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  • 1. Career counseling: 101+ things you can do with adegree in biologyKathleen M. EysterAdvan in Physiol Edu 31:323-328, 2007. doi:10.1152/advan.00042.2007You might find this additional info useful...Updated information and services including high resolution figures, can be found at: material and information about Advances in Physiology Education can be found at: infomation is current as of January 31, 2012. Downloaded from on January 31, 2012Advances in Physiology Education is dedicated to the improvement of teaching and learning physiology, both in specializedcourses and in the broader context of general biology education. It is published four times a year in March, June, September andDecember by the American Physiological Society, 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda MD 20814-3991. Copyright © 2007 by theAmerican Physiological Society. ISSN: 1043-4046, ESSN: 1522-1229. Visit our website at
  • 2. Adv Physiol Educ 31: 323–328, 2007;doi:10.1152/advan.00042.2007. A Personal ViewCareer counseling: 101 things you can do with a degree in biology Kathleen M. Eyster Division of Basic Biomedical Sciences, Sanford School of Medicine, University of South Dakota, Vermillion, South Dakota Submitted 5 June 2007; accepted in final form 30 August 2007 Eyster KM. Career counseling: 101 things you can do with a degree in biology. Adv Physiol Educ 31: 323–328, 2007; doi:10.1152/advan.00042.2007.— Biology is the science of life and of how living things work. Our students choose to major in biology in college because of a fascination with understanding how living things function, but often they have difficulty in identifying a career that uses their foundation in biology despite the variety of biology-based careers available. The purpose of this discussion is to assist biology students and the career counselors who work with them in identifying satisfying careers that build upon their interest and foundation in biology. The categories of career options include research, healthcare, teaching, science writing, administration/management, gov- ernment, industry, and miscellaneous careers that do not fit into the other catego- ries. Downloaded from on January 31, 2012 research; healthcare; education; industry; science writingBIOLOGY is the science of life and of how living things work. (Table 1), and a variety of fields of biology-based research areMost of us who choose to study biology do so because of an available (Table 2).inherent fascination with the function of living things. An undergraduate, or a high school student, can becomeHowever, too often we and our students are unaware of the involved in research. Many researchers welcome studentswide variety of careers available to us when we have a into their research laboratories, especially during the sum-foundation of knowledge in biology. Frequently, we are mer, and there are many programs to support researchonly aware of a career option if we know someone who internships. A summer research internship is an excellentworks in that occupation. The purpose of this discussion is opportunity to experience the excitement, as well as theto enumerate the career options available to biologists for process, of research. It is also a good opportunity to deter-use by career counselors, biology faculty, and biology mine whether a career in research is a good fit for yourstudents. Many of the careers listed require additional edu- personality. Summer undergraduate research opportunitiescation beyond the bachelor’s degree, but a foundation in vary from year to year; an internet search on “biologybiology is important to all of them. Many of the careers undergraduate summer research” will identify current op-listed here are equally available to students with training in portunities. Graduate students in MS or PhD programs arebiochemistry or chemistry. The career options are divided involved in research as part of their graduate programs. Ainto categories and include careers in research, healthcare, career in research is available as a research technician orteaching, science writing, administration and management, research associate after earning a BS or MS degree. A PhDgovernment, industry, and miscellaneous careers that do not degree in a biological discipline opens additional doors intofit into other categories as well as careers that build on a research careers. University professors maintain their ownfoundation in biology but require a different major from research laboratories in an academic setting. Doctoral-levelbiology. Recommendations on advising students in making scientists also maintain research laboratories in the pharma-career choices are also discussed. ceutical industry, biotechnology industry, agricultural in-Careers in Biological Sciences dustry, in private research institutes, and in government research laboratories such as those at the National Institutes Research. The first career option that a biologist should of Health, National Institutes of Environmental Health Sci-consider is a career in research. Research is discovery, learning ences, United States Department of