology. Laboratory technicians help carry out experiments; they often become experts at taking field measurements, manipulating cells, handling animals and chemicals, or using sophisticated instruments.
Health CareHealth care workers apply biological knowledge to keep people healthy or return sick people to health. Physicians, dentists, nurses, medical technicians, and physician's assistants all must have a solid biology background. Some health care professionals work directly with patients; others may devise public health campaigns to defeat illnesses such as tuberculosis, AIDS, cancer, and heart disease. Some work to prevent the spread of rare, deadly diseases like that caused by the now infamous Ebola virus.
The Great Outdoors
Many outdoor jobs await people well trained in the life sciences. Horticulturalists develop new crop varieties, care for plants in greenhouses and fields, and design landscape plans. Fisheries biologists might work with an aquaculture company, overseeing the reproduction of farm-raised trout that eventually end up in your local supermarket. Zookeepers make food, medicate animals, and may help with captive breeding programs for endangered species.
The "office" for many of these jobs is the outdoors, and the dress is casual. Employers include private companies and federal and state governments. The not-for-profit conservation sector is providing an increasing number of jobs.
Life science educators combine their love of biology with a knack for communicating. People trained in the life sciences are needed as teachers in primary and secondary schools. Teaching younger students requires a general knowledge of science and skill at working with different kinds of learners. High school teachers often specialize in biology and teach courses of personal interest, such as marine biology or physiology.
Museums, zoos, and nature centers also hire educators, exhibition designers, artists, and other specialists who have good biology backgrounds. At museums, educators interact with others to plan and carry out exhibitions. They might gather materials from museum collections for teaching a class. Naturalists lead hikes in wild areas and plan educational programs.
NEW DIRECTIONS IN BIOLOGICAL CAREERSMore and more people are combining their biological knowledge with other professional training. You could consider being a lawyer with an environmental advocacy organization, working to protect endangered species, or with a biotechnology company evaluating patents. Someone with an interest in biology and business might consider working as a regulatory affairs manager for companies that sell seeds, drugs, or other biologically based products. Before such products go on sale, regulatory affairs people have to put together the scientific information the government needs to approve these goods for public use.
If you have a flair for words, you could work as a science journalist, writing about advances in science in a way that nonexperts can understand. Or, you might consider being a policy analyst, helping government officials develop science-based legislation.
WHAT EDUCATION AND TRAINING DO YOU NEED?Few people decide their life's work in middle or high school. But if you think a science-related career might be for you, now is the time to start taking all the science, math, and computer courses you can.
As you plan a career path, it helps to know your likes and dislikes. Would you rather work with people or with plants and animals? Do you want to be in the laboratory or outdoors?
Consider how long you want to go to school. For some biology jobs, a two-year college degree is sufficient. Examples include medical assistant, dental hygienist, or veterinary technician. But most life sciences careers require at least an undergraduate degree (Bachelor of Science, B.S.) and often an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science (M.S.). Research jobs typically require the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) which may take five or six years of intense and demanding training. There are some specialized degrees in the life sciences, the most prominent being the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) which usually takes four years to earn. Physicians must then do additional training before they can practice medicine.
Biology teachers and other educators often major in biology or a related science and also earn a teaching certificate. Science journalists may earn biology and journalism degrees. Science policy specialists often have an advanced biology degree and other specialized training, such as a law degree.
While obtaining your formal education, try to get some relevant work experience. The only way to know whether biology is for you is to give it a try.
LIFE SCIENCE CAREERS FOR THE FUTUREWhy not work as a biologist and make today's science fiction real for tomorrow's students? Even though no one can predict what discoveries some of today's middle and high school students will make when they eventually become biologists, it is a safe bet that they will outstrip our present imaginings.
Ecologists may figure out ways to lessen the impact of the changing global climate and to manage diminishing forest reserves. Marine biologists may discover ways to get more food from the ocean and help endangered fish stocks recover at the same time. Plant geneticists could develop better methods to engineer supernutritious crops. Researchers who study human biology might slow the aging process, cure genetic diseases and help paralyzed people by making nerve cells grow again.
These biologists of the future will work in fields and labs just as scientists do today. Some will venture far into space and deep into the sea. Others may do their work in virtual reality rooms more sophisticated than any you could find now. All of these scientists are likely to communicate on something even fancier than the Internet, which was first invented so that scientists could quickly spread information to each other.