Biologists, also known a biological scientists, study the origin, development, composition and function of plant and animal life. They typically specialize in one area and are named by that specialty. The majority of biologists perform research as part of their jobs. Many biological scientists, especially those employed in academic environments, depend on grant money to support their research.
They perform research to acquire knowledge of the fundamental life processes and apply their knowledge to developing new products and processes. Their research is often used to develop solutions for human health problems and to improve the natural environment.
Those that work in applied research or product development apply their knowledge from research and develop medical diagnostic tests, new drugs and biofuels. They also develop techniques for increasing crop yields. Most biological scientists utilize a microscope in order to see and study organisms that are not visible to the naked eye. Some of these scientists work with animals in laboratories.
The advances in knowledge regarding organic molecules and genetics has increased growth in the field of biotechnology which has changed the industries in which biologists work. They now have the ability to manipulate the genetic material of plants and animals. They attempt to make organisms resistant to disease or more productive.
Some of the specialties are:
Botanists study plants and how they interact with their environment.
Microbiologists study small organisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae. They study how these organisms contribute and affect the food and agriculture industry. Microbiologists also investigate how these organisms can cause diseases.
Physiologists focus on the life functions of animals and plants. They often specialize in one specific area such as photosynthesis, reproduction, movement or respiration.
Aquatic biologists focus on the ways plants, animals and microorganisms live and evolve in water environments. Marine biologists focus on salt water organisms and limnologists focus on fresh water organisms.
Biochemists combine biology and chemistry and study the chemistry of living things.
Biophysicists focus on the atomic structure and the mechanical and electrical energy of organisms and cells.
Zoologists study the animal kingdom. They often specialize in an area such as mammalogy (mammals), ornithology (birds), ichthyology (fish) or herpetology (reptiles and amphibians).
Ecologists study the relationships among organisms and between organisms and their environments. They evaluate the effects of pollutants, population size, temperature, altitude and rainfall.
- Plan and administer biological research programs
- Study plants and animals and the environmental conditions that affect them
- Use computers to store and analyze data
- Provide test results to federal and state representatives and the general public
- Research environmental effects of present and potential uses of water and land areas
- Develop environmental impact reports for government, industry or for publication
- Represent employer at conferences
- Determine methods for improving environmental conditions
Most biological scientists spend most of their time in laboratories performing research and in offices writing about research results and staying current with the newest research discoveries. Some biologists perform field studies that may involve strenuous physical activity and primitive living conditions for long periods of time.
Biologists usually work 40 hours a week, however some of these scientists work more hours. Some researchers may work odd hours in laboratories or other settings due to the type of research they are involved in.
Biologists should be able to communicate clearly and concisely in writing and orally. They also need to have patients to perform long and detailed research projects.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecasted a 21 percent employment growth from 2008 to 2018 for biological scientists which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Biological research and development continues to increase the demand for biologists. Job growth will also occur due to the efforts to discover new and improved strategies and techniques to clean up and preserve the environment.
In 2008 the median annual earnings for biological scientists was $65,080. The earnings of biological scientists vary by the specialty.
In 2008 approximately 40 percent of biologists were employed by federal, state and local government agencies. Federal biologists worked mostly for the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Institutes of Health and Defense.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
A Ph.D. in biology or one of its subfields is typically needed for work in independent research or development positions. A Ph.D is also usually required for administrative jobs. Some jobs in product development, applied research, inspection or management as well as research technician jobs require a master's degree or a bachelor's degree in the field. Some individuals that have a degree in biology are employed as high school science teachers.
Advanced degree programs usually focus on a subfield such as botany or microbiology. Advanced degree programs usually include classroom learning, laboratory research, fieldwork and a thesis or a dissertation.
The major employers are chemical companies, drug companies, food processing companies, government agencies, colleges and universities, research and testing laboratories and publishing firms.