Agriculture, or militaryhow things work, learning something new that no one else in health research laboratories. Research technician and re-the world knows, and then telling everyone else what you’ve search associate positions for individuals with BS or MSdiscovered. Being involved in research is an exciting way to degrees are available in each of these settings (universityspend your life. A career in research will hone your skills in research laboratories, industry, private research institutes,critical thinking, creative problem solving, and persistence. and government laboratories).Participation in research takes place at a variety of levels Biology-based researchers can choose a focus from a variety of disciplines. In the biomedical sciences, a scientist can focus on a variety of disciplines (Table 2). One can Address for reprint requests and other correspondence: K. M. Eyster,Division of Basic Biomedical Sciences, Sanford School of Medicine, Univ. further specialize within each of these fields. For example,of South Dakota, 414 E. Clark St., Vermillion, SD 57069 (E-mail: in physiology, individuals specialize in endocrinology, cardiovascular system, the renal system, the respiratory 1043-4046/07 $8.00 Copyright © 2007 The American Physiological Society 323
  • 3. A Personal View324 101 THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH A DEGREE IN BIOLOGYTable 1. Ways to be involved in research require less education than that of the dentist. Physical thera- pists and occupational therapists work with people with aAs an undergraduate or high school student variety of rehabilitative needs. Programs in physical therapyAs a research technician with a BS or MS degree and occupational therapy are available at both MS and PhDAs a graduate student through a MS or PhD programIn a university setting levels. Epidemiology and public health are related careers;Within the pharmaceutical industry epidemiologists study the factors that affect the health ofWithin the biotechnology industry populations, and public health is concerned with challenges toWithin the agricultureal industry the health of populations. Physician’s assistant programs areIn a government research laboratoryIn a private research institution 2-yr programs after a BS degree and are typically MS-level programs. The physician’s assistant is involved in hands-on patient care and can specialize in the same broad areas of patient care as a physician. Medical technologists work insystem, the gastrointestinal system, neurophysiology, and hospital or clinic laboratories and perform tests on patientcellular physiology, with further subdivisions in each spe- samples as part of the process of disease diagnosis. Training incialty. The range of disciplines in biological sciences is also medical technology involves 3– 4 yr of college followed by 1extensive and diverse (Table 2). The disciplines of biomed- yr of clinical training in a hospital training program. Within theical and biological sciences overlap, and as in the biomed- field of medical technology are a number of specialties includ-ical sciences, one can further specialize in each of the broad ing microbiology, hematology, chemistry, serology, virology,fields of biology. blood banking, immunohematology, and forensic serology. A Downloaded from on January 31, 2012 Healthcare. The field of healthcare offers a very wide vari- specialist in quality control/quality assurance is needed in allety of career choices (Table 3). Many specialties are available clinical laboratories and is another career option. Additionalto a physician with either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or clinical laboratory/technical specialties include positions as aDoctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree or with the combined cytotechnician, respiratory technician, in vitro fertilizationMD/PhD degree. Osteopathic physicians are trained in the technician, sperm bank technician, radiation therapy techni-same medical and surgical therapies as allopathic physicians cian, magnetic resonance technician, surgical technologist,(MDs), with the addition of manipulative techniques for the orthotics and prosthetics patient care technician, medical ap-treatment of structural problems. Physicians who hold the pliance technician, diagnostic medical sonography technician,combined MD/PhD degree obtain training in research as well perfusionist, audiologist, emergency medical science techni-as medicine, so they are better prepared for careers in medical cian, anesthesiology assistant, environmental science and pro-research. Specializations available to physicians include family tection technician, and X-ray technician. A genetics counselormedicine, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, psy- helps families understand genetic disorders and assists thosechiatry, pathology, surgery, allergy and immunology, anesthe- who are at high risk for genetic disorders in making decisionssiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, pediatrics, medi- about expanding their families. Phlebotomists draw blood incal genetics, neurology, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, hospitals