What Does a Biologist Do? (Including FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Biology is the study of life and different ecosystems. A biologist is a scientist who specialises in this field. Biologists spend their time researching and understanding the mechanics behind living and dead organisms, while also looking at how they interact with the ecosystem. Understanding the duties and career path to become a biologist can help you achieve your career goals. In this article, we discuss what a biologist is and the steps you can take to become one.

What does a biologist do?

A biologist studies organisms and how they interact with their environments. Biology is a broad area of study, so biologists often specialise in specific areas such as marine biology or microbiology. They can develop a fundamental understanding of biology before studying their specialities. Biologists have a keen interest in understanding how living systems work. Here are some of the responsibilities of a biologist:

  • Research the anatomy, biochemistry and physiology of living organisms

  • Investigate how these organisms interact with their environment

  • Investigate environmental effects on plants and animals

  • Develop and test hypotheses

  • Collect samples of organisms for research

  • Use lab equipment such as a microscope

  • Record data and report on findings

  • Contribute peer-reviewed research articles for educational purposes, reports, scientific magazines and dissertations

Types of biologist jobs

A biology degree is a great foundation for many post-graduate degrees. If you're thinking about becoming a biologist, these are the areas you could work in and types of jobs you could do:

Environmental science

A biology degree provides an excellent background for work in the field of environmental science. Environmental scientists study the environment to expand environmental knowledge and develop plans and strategies for protecting its elements, such as its water, air, flora and fauna. Some examples of environmental science jobs you can do with a biology degree are:

  • Environmental scientist

  • Environmental consultant

  • Ecologist

  • Fisheries biologist

Medical research

Medical researchers investigate diseases and subsequent treatments through experiments and studies. Biologists who wish to enter this field usually require a Ph.D. Some examples of medical research jobs you can do as a biologist are:

  • Clinical research associate

  • Histology scientist

  • Medical scientist

Microbiology

Microbiology is the study of microorganisms. Choosing specific units within your science degree can allow you to specialise in this field. Most microbiology roles require postgraduate education. Some examples of microbiology jobs you can do as a biologist are:

  • Microbiologist

  • Microbiological laboratory technician

Nursing

If you're organised, energetic and love helping people, nursing might be the perfect field for you to put your biology knowledge to use. Upon completing your biology degree, you can apply to a graduate-entry master's degree program and then obtain a license to practice.

  • Registered general nurse

  • Registered cardiac nurse

  • Clinical nurse

  • Immunisation nurse

How to become a biologist

To become a biologist, you can undertake study and training. Most jobs require postgraduate studies. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to become a biologist:

1. Obtain an undergraduate degree

The first step to becoming a biologist is to obtain a degree in science. This may be a Bachelor of Science majoring in biology, which takes approximate three to four years to complete when studying full time.

Each university course may differ slightly in content. Some basics they can cover are ecology, genetics, cellular biology and biochemistry. Some courses offer practical research projects. This is a great way to determine which speciality you enjoy and want to pursue.

2. Obtain a postgraduate degree

Many universities offer a master's degree after you have completed your undergraduate studies. This can be a more focused and specialised course of study. A master's degree usually takes around one to two years to complete when studying full-time.

There can be a larger focus on practical research during this phase of study. You can also learn more specialised knowledge. This can give you a good base understanding of biology and give you pathways to enter the workforce. A master's degree typically requires a thesis for completion.

3. Obtain a Ph.D

Optionally, the final point of study is to gain a Ph.D. If you want to conduct your own research in the field of biology, you can earn a Ph.D. A doctoral degree focuses on individual research, which you choose. A Ph.D typically takes around three years to complete when studying full time.

Most universities can award doctoral degree students the experience of becoming teaching assistants. This is a great way to learn about leadership and gives you practical experience.

4. Practical training

Practical experience is the best way to begin a career as a biologist. An internship is a great way to gain this experience. Through an internship, you can learn on the job and make contacts in the industry. Internships may be paid or unpaid roles depending on the institution.

At university, you may have the opportunity to work as a laboratory technician. You can learn how laboratories work and how to use all the equipment. This is a great skill to add to your resume because knowing how to use this equipment is necessary to become a biologist. You may also find opportunities to work as a research assistant. This can prove invaluable if you decide to earn a Ph.D. A research assistant role can teach you skills like how to collect evidence, conduct testing and collate data, which are important for biologists.

What skills does a biologist need?

Biologists require many skills to be successful in the field. These include:

  • Organisation: Being a biologist can mean working with delicate materials and extensive data. Being organised is a vital skill to have when dealing with such matters.

  • Time management: Experiments and reports may be time-sensitive, so time management is important to organise your time evenly to meet these deadlines.

  • Attention to detail: Working as a biologist means being precise, there are often fine margins of error. When conducting experiments, you can ensure each step is exact to avoid inaccuracies in the data.

  • Analytical skills: Analysing data is a huge part of being a biologist so it is important to have an analytical mind. You can also use mathematical and statistical skills as you analyse data.

  • Communication: Both verbal and written communication is the key to success. Being able to clearly explain complex findings is so important. This is especially true when writing reports for government organisations or the general public.

  • Cooperation: Being cooperative while working alongside other scientists is important. You can cooperate with fellow biologists when working on experiments.

  • Technical skills: Being a biologist means working with high-end equipment and computers. You must be technologically proficient. You can learn these technical skills when studying. You can also undertake extra courses to improve if needed.

  • Creative thinking: When looking at new concepts or challenging old ones it is important to have a creative mind.

  • Research skills: You can develop a solid understanding of professional research methods. This is vital when collecting data and testing hypotheses.

  • Investigative thinking: You must have a curious mind, interest in learning and understanding of the world around you.

Frequently asked questions

We have compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions on becoming a biologist:

What qualifications do I need to become a biologist?

Becoming a biologist may take some time. You can earn an undergraduate degree in science at the very least. Most successful biologists also have postgraduate degrees and/or PhDs. These studies can take many years and a lot of dedication. It is also important to gain practical experience to make yourself employable. When searching for jobs, you may see a description like this:

The ideal candidate has:

  • A master's degree in biology

  • Proven research skills in the field

  • Published peer review articles

  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills

  • Excellent attention to detail

  • The ability to work in a team

Where do biologists work?

Many different sectors need biologists. They may work in research facilities, government organisations, medical testing facilities, universities or private research laboratories. There are several different special fields of biology. A marine biologist, for example, works with marine-based organisms and their environment. So, they may work on boats in the ocean or collecting samples in tidal flats. A microbiologist works with microscopic organisms, usually in a research laboratory.

Biologists also help with developments in the medical world. Healthcare research may provide job opportunities for biologists. The military and law enforcement agencies may also need biologists to analyse forensic evidence. Government agencies can employ biologists to research environmental impacts for development plans.

How long does it take to become a biologist?

This depends on the level of study you decide to undertake. To gain an undergraduate degree, postgraduate degree and Ph.D. may take eight or more years. During this time, you can gain excellent knowledge and training. There also may be opportunities to take paid and unpaid roles in laboratories and your learning institution.

Biology is an ever-changing discourse. Even once working in the field, you can undertake professional development courses. It's also helpful to attend scientific conferences and spend time reading new research. This career can allow you to continue learning throughout your entire career.

What is the average salary of a biologist?

The average annual salary for biologists is $81,877 per year. The salary for a biologist depends on multiple factors. The degree of education, the hiring institution, experience, speciality and location.

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