Next to an ecologist, a biologist is probably the most well-rounded in the animal-related career field, as it encompasses not only animals (both endangered and not), but also vegetation.
For example, a biologist in California may require knowledge of various raptors, endangered amphibians and other animals, as well as oak trees, wetlands and the like.
While a degree in biology or environmental science is definitely a prerequisite to a career in biology, often a bachelor’s degree is enough to open doors in the field. Then, working knowledge becomes more critical than schooling.
Being a biologist isn’t just about field work, however, as most biologists in both public and private sector also write reports, spend time in meetings with various clients, and also often “sell” their work via both cross selling and cold calls or direct mail.
Biologists are often employed in private sector in companies that work with home and commercial builders, helping those builders/developers comply with state and federal regulations and requirements. In the public sector, biologists are employed at both the state and federal level in various departments such as Fish and Game, Wildlife, etc.
Our Parks section describes U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife jobs thoroughly.
Research is a big part of a biologist’s day to day duties, and can be in any form including observing microorganisms under a microscope, to online reference searching. Biologists may also be required to understand budgets, timelines & business-to-business marketing to perform their jobs well.
A biologist may be employed in academia at a college/university, community or junior college, or technical or high school. In the public sector, they may find employment in the Bureau of Land Management, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Food and Drug Administration, Geological Survey, National Institutes of Health, National Park Service, National Science Foundation or the Department of Agriculture.
Most biologists possess at the very least a bachelor’s degree in biology, botany, microbiology, zoology or cell/molecular biology. Course work typically includes emphasis on biology, chemistry (through organic), physics, biochemistry and mathematics.
Although a bachelor’s degree should open enough career doors for a biologist, some choose to pursue a master’s degree or PhD.
Sub-specialties in biology include aquatic biologists, who examine micro-organisms, plants, and animals that live in water; marine biologists, who study salt water organisms; limnologists, who study fresh water organisms; botanists, who study plants and their environments; microbiologists, who investigate the growth and characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, algae or fungi; and physiologists, who study life functions of plants and animals, both in the whole organism and at the cellular or molecular level, under normal and abnormal conditions.
Typically, biologists enjoy a mixture of field and office work, and although most are not exposed to dangerous or hazardous conditions, some must work with hazardous materials and/or in extreme weather conditions. However, most typically work a 40-hour week with little to no overtime, and often also work a regular 9-to-5 schedule.
General skills required of biologists include the ability to work both independently and as part of a group, the ability to follow direction as well as be proactive, the ability to communicate clearly both verbally and in writing, and to possess an eye for detail and be physically fit.
According to the most recent Occupational Employment Statistics survey, there are nearly 95,000 employed biological scientists in the United States. Approximately forty percent are employed by federal, state and local governments, including the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Defense and the National Institutes of Health. The remainder were employed in scientific research and testing laboratories, the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry, or colleges and universities.
Biologists with a bachelor’s degree average approximately $37,000 starting salary, this according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, while those employed in the federal government averaged $75,000.