and in clinics. In sports, physicians who specialize inorthopedics, otolaryngology, plastic surgery, radiology, and sports medicine are needed, as are athletic trainers and person-urology, among many others. In addition to the many areas of nel involved in sports testing. There are also careers as anmedical specialties, there are many career options for physi- acupuncturist, naturopathy practioner, or chiropractor. An in-cians. The most common choice, and the greatest demand for ternet search on any of these career choices will identify thephysicians, is in clinical practice. However, there are many most up to date information on requirements and trainingother choices for physicians. For example, a physician can programs.develop a career in medical investigation at the Centers for Healthcare is important for the care of animals as well asDisease Control or in research at the National Institutes of people. Veterinarians specialize in large domestic animals,Health. Alternative career paths for physicians include broad-cast journalism, i.e., explaining medical advances and otherclinical issues to the public on television or on the internet, the Table 2. Disciplines of biology-related researchteaching of clinical medicine to medical students, and clinical Fields in Biomedical Researchresearch. A physician may also carry out early clinical trials inthe pharmaceutical industry or more advanced clinical trials in Physiology Pharmacology Biochemistryclinical practice. Molecular Biology Bacteriology Virology Anatomy Neuroscience Cell biology There are many other career options in healthcare. Opticians Oncology Genetics Immunologyand orthopticians are both involved in eye care. Optometry is Space Physiology Embryology Kinesiologya doctoral-level program, whereas orthoptics, the treatment of Fields in Biological Researchcrossed eyes/lazy eye, is a 2-yr program after a BS degree.Podiatry is a doctoral-level program in foot care for which Botany Horticulture Plant Taxonomythere is a strong demand (1). Pharmacy is now a doctoral-level Paleobotany Palynology Evolutionary Biology Phycology Ecology Environmental Scienceprogram. The student typically takes 2–3 yr of undergraduate Ichthyology Forensic Biology Forensic Anthropologywork and then enters the 4-yr pharmacy doctoral program. Parasitology Entomology OrnithologyDentistry is also a doctoral program that one enters after Marine Biology Vertebrate Zoologycompleting a BS degree; there are additional specialties within Herpetology Wildlife Biology Invertebrate Zoology Biophysics Developmental Biology Bioethicsdentistry, such as orthodontics. The positions of dental hygien- Conservation Scienceist and dental assistant are positions in dental clinics that Advances in Physiology Education • VOL 31 • DECEMBER 2007
  • 4. A Personal View 101 THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH A DEGREE IN BIOLOGY 325Table 3. Careers in healthcareDoctor of Medicine Doctor of Osteopathy Combined MD/PhDOptometrist Orthoptician PodiatristDentist Dental Hygienist Dental AssistantOrthodontist Epidemiologist Public Health ProfessionalPharmacologist Physician’s Assistant Physical TherapistOccupational Therapist Medical Technologist CytotechnicianGenetics Counselor Respiratory Technician X-Ray TechnicianQuality Control Specialist Sperm Bank Technician PhlebotomistAthletic Trainer Sports Tester In Vitro Fertilization TechnicianAquarist Perfusionist Radiation Therapy TechnicianZookeeper Veterinarian Veternary AssistantSurgical Technologist Exercise Physiologist Anesthesiology AssistantOrthotics and Prosthetics Specialist Audiologist Medical Appliance TechnicianAcupuncturist Diagnostic Medical Sonography Specialist Emergency Medical Science SpecialistMagnetic Resonance Technician Environmental Science and Protection Technician Clinical Trials CoordinatorNaturopath Chiropractorsmall domestic animals, exotic pets, zoo animals, or labo- Science writing. Students who have an interest in writing as Downloaded from on January 31, 2012ratory animals. Careers are also available as veterinary well as biology may find a rewarding career in science writingtechnicians or veterinary assistants. Careers as zookeepers, (Table 4). Areas of focus include the writing of feature articleszoo assistants, and aquarists also build on a foundation in for science journals such as Science and Nature, the writing ofbiology. science articles for news magazines such as Time or News- Education. Another large area of careers for those with an week, and writing for local or regional newspapers. Textbooksinterest in biology is education (Table 4). Instructors in in biological sciences must be written for students at all levelsbiology are needed at all levels of education, including (i.e., elementary school, middle school, junior high school,elementary school, middle school, junior high school, high high school, college, graduate school, medical school, andschool, and college. Teachers for graduate students and continuing education). Editors of those textbooks are alsomedical students are also necessary as well as teachers with necessary. Technical manuals must be written