What Is a Biologist?

Biological Science and Biology is the study of life - living or dead, on land and at sea. They may work with microscopic life right up to the largest living specimens. “Biologist” and “Biological Scientist” are generic terms though; most will specialize during the course of their studies.

Is There a Difference Between a Biologist and a Biological Scientist?

There is one difference but it is very subtle that some say there is no difference at all. A biologist tends to study ecology, zoology and plant sciences such as botany - the “arts” end of science. Biological science will tend to study the less practical and more “hard science” based ends such as microbiology, genetics and biochemistry. Which you choose will determine your career path, however the lines are blurred so any program of study should open most doors to you.

What Does a Biologist / Biological Scientist Do?

Studying life in all its forms is key to our understanding of many elements of the world around us. From the depths of the oceans to the deserts, swamp and wetlands, temperate regions and tundra and ice sheets, live is everywhere. Biologists research and explain the living world around us. Darwin's Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is at the core of their work whether they work in researching treatments for diseases - map, track and understand the spread of epidemics, research the effects of polluting substances on life. They also examine the symbiotic relationship between life and its environment, studying such things as adaptability, population change, famine and ecological change.

A biological scientist will study all of these elements too but may spend more time working with data in order to prove or disprove a theory about a particular scientific hypothesis. As mentioned above, the difference is minor.

Where Does a Biologist / Biological Scientist Work?

Those who study biology or biological sciences will find broad employment options available to them. In reality, their careers will be determined by the specialization area they choose at the beginning of their academic study. Students will be expected to choose early on, certainly in their first or second year.

The majority of graduates will work for government organizations. Those with a specialty in epidemiology may work for the CDC or in healthcare research. Another option may be USAMRIID with the military. Elsewhere in the government, they may work for the EPA or state environmental protection bodies in research or advisory roles. Teaching is also an attractive choice for many biology graduates. Biology is one of the STEM subjects, and is also an area where we have a shortage of graduates, so employment opportunities will be broad and vast, particularly in government and university research. In law enforcement, they will have the tools and the knowledge to work in forensic biology, examining evidence from crime scenes to build a picture of what took place.

In private industry, they may work in labs researching treatments for diseases through botany, or in agriculture developing herbicides and pesticides. They are also at the forefront of biotechnology, researching genetic modification and future agritech. There is simply no end to the options available - if it is studying biological life, there will be an opening.

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What Is the Average Biologist / Biological Scientist Salary?

Salaries in this field depend on the area of expertise. Microbiologists earn a median salary of $84,400, while biochemists and biophysicists earn a median salary of $94,720.*

Biology Jobs & Job Description

With a Master's degree in the field of biology, biological scientists will have developed a specialty in a specific area of animal and plant species and habitat. Given the diversity of life on our planet, each biologist job is virtually unique, however every biologist should be capable of conducting the following tasks:

  • Review environmental reports through in-project and client channels
  • Provide environmental support for engineering teams
  • Provide feedback for regulators and politicians
  • Participate in ecosystem mapping
  • Strive to become part of a diversity of ecological research projects
  • Maintain active involvement in field teams
  • Prepare to travel on short notice
  • Pursue industry designations like Qualified Environmental Professional
  • Have working knowledge of municipal and state regulatory requirements
  • Understand applicable federal legislation for environmental assessments
  • Demonstrate excellent plant, fish, wildlife, soils, and ecosystem identification skills
  • Work to continually build skillsets for professional development
  • Act as environmental consultant when required by project management or clients
  • Apply professional experience using technical theories, practices, and company policies
  • Apply computer software and modelling programs to predict and solve wildlife demographic problems as impacted by human development

Biological scientists at the senior level have opted for a role managing projects, assets and personnel. Due to their range of professional experiences, they are able to facilitate and strategize project outcomes with facility. The following tasks may be part of their day to day role:

  • Choose personnel and for research and field teams according to project focus
  • Train teams to master and improve protocols and technology
  • Conduct analyses of samples in regulatory-compliant manner when applicable
  • Drive diversification of projects and protocols, while incorporating technological development
  • Roll innovation and discovery into available research channels and programs
  • Explore creative applications of project outcomes
  • Fluent in chemistry as it applies to biological contexts
  • Competent in math, physics and management strategy
  • Design and execution of experiments in a wet lab
  • Communicate results and concepts to scientists and non-scientists
  • Act as point of contact for project administrators and parties
  • Provide expertise on habitat construction, ecological systems and/or biological relocations
  • Conduct data analysis
  • Apply general environmental and analytical tasks via standard scientific and/or engineering techniques

What Is the Job Demand for Biologists / Biological Scientists?

Job demand is high as it is with all STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects. Presently, most countries in the developed world have a skills shortage in this area. The USA is no different. Demand is expected to grow at an average 5% between 2020 and 2030 for both microbiologists and biochemists.*

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Biologist / Biological Scientist?

Due to the high demand, students are recommended to take their studies as far as possible. BA and BS degrees make you eligible for most entry-level jobs such as lab technicians and research assistants, but in this case prior lab experience will be vital. Most of these roles will go to master's degree graduates. Other options open to bachelor graduates include High School teaching; should you be unsuccessful with fieldwork or research, this is a strong career choice as there is certainly a shortage of teachers in science subjects.

For responsible roles on research projects, a master's is more than advantageous - near vital - as will lab work as a student. To manage one's own projects or teach in a university department, no less than a doctorate would suffice. For any advanced degree or program of study, students are strongly advised to take minors and electives in such subjects as math and statistics. Government roles will require a master's degree at the very least, as will the lucrative and competitive roles in medical research.

Biology - Related Degrees

What Kind Of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Biological Scientists Have?

The following organizations are dedicated to promotion of work by Biological Oceanographers:

  • AIBS: American Institute of Biological Science's is the country's premier community of biological scientists engaging in research, practice, advisement, education and public outreach. They publish academic material, provide peer review and bring together the national community
  • ASBMB: The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is an organization dedicated to two of the most important areas of the biological sciences. Their remit is largely education; they were founded in 1906 and have over 12,000 members
  • SSE: Evolution underpins everything in biology. That's why the Society for the Study of Evolution (International) is a global community of research and outreach scientists whose main body of work concerns evolutionary biology

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for biochemists and biophysicists and microbiologists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

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