Career Opportunities

What Careers Can I Pursue with a Biology Degree?

The first step is to set your career goals. Many students who choose to major in biology plan on a career in health professions (medicine, dentistry, optometry, veterinary medicine, etc.). To aid such students, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences assigns a special advisor, Dr. John Friede, to counsel interested students on Careers in Health Professions.

Several excellent web sites with general information on careers in many fields of biology exist

Students considering careers in biology should be realistic in their expectations both in regard to their education and to current job opportunities. Keep the following in mind.

  • There are many different kinds of opportunities for employment as a biologist, but competition for employment in almost every field can be significant.
    • Your academic record,
    • the reputation you have acquired,
    • the reputation of the institution in which you have been educated,
    • hard work in job hunting
  • Do not expect to know at the outset of your undergraduate studies your precise interest and goal as a future biologist. Give yourself time to explore and permit your initial interest to change. The courses you take, the instructors you encounter, and the laboratory and field work you experience will all be important introducing you to different areas of biology, shaping your interests and directing you toward a particular goal as a biologist.
  • In general, a broad undergraduate educational background is more valuable than one restricted to specialization. In addition to study in your particular area of interest:
    • obtain a good foundation in related areas
    • in biology as a whole
    • in basic mathematics, chemistry and physics.
  • Be in a position to exploit the maximum number of opportunities for becoming an employed biologist.
  • Many fields require either a graduate degree or certificate before employment.
  • Make a plan to fulfill your career goals.
  • Talk to as many people as possible before you make a decision.

Resources

Many resources are available to aid students in setting individual career goals and determining how to achieve them, and finally, to be placed in a job.

  • Members of the Biology faculty
    The faculty members are as varied as the flora and fauna you study, and thus are an excellent source of information.
  • Villanova University Career Services Corr Hall 610.519.4060
    Career Services runs workshops and has additional publications available to help with career decisions and the job search. The staff is available to talk to students about career decisions. The office presents workshops in résumé preparation and interviewing to help students in the job search and prepares a Placement Manual each semester that gives general information on the services available through the office, along with the recruiting schedule for the semester. The office also has copies of the CPC Annual, a directory of employment opportunities for college graduates. Copies are provided to students who register with the office.
  • Professional Societies
    In addition to personal discussions, the faculty can offer career information from many professional societies in the biological sciences.
  • Careers in Biology for general information; compiled by the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.
  • Careers in Animal Behavior for listings specific to animal behavior; compiled by the Animal Behavior Society
  • Careers in Cell and Molecular Biology for listings specific to cell and molecular biology; compiled by the American Society of Cell Biologists.
  • Careers in Ichthyology and Careers in Herpetology for listings specific to fish, amphibian, and/or reptilian biology; compiled by the American Society for Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

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Professional Studies

The Health Sciences Advisor, Dr. John Friede (Mendel 151) maintains a library of information about health-related careers. All students interested in professional study in the health-related sciences are encourage to contact Dr. Friede, by the end of their Sophomore year (and no later than Fall of Junior year), particularly since some professional programs have specific course requirements for admission.

There are several different admission tests for the health sciences:

  • MCAT: for students applying to medical, osteopathic, and podiatry schools
  • DAT: for students applying to dental school
  • OAT: for students applying to optometry school
  • GRE: for students applying to some allied health programs (for example, Physical Therapy).

Students should plan to take these tests in April of their Junior year. Applications for the tests are available in the Health Science Office–where you can also pick up the central application for admission used by some health professional schools.

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Opportunities in Academic Careers

The majority of biologists, excluding those in health fields, are employed by academic institutions. Most are involved with teaching, some with research and many are engaged in both teaching and research. Biology is currently taught in nearly all high schools, colleges, and universities. Therefore, there is continual demand for individuals qualified to teach biology, particularly individuals with excellent training and demonstrated teaching ability. This demand lies in two major areas and involves different types of skills and preparation.

Secondary School Teaching
Many people interested in biology find their greatest rewards in introducing others to the subject. Such rewards may be found in teaching at the secondary school level, which requires a B.A. or B.S. degree. Each state has specific requirements for certification of secondary school teachers that usually include courses in professional education and some in the discipline to be taught. The M.A. or M.S. degrees in biology improve professional competence and generally provide improved opportunities in obtaining employment.

Biologists who teach in secondary schools typically are not experts in a particular branch of biology. They must be generalists who view the whole field of biology and are capable of providing students with insights to the broad spectrum of knowledge of living organisms. Secondary school biology teachers frequently are involved in teaching other science courses. Preparation for secondary school teaching should therefore emphasize a broad background in mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

Teaching in Colleges and Universities
Teaching at the post-secondary level typically requires no formal training in teaching but does require considerable training in one or more disciplines of biology. Generally, a Ph.D. degree is required for teaching in a college or university, although some colleges occasionally have positions available for individuals with only a master's degree.