for everya biology-based education for technical training schools and piece of medical or research equipment used in hospitals,community colleges. Schools at all levels may be either hospital laboratories, clinics, or research laboratories, andpublic or private. The requirements for teaching vary. A the writers of these manuals need to understand the biolog-teaching certificate with a BS degree is needed for teaching ical basis of the use of the equipment. People who have anat the elementary school through high school levels. Teach- aptitude for both art and science may find a satisfying careering at the college, graduate school, and medical school as a scientific or medical illustrator. Other careers in thislevels typically requires a PhD degree, although some col- broad field include broadcast journalism, such as writing orleges and community colleges hire teachers with MS-level consulting for medical dramas or serving as the host ofdegrees. Another significant requirement for teaching is to television shows about nature, science, or animals, andenjoy and appreciate students of the age group that you’ve creative writing, such as writing stories with a biology orchosen to teach; for example, if you don’t like teenagers, medical background.don’t become a high school teacher. Moreover, teaching Administration and management. Another field that employsrequires focus and concentration and forces you to keep up people with a biology background is administration and man-with advances in science to ensure that you convey the latest agement (Table 5). One example of a career in this field is aand most exciting information to your students. A teacher grants administrator at an agency that funds research. Grantmust be dedicated and creative to maintain the attention and funding agencies include national governmental agencies suchmotivation of students. as the National Institutes of Health and the National ScienceTable 4. Career opportunities in education, science writing, and related fields Careers in EducationElementary School Teacher Middle/Junior High School Teacher High School TeacherCollege Professor Junior College Professor Technical Training School TeacherGraduate School Professor Medical School Professor Careers in Science WritingWriter of Feature Articles in Scientific Journals Writer of Science Articles for Newsmagazines Textbook WriterTextbook Editor Writer for Local or Regional Newspaper Writer of Technical Manuals Related FieldsScientific/Medical Illustrator Broadcast Journalist (i.e., dramas) Television Show Host (for shows about nature, animals, or science)Creative Writer (material with a biological/medical theme) Copy Editor (for scientific journals) Advances in Physiology Education • VOL 31 • DECEMBER 2007
  • 5. A Personal View326 101 THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH A DEGREE IN BIOLOGYTable 5. Administrative/management careers in Industry. Many industries, including pharmaceutical, bio-biology-related fields technology, food, and agriculture industries, hire personnel at many levels with foundations in biology (Table 7). PositionsExecutive Director of a professional society include market research (i.e., in the food industry), productGrants Administrator at a national government agency or nonprofit agencyAdministrator at a university office of research or compliance office development and testing, and sales and marketing. People withAdministrator/Manager of a biotechnology firm strong communication/linguistic skills may find employmentAdministrator/Manager of a pharmaceutical firm in public relations in industry. The pharmaceutical industry hires drug representatives, and positions are also available for sales representatives in the agricultural industry and for com-Foundation as well as nonprofit agencies such as the American panies that sell scientific reagents and equipment for researchHeart Association, American Diabetes Association, American and clinical laboratories. The agricultural industry offers posi-Cancer Society, and March of Dimes. Administrators are tions in plants and crops, animals, and biofuels industries.needed in university Offices of Research as well as Safety and There are also positions in regulatory affairs and qualityCompliance Offices. Administrators and managers who under- control in industry. Industry also employs scientific consult-stand biology are also needed at biotechnology and pharma-ceutical firms. Another example is executive director of a ants. Biological entrepreneurs often found companies thatprofessional society such as the American Physiological develop into biotechnology or other industries.Society. Miscellaneous biology-based careers. There are many ca- Government. Careers for people with a foundation in biol- reers for biologists that do not fit into the above categories Downloaded from on January 31, 2012ogy are also available at all levels of government, including (Table 7). For example, biology is not a requirement to becomelocal, state, national, and international levels of government an astronaut, but some astronauts do need to be biologists. A(Table 6). Positions are available in natural resource