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What can you do with biology?

Learn about the wide range of careers available in biology. We will also discuss steps you can take to pursue a career that interests you!

What can you do with biology?

Do you enjoy your biology class, like nature, animals, or plants, have an interest in medicine, or simply feel lots of curiosity about living things?
If so, you may be thinking about focusing on or majoring in biology. But you may also have some questions about biology as a career. What would it be like to work as a professional biologist? Would you spend all your time in a lab, or marching through tropical jungles? Would you be able to make a living, and would your work help others and make a difference in the world?
These are all very valid questions, and the answers depend a lot on exactly what you choose to do with your biology expertise! A biology background can be the gateway to many different careers, including various areas of research (such as biomedicine and ecology) as well as many non-research careers, such as teaching, science communication, and public policy.
Our goal in this article will be to do some exploration, seeing examples of careers in biology and getting a sense of just how many different things you can do with this fascinating subject!

Biology opens many doors

Biology itself a very broad field, and biologists study life on scales from single molecules to whole organisms to entire ecosystems. But the careers available to biologists are even broader! Biologists can work in all these different areas of research, but also in applied areas like health and medicine, environmental conservation, education, and a diverse range of other fields.
Some examples of careers that biology can help prepare you for include:
  • Doctor, nurse, physician's assistant, genetic counselor
  • Conservation ecologist, environmental advocate
  • Laboratory or field researcher at a university or institute
  • Science writer (freelance, or as part of a company or non-profit)
  • Drug development researcher, biomedical device engineer
  • Food scientist or agricultural expert
  • Teacher, professor, outreach coordinator
  • Science policy advisor to the government or elected officials
That's just a small sampling of the many possibilities!

Learn about careers in biology firsthand!

I could spend more time describing the various options, but to give you a better sense of what it's really like doing different jobs in biology, we have some interviews with folks who can tell you firsthand what it's like to do some of these jobs. These include:
  • Erin Kane, a primatologist following in the footsteps of Jane Goodall, and also an awesome ballet dancer!
  • Jovel Queirolo, a high school teacher who shares a passion for biology with her students...and moonlights as a field ecologist in the summers!
  • Chris Northard, a food scientist who makes dairy products delicious and is also an accomplished ultimate frisbee player!
  • Stephanie Spence, a conservation writer for the Sierra Club and sci-fi podcast author!
  • Alisa Lehman, a science writer who helps people understand their personal genome data and runs half-marathons in her spare time!
  • Carl Stenoien, an insect ecologist who studies the parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in butterflies and also does decathlons!
  • Paul Nioi, a pharmaceutical researcher and art lover!
We plan to keep adding more profiles over time, so check back to learn about more careers in biology (and get career advice and tips!) from people like you who are working in these careers right now.

I'm really interested in [X career]! What should I do?

If one of the careers above seems especially interesting to you, there are definitely some next steps you can take! Here are a few suggestions for how you can learn more.

Connect with people in your career of interest

Whatever job it is that interests you, it's likely that there are some people in your community or nearby areas who are working in a similar role.
  • Consider emailing some of those people, introducing yourself, and asking if you could chat with them to learn more about their job. (This is called an informational interview).
  • You can even ask if they'd be willing to let let you do a job shadow, where you follow them around for a short period, such as a day or a week, to see what their job is actually like "on the ground."
Make sure to be very polite when you contact someone for an informational interview or job shadow, and understand that some people may not have the time or ability to help you out. If you keep trying, though, you'll likely find someone who can share their experiences (and may even become a mentor!).

Get involved in related opportunities

Look for opportunities to get your toes wet in your chosen area. Getting this kind of experience is valuable for two reasons: 1) it will help you learn skills and make professional connections, and 2) it will help you figure out if the career is actually something you enjoy and would want to do in the future.
For instance, are you interested in some kind of biological or biomedical research? If you are a college student, or if you are not a college student but have a university or college near where you live, look at the website for the biology or biomedical research department and see if you can find a lab that studies a topic you're interested in. Contact the professor who runs the lab and ask if you can visit, apply for an internship or work-study position, or volunteer! There may also be similar opportunities at biotech companies, such as the ones that develop drugs, biomedical devices, and diagnostic tests.
Of course, you don't always need a college or university to do science! There is a lot of citizen science going on, in which people who aren't formally biologists go out and collect information to better understand biological phenomena (such whether populations of certain plants and animals are growing or shrinking). The Great Backyard Bird Count is one example that I've had a lot of fun participating in! If you love nature or animals, this type of opportunity is a great chance to see whether ecology could be a fit for you.

Best of luck in your biology journey!

Whatever careers you investigate, the key elements to finding a job that's a good match are doing your research (connecting with people in the career and actually trying it out) and being honest with yourself about what you do and don't enjoy doing from day to day. For instance, you might set out planning to be a biomedical researcher, but then discover that you don't like working with mice or that you'd really rather be outdoors.
If so, that's totally okay! Give yourself permission to try out other possibilities. The more you explore, the better the fit you'll find in the end!

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