Opportunities for teaching at the college level exist in all types of colleges and universities. However, the large number of qualified individuals seeking such positions makes these jobs highly competitive. Success as a college or university professor is increasingly dependent upon the maintenance of active, independent and/or collaborative research, although teaching remains the major activity of faculty members at many junior and community colleges.

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Opportunities in Non-Academic Careers

Industry
There is a variety of opportunities in industry for the biologist. Pest control using biological and chemical agents is performed by people trained in the economic aspects of zoology and entomology. Many industries hire biologists to help reduce pollution or to investigate the safety of products, and the number of environmental consulting firms that hire staff biologists is growing.

Pharmaceutical and chemical firms have openings for biologists. Research positions might include testing compounds for their pharmacological effects on cancer, growth, blood pressure, animal behavior, human parasites, and diseases of animals. Candidates for these positions should have a degree in biology with coursework in chemistry or special advanced work in psychology. Experience in bacteriology, microbiology, pharmacology, physiology, molecular biology, and systematic botany is desirable.

Biotechnology companies and firms engaged in agricultural research employ many biologists. Their different activities include the development and production of drugs, vaccines, food products, fertilizers, and new plant varieties. In addition to a strong background in basic biological sciences such as bacteriology, plant physiology, and genetics, advanced work in molecular biology and recombinant DNA technology is often required.

Technical positions in biological supply houses are concerned with collection and preservation of animal carcasses; preparation of bones and skeletons; mounting of skins; and production of microscope and film slides, models, teaching charts, and collecting equipment. Supply houses need biologists with ability to bleed animals such as pigs, horses, and sheep because blood components are used in many growth media. Tissue cultures, an increasingly important form of investigation are prepared by supply houses via tissue removal, cuttings or dissections. Competent personnel are sought for these positions in increasing numbers. Graduates in biology, pharmacy, and pre-medical work also find jobs as salespersons for pharmaceutical, publishing, and supply firms. Previous sales experience can be important. Some firms, however, are interested in individuals trained in science, and they will provide the necessary training in sales and development.

Museum Work
Museum and zoological park curators posses exceptional knowledge of different groups of animals and are responsible for the collection, identification, maintenance, and study of specimens in their areas of specialization. Large museums have a separate staff responsible for exhibits. Some museums have only research collections and have no exhibits. Museum curators usually have the Ph.D. degree in their field. Since curatorships are not numerous, students interested in this kind of work are advised to prepare for a career in research and teaching with specialization at the graduate level in a broad area of zoology. With such preparation the student may serve in a college or university until an opening for which he or she is qualified appears.

Museum Teachers, Preparators, and Artists
aid museums or zoological parks to make information available to the public through exhibits and lectures. Preparators or taxidermists mount and care for skeletons, skins, and other specimens. Artists design background, make reproductions, and illustrate material in other ways. Separate educational sections of museums and zoos organize lectures, publish popular articles on the work of the museum, present radio and television programs, and sometimes offer special classes for school children.

Science Librarians
In medical, biological agricultural, and industrial libraries, science librarians perform the usual services of ordering circulating and binding books and journals; making literature searches; and compiling reports and bibliographies in biomedical fields. Such positions are found in college, university, or hospital libraries; in governmental agencies; in dental, medical, nursing, and pharmacy schools; in oceanographic and marine laboratories; with medical societies; and in pharmaceutical houses. Candidates for such work should earn the bachelor's degree with a major in one of the life sciences, including some work in chemistry and physics and with training at an approved library school. A knowledge of Latin is helpful; modern languages are required.

Masters in Business Administration
The M.B.A. is a valuable advanced degree for those who wish to provide their scientific expertise to various segments of industry. The biologist with an inclination toward industry will find this avenue challenging and rewarding.

Environmental and Patient Law
Opportunities in these fields are burgeoning for graduates who can combine college-level training in biological science with a law degree. Major law firms are increasingly including environmental law in their practices. Many government agencies and non-governmental organizations (see below) also maintain staff positions for environmental lawyers. The emergence of new biotechnologies based upon recombinant DNA methods has created increased demand for patent lawyers with a knowledge of biology.

Science Media
Science writers are employed by pharmaceutical firms, insurance companies, wildlife organizations, newspapers, and magazines. To meet communication needs, individuals are employed to translate scientific knowledge and discoveries into language or visual material which is understandable and interesting to the lay public without loosing scientific accuracy. Science writers should be trained in both basic science and writing. Opportunities for qualified individuals exist in radio and television, education films, and other forms of mass media. The student should have the bachelor's or master's degree with broad training in the physical and biological sciences together with specialization in creative writing, photography, and radio-TV techniques.

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Opportunities in Government Agencies

Federal Agencies
Agencies of the federal government provide opportunities in applied biology for varied specialties. Such positions may be in laboratories, hospitals, field stations, or administrative offices. In addition to agencies of the federal government, state, county, and municipal governments have some opportunities for biologists.