manage- good brewmaster or baker needs to understand the life cyclement/environmental regulation and management, including and nutrient requirements of yeast. An interest in law andfield research, in the areas of rivers and streams, fish, wildlife biology together may lead to a career in patent law, environ-management (i.e., wildlife biologist), and forest management, mental law, or medical legal law. An interest in finance andand as county extension agents. A foundation in biology is biology may lead to a career as a financial analyst in science-useful for park rangers and park interpreters as well as or technology-based areas. Biostatisticians analyze the statis-personnel involved in water quality control and waste man- tics of biological fields. Bioinformatics requires a founda-agement. Science policy analysts, researchers, and admin- tion in computer analytical techniques as well as biology.istrators as well as lobbyists for science, technology, and This field developed from the need for analysis of the largeeducation issues will benefit from a background in biology. quantities of data that emerged from the sequencing of theInternational health organizations need biologists in admin- human and other genomes and the subsequent global bio-istrative or research positions, and there are careers in logical applications of genomics and proteomics, and it hasadministration and research for nonprofit public interest undergone significant expansion in recent years. Biofoulingorganizations that support a cause or issue related to life examines biological contamination and its prevention, fromsciences or the environment at regional, national, and inter- the bacterial contamination of hospital catheters to thenational levels. The federal Food and Drug Administration contamination of ship’s ballasts with unwanted biologicalsemploys biologists for the drug approval process as well as such as zebra mussels.investigators of food safety and questions of contaminationof the food supply. Governments employ inspectors of meatand other food processing plants, restaurants, and importedgoods of a biological nature. Governments regulate safety inthe workplace through Occupational Health and Safety reg- Table 7. Fields in biology-related industries such as theulations and inspections. There are nongovernment posi- food industry, agricultural industry, pharmaceutical industry,tions in some of these fields as well; for example, there are and biotechnology industry and in miscellaneousprivate fisheries and wildlife biologists. biology-based careersTable 6. Government careers in biology-related fields Market Research Regulatory AffairsEnviromental Regulator (rivers, streams and fish, wildlife, and forest Quality Control management) Sales and MarketingPark Ranger or Park Interpretor Product Development and TestingLobbyist (science, technology, and science education) AerospaceWater Quality Control Specialist Scientific ConsultationWaste Management Technician BrewingCounty Extension Agent Patent, Environment, or Medical LawScience Policy Analyst Financial AnalysisSciene Policy Researcher BioinformaticsAdministrator/Researcher for an international health group BiostatisticsAdministrator/Researcher for a nonprofit public interest group Biological EntrepreneurshipFood and Drug Administration Researcher (drug approval or food safety) BiofoulingManager of a Wildlife Refuge Baking IndustryOccupational Health and Safety Specialist Public Relations Advances in Physiology Education • VOL 31 • DECEMBER 2007
  • 6. A Personal View 101 THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH A DEGREE IN BIOLOGY 327Careers for Which Biology Forms the Foundation but That other strong interests that could be combined with a foun-Require a Related Degree dation in biology to create a unique career? Answers to these questions will provide initial guidance in career Additional careers that require related degrees but for choices.which biology forms an important foundation (Table 8) To further refine a student’s interest in a particular career,include anthropology, biomedical engineering, nursing, and an internet search will rapidly identify information about thediatetics/nutrition as well as healthcare administration in length of required training, level of difficulty, job demand,hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. Paleontologists need projected salaries, and location of training programs for thatto understand animal biology. For example, they study the career. A very useful tool is the Occupational Outlookorigins and insertions of muscles on dinosaur bones and use Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Unitedthat information to understand how the animals moved. The States Department of Labor (1). An internet search using thestudy of alcohol and drug abuse forms a foundation for terms “biology careers” will identify other useful careerpositions in prevention, education, counseling, treatment, information. Another method of career exploration is toand law enforcement. Agricultural sciences also build on the identify people who are employed in the career of interestknowledge of living