So you want to be a biologist?
There are many paths you can take with a biology related degree (biology, animal behaviour, bio-chem, biological anthropology, ecology, animal science) to name but a few. I have taken a interesting path to where I am in my career today, stating my own business educating students about biology, primates and evolution (which you can read about here). But for those on a more linear path here are some of the more interesting and unique jobs and careers one can pursue if they have a background in biology.
1. Field Researcher
Love being out in nature and watching animals? Well becoming a field scientist could be the perfect job for you. You will also need to have a lot of patience, be willing to be outside in all types of weather and live in mostly remote areas for long periods of time. For this type of job you will need at least a Masters degree if you want to be a research assistant and then a PhD if you want to lead and conduct your own research. I have many fond memories from my time in the field following around troops of vervet monkeys and baboons. I loved it but realized I could not handle the long term isolation away from the important people in my life. There are days I miss it terribly though and can’t wait for my next trip back to Africa.
2. Forensic Scientist
I have a friend from undergrad who does DNA and forensic analysis, sort of like a real life CSI, though in a lab that is probably a lot less cool looking than the one on TV. She not only works in a lab but also testifies in court. If you are interested in biology, cells and staring at things under a microscope but also into crime solving and putting the bad guys away this might be the perfect career for you. You will need to go to grad school to get a Masters in forensics after your undergrad in biology.
3. Science Writer
Maybe you are interested in biology but don’t want to do the research or hands on part of it. Or possibly you did really well in English class but also have a passion for science. You can combine the two and become a science writer. You could do freelance work or be hired by a newspaper or magazine. A good way to get started is start your own blog and write about things you are interested in and think other people would find interesting or things that are topical at the moment in the fields of science. You could even write your own book, like my friend Brian Switek did. He turned his love of paleontology into a successful blog, multiple books and speaks at many natural history museums all over North America.
This may seem like an obvious one but it is probably one of the most interesting careers you can pursue with a basis in biology. You need to go to vet school as well but after that you are prepared to care and help sick animals. You can even specialize in wildlife medicine if you want to care for more exotic animals like you would find at a zoo, or you could be a small animal vet and care for people’s pets. Having worked in a vet office the day in the life of a vet is never boring. Every day brings in a new case, possibly something you have not seen before and you have to hypothesize and figure out what is wrong. You also get to hang out with adorable animals all day which is never a bad thing. It can be tough though as you will lose patients and as hard as you try not all animals will make it through their illness or injuries. But for people who want to make a difference in the lives of animals and their owners this is the perfect job.
5. Medical/Scientific Illustrator
Maybe you are really interested in the human skeleton and body but also like and are good at drawing. Why not combine your two passions and be an illustrator for science and medical textbooks. You could also become a reconstructive artist and create models of our early human ancestors, like homo erectus, based on the fossils found. If you are detail oriented and like to draw but also are interested in biology this could be the perfect career for you.
Hopefully this gives you some inspiration to pursue biology in high school and beyond. There are many ways your can use a background in biology to have an interesting and long term career. Even if you don’t see yourself as the typical “science” student you can combine your love of biology with other areas, and I think those are the people who become the most successful. A biologist is not just someone who sits in a lab, they can do many different things, but they do have in common that they seek to understand the natural world.
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