Careers in Biology
What kinds of careers are there in Biology?
The world is full of living organisms, and perhaps consequently, also of careers in Biology. Biologists are trained to think, to observe, and to draw conclusions from an array of evidence. As a result, biologists have been successful in many non-biological, as well as biological careers. Many cities, conservation authorities, counties and even large companies employ biologists to assess environmental standards and impact; biology is integral to the pharmaceutical, food preparation and agricultural industries (did we mention brewing?!); and biologists are often at the forefront of research in the life sciences.
Opportunities generally become broader with graduate or professional training. Graduate degrees (MSc and PhD) often lead to research and/or teaching careers, within Universities, in industry, and at various levels of government, as well as with non-governmental organisations. Biologists have also become successful lawyers (particularly in patent law fields), librarians and executives. Of course, biology degrees are also sought after by students wishing to pursue careers in the health professions.
Biologists are generally pretty satisfied with their jobs. Life is so diverse and surprising that there is always something new to learn, a new direction to take, and a new question to ask.
I think I want to do Research in Biology – is there a career structure?
Students interested in careers in biology are advised to get as much research experience as they can. This will help you to choose a field and question, as well as beginning to gain the necessary skill set. Early research experience can come through summer jobs, internships and volunteer work. The first formal research training in Biology happens in 4 th year with the Honours Thesis, this is an excellent opportunity to take on a project, write and defend a proposal, and conduct and present the research. The honours thesis is hard work, but very rewarding, and many honours theses form the basis of scientific publications! The honours thesis year is also an opportune time to explore opportunities for graduate school – you don’t have to do your graduate study in the same area as your honours project! The Biology Undergraduate Society runs a number of informational events about graduate school.
Graduate school in Biology at Western usually begins with enrolment as a Master’s student (working towards an MSc degree). As a Master’s student, you will primarily conduct research, but will also take some formal courses and also teach (“TA”) some undergraduate courses. Masters graduates often go on to become technicians in research environments. The next step is a PhD – it takes a lot longer (4 years in our programme), but is a qualification for becoming an independent scientist. This means that you would be driving research and running a research lab of your own! Further training usually comes in the form of several years of postdoctoral training, which are like paid internships, and offer a budding young scientist the opportunity to work in different labs (and often different countries!), broadening their skill set – and sometimes changing research directions entirely.
What if I do a MSc or a PhD and decide I don’t want to do research?
Not all MSc or PhD graduates end up in traditional research careers. Graduate training in Biology arms you with a variety of writing, communication, organisational, management and biological skills that are useful in many employment sectors.
How do I get a start in Biology?
Volunteering is an excellent way to gain experience in Biology that can lead to paid employment. You can volunteer in labs on campus or in local research hospitals; as well as volunteer for local non-governmental organisations. In addition, paid and volunteer field positions are often available through Ducks Unlimited, the Long Point Bird Observatory, and things further afield (and not always on birds) are often advertised on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s ‘Bird Jobs’ list. Keep an eye out for other opportunities, too, like honours thesis projects, Undergraduate Student Research Awards, and (if you are an eligible UWO student) work-study positions. The Biology Undergraduate Society (BUGS) is an excellent place to make contact with other biologists and get the inside story on Biology careers form other undergraduates, as well as talks by faculty and grad students.
Science internships – a year of paid work experience in Science, while you study
The faculty of science runs an internship programme (similar to the co-op programmes offered at other Universities) which allows students to spend 8-16 months working in science-related fields, whilst being paid! For more details, visit the Science internship page.
But don’t just trust us – see what these other organisations have to say about careers in Biology:
- Guide to Career Education:
- Canadian Society of Zoologists: http://www.csz-scz.ca/careers.htm
- Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology: http://www.sicb.org/careers/index.php3
- Human genome project http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/education/careers.shtml
- Sloan Career cornerstone centre http://www.careercornerstone.org/biology/biology.htm
- Entomological Society of America: http://www.entsoc.org/resources/education/index.htm
- Ecological Society of America: http://www.esa.org/education_diversity/explore.php
- A compendium site at Emporia State University: http://www.emporia.edu/biosci/carebiol.htm
- Botanical society of America: http://www.botany.org/bsa/careers/
- Genetics Society of America: http://www.genetics-gsa.org/pages/careers_in_genetics.shtml
- Vancouver Aquarium: http://oceanlink.island.net/career/careerlinks.html
This page was last updated on
January 30, 2013
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