The world we live in is filled with organisms, and to properly understand the life processes of these organisms – as well as apply that knowledge in a way that allows scientists to develop new products and processes – the world needs biological scientists. The research done by biological scientists can be broken down into two categories, applied and basic. While basic research is conducted without any specific end goal in mind, applied research is performed specifically to solve a current problem.
- Biological scientists frequently work in a specialized area of biology or microbiology, and traditionally they study a certain type of organism or activity. Their aim is to expand the current knowledge base of organisms in an attempt to further develop solutions to health problems that humans face daily; these scientists may also work to improve the natural environment in which we live. Their work in applied research and development enables the development of new drug treatments, the implementation of new medical diagnostic tests, and the development of biofuels and higher yielding crops.
- Because of advances in the fields of genetics and organic molecules, the field of biotechnology has grown and drastically changed the landscape in which biological scientists work. These scientists are now able to manipulate genetic material specific to plants and animals, with the goal of making them both more productive and less prone to disease. As they continue to work, they constantly make new discoveries around specific genes that cause serious health complications in humans, plants and animals.
- Working as a biological scientist isn’t just about developing treatments and testing new products though; it also requires a different kind of research and development – the kind required to write grant proposals. Because much of their work is funded by the government and private foundations, biological scientists spend time researching and writing grant proposals to secure the funding they need to perform their research and development work.
- While most scientists in this field spend a significant amount of time in a laboratory, some positions require the presence of the scientist out in the field for extended periods of time. In these cases, scientists often find themselves subjected to a variety of weather conditions in a variety of living conditions. If they will be exposed to unhealthy conditions, they must follow strict safety precautions to avoid contamination.
- A doctorate in biology or a related field is usually necessary to work in independent research and development or high-level administrative positions. However, if an individual seeks a career in product development, management or inspection, a bachelor’s or master’s degree is considered sufficient to break into the field. Many with a bachelor’s degree work as high school science teachers or enter other health-profession schools such as veterinarian, dental or medical schools.
- Most universities and colleges offer a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and many also offer advanced degrees. Those seeking an advanced degree can expect to spend 4 years seeking a bachelor’s degree, with an additional 2 years for a master’s degree and 5-6 years of full-time study for a doctoral degree.
- Nearly half of all biological scientists are employed by government agencies on the federal, state and local levels. The need for biological scientists will continue to grow along with the growth of biotechnological research and development. This growth is largely driven by new discoveries in the sciences, which ultimately lead to more questions that must be answered. Additionally, as the world population continues its push to eradicate disease and clean up the environment, biological scientists will play an exciting and essential role.
As is true with many specialized fields, individuals holding advanced degrees can expect to face increased competition for top-level jobs, while those holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees will find more opportunity in non-scientific fields such as marketing, sales, publishing and research management; these individuals may also find work as teachers, science-related engineers or technicians in medicine-related fields. Because of the amount of funding tied to long-term research projects, biological scientists are less likely to be affected by economic downturns.
Depending on the area in which a biological scientist has specialized, one can expect a starting salary from $33,000 to $45,000, and those with a Ph.D. may earn close to $140,000 per year depending on how long they’ve been in the field and their specific area of study. Overall, the employment outlook for this area of the life sciences will remain strong.