things. Careers in agricultural science and ask questions, such as how did they make their careerinclude animal science, crop science, soil science, viticul- choices, what was the training pathway, and do they find theture, apiary, fish farming, dairy production, meat produc- career rewarding and worthwhile. Ask whether there istion, poultry science, crop consultation, crop management, opportunity to shadow the individual, or whether there areand biofuels research. In addition, the United States Depart- internships that would allow hands-on experience in a field Downloaded from on January 31, 2012ment of Agriculture employs researchers in both animal and to assist the decision-making process. Students should in-plant research. quire about the academic rigor required for a given career choice and should critically assess their ability to meet thatChoosing a Career standard. How does a student choose a career path, and how do we The demand for personnel in a given career path is anadvise them? The first step is for students to become aware important consideration in choosing a given path. There isof the many career paths that are available; indeed, raising strong demand for some positions such as physicians andawareness of potential career opportunities for biologists is teachers. On the other hand, there are few job openings inthe first goal of this discussion. Biology students should careers such phycology and marine biology (1). Job stabilitythen assess their personal interests and aptitudes in the is another issue to consider. For example, research techni-various broad fields of biology (i.e., research, healthcare, cians with BS or MS degrees working in university researchteaching, science writing, etc.). What piques their interest? laboratories are often paid from research grants so theAre they more interested in plants or animals or microor- position may only exist for the lifespan of the grant. Inganisms? How many years are they willing to devote to contrast, the same research technician position at a pharma-education? Are they willing to devote the necessary study ceutical firm may be very stable. The Occupational Outlooktime to achieve the required knowledge level (and accom- Handbook (1) provides information about job stability andpanying grade point average)? Do they want to work out- job demand. Salary is another decisive factor. In general,doors or indoors? Do they want to work with lots of people? salaries are proportional to training and level of responsi-Do they want a job in a specific geographical location? Do bility. People with a master’s degree have greater responsi-they want a job with intellectual stimulation? Do they have bility and earn a greater salary than those with a bachelor’s degree. Similarly, people with a PhD have greater respon- sibility and earn a larger salary than those with a MS degree.Table 8. Fields for which biology forms the foundation but In healthcare, the physician has more years of training andthat require a related degree the greatest responsibility and also earns the larger salary. Many biology programs allow a student to choose a subdis-Anthropology ciplinary track during their course of undergraduate study. ThePaleontologyNursing available tracks vary among Biology departments but mayHealthcare Administration include a focus on cellular and molecular biology or onAnimal Science ecology or evolution, for example. Larger departments willCrop Science have a greater diversity of options for the student. However,Soil Science following an academic track narrows the training that theBiofuels ResearchBeekeeping student receives, thereby narrowing the student’s career op-Viticulture tions. This is not an issue if the student has made a careerFish Farming choice. However, it would be wise of the student not to focusCrop Consultation too tightly on a career track until a career choice has beenCrop ManagementUnited States Department of Agriculture Research identified.Alcohol and Drug Abuse ResearchDairy Production SummaryMeat ProductionPoultry Science It is likely that additional career options for biologists areBiomedical Engineering missing from this list, and certainly many of the specialtiesDietetics/Nutrition within broad fields are not enumerated. However, this roster Advances in Physiology Education • VOL 31 • DECEMBER 2007
  • 7. A Personal View328 101 THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH A DEGREE IN BIOLOGYshould serve as a useful tool for biology students seeking GRANTSinformation on career options and for those who assist students This project was supported in part by National Science Foundation Grantin searching for careers that fit their personalities and aspira- IBN 0315717.tions as well as their foundation in biology. REFERENCEACKNOWLEDGMENTS 1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor. Occupa- The author thanks colleagues, friends, and students who contributed career tional Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2006 – 07 Edition (online). http://www.ideas to this discussion. [10 September 2007]. Downloaded from on January 31, 2012 Advances in Physiology Education • VOL 31 • DECEMBER 2007