Positions are filled through rosters of eligible persons based on results of competitive examination. Information about Federal examinations can usually be obtained in college libraries and career placement offices and from a U.S. Civil Service Commission office. The Civil Service Commission operates under a system of Grades. The level of appointment for an individual will be determined by his educational background experience. Biologists holding the bachelor's degree could qualify for appointment at the GS-9 level, and an individual with the Ph.D. degree could start at the GS-12. Salaries are competitive with other areas of employment. In this area, as in most others covered in this pamphlet, salaries are constantly changing and improving.

The Public Health Service probably employs more biologists than any other single governmental agency. Many senior biologists and technicians are employed at the various Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The opportunities are in both applied and basic biology. Work is carried on in a variety of fields; physiology, ecology, parasitology, microbiology, developmental biology and genetics, to mention a few. There is also a Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service composed of scientists, physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, sanitary engineers and others. Types of positions open to biologists include aquatic biologist, biochemist, entomologist, industrial hygienist, parasitologist, physiologist, and protozoologist. The Ph.D. or M.D. degree is required. Active duty in the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service satisfies Selective Service requirements. Additional information may be gained from "The Scientist in the U.S. Public Health Service," Federal Security Agency, Washington, D.C. 20025.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Bureau of Commercial Fisheries employs three types of fisheries biologists - research, general, and management. The fields of investigation are broad and include basic research in physiology, ecology, life history, and yields of commercially important stocks of marine fish, freshwater fish, mollusks, crustaceans, marine mammals and plants. Wildlife biologists are responsible for conservation, protection, and management of wild mammals, waterfowl, and upland game birds and game fish. Summer employment for young scientists is sometimes available.

The National Park Service employs Park Rangers to carry out conservation efforts to protect plant and animal life from fire, disease, and heavy visitor use; to perform law enforcement and rescue work; and direct interpretive programs to help visitors become aware of the natural, cultural and historical significance of the areas. When available, Biologist positions are of a research nature and require advanced academic degrees and/or several years of specialized work experience. Seasonal employment also is available to assist the permanent staff during periods of peak activity. However, summer employment opportunities are extremely limited.

The Department of Agriculture offers positions to biologists as Agriculture Research Scientists in the following specialties: animal husbandry, physiology, dairy husbandry, entomology, genetics, nematology, parasitology in general, and range conservation. The Office of Personnel, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 20025 can provide a number of career publications upon request of interested applicants.

The Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, enforces the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and ensures that foods, drugs, therapeutic devices and cosmetics are pure and wholesome, safe to use, made under sanitary conditions and truthfully labeled. Animal biologists are employed as Food and Drug Inspectors, Medical Technicians, Medical X-ray Technicians. Employment may be in the central research laboratories in Washington, D.C., or as Food and Drug Inspectors in any of the 16 district offices throughout the United States.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., has both federal and non-federal components and employs systematic zoologists, botanists, ecologists, and conservation biologists.

The Environmental Protection Agency coordinates federal, state, and local activities concerned with the quality of the environment. Persons employed by the agency would be engaged in establishing standards for air and water quality, monitoring pollution, enforcement of standards, and supporting research.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is involved with the exploration of oceanic waters and of marine resources. The NOAA describes, monitors, and predicts atmospheric conditions and provides weather forecasts. Biologists employed by this agency would be engaged in these activities and in supporting research.

Peace Corps
Several recent Villanova graduates in biology have gone on to rewarding involvement in Peace Corps projects in Africa and other regions. The Peace Corps often sponsors programs involving applied research to address problems of public health, natural resources, and conservation. The Corps also often assigns volunteers with biology training to participate in science education programs.

State Agencies
State Conservation Commissions employ wildlife scientists, game managers, and conservation wardens at several civil service grades. These individuals are concerned with management of wild game resources. Wardens assure that game laws are obeyed. Fish and Game Commissions employ fisheries and wildlife biologists. Duties include the collection of ecological data on fish, analyzing water samples, improving habitats of animals, and propagating fish.

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Opportunities with Non-Governmental Organizations

Non-governmental organizations include a wide variety of research, lobbying, advocacy, and public education groups, many of which offer employment opportunities for graduates with training in biology. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Audubon Society, Conservation International, and the Nature Conservancy hire conservation biologists, ecologists, and zoologists:

  • to work on policy-related issues,
  • to conduct original research,
  • to manage nature and wildlife preserves.

Other groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, are more heavily involved in policy development relating to public health issues, as well as research. Still others focus on lobbying activity, supported by "in house" scientific staff positions. Job openings with such organizations are few in number, and their pay scales tend to be modest, but some offer unmatched opportunities for direct involvement in critical issues, for people with appropriate scientific training.

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Locating that perfect job - links to some useful job placement web sites

  • Villanova Career Services office in Corr Hall (ground floor; (610) 519-4060)
  • On-line career and job-placement services: Headhunter, Monster, Leading Market Technologies.
  • Academic, technical/research, and administrative positions are listed in a variety of journals, including Science, Nature, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Hard copies of these journals are also available in the Department of Biology office and the library.
  • Higher education search engines
  • Positions in pharmaceutical companies nation-wide -  symbiosinc.com.

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