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Biology is a vast field – it is the study of all living things, after all. There are many areas of specialization and jumping off points in its study. If you are interested in becoming a medical doctor, for instance, you will need to study biology at some point in your education. Want to conduct research in cancer or genetics? You also will study biology. Others may be drawn to the field because they want to teach, work in a lab, or simply have a better understanding of our natural world and its origins, functions, and evolution.
Studying biology develops your critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. You may also become proficient in certain computer software programs, develop research skills, and learn various tools and methods in a scientific laboratory.
Classes and Assignments of a Biology Major
Biology is a science- and math-heavy discipline, with core classes somewhat standard from one program to another to provide a full foundation in the natural sciences. Classes you may be required to take include biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and calculus. Computer science classes may also be helpful for courses that involve modeling and simulating biological processes. There's also room for elective classes or specialization in areas like genetics, microbiology, neurobiology, physiology, plant biology, genomics and bioinformatics, and environmental biology. Depending on your career goals, you might also want to take courses outside of a biology department that relate to your career goals, such as political science if you are interested in environmental science.
Biology programs involve much research and laboratory work at any level of education. In fact, students are often encouraged to find opportunities outside of the classroom, such as assisting a graduate student or professor in his or her research, or finding work at a local research facility. These experiences allow a student to apply his classroom studies to a real-life setting, as well as gain contacts and experiences that will come in handy if applying for research positions or advanced degrees. For those looking for distance learning opportunities, an online biology degree may be difficult to find, especially at the associate and undergraduate level, though there may be programs at the master's and doctoral level that are offered completely online, depending on what you're interested in pursuing.
Degree Levels for a Biology Major
- Associate. Associate degrees in biology typically are designed to be preparatory programs for students looking to go on to a bachelor's degree in biology or related science, or a pre-professional program. Some two-year programs may also train for entry-level positions as a science technician in a lab, which, depending on the work, may require no more than an associate degree.
- Bachelor's. A bachelor's in biology is one of the best college degrees for students on a pre-professional track for medical, dental, or veterinary school. Over the course of four years, they will gain foundations in molecular, cellular, organism, evolutionary, and ecological biology necessary to apply to professional school programs. Armed with a bachelor's, other students may go on to become educators or work as a biological technician in a lab.
- Master's. A master's degree in biology is primarily a research-based program, which a working professional may pursue to supplement background knowledge or gain specialization in a certain area, such as genetics or genomics. There are more opportunities to find a self paced online masters degree, as well.
- Doctoral. A doctorate degree would involve continued research and specialization in a division of biology such as molecular genetics, cancer and cell biology, neurobiology, and genomics. A student may pursue this degree to conduct research, or advance to an administrative position. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most biological scientists need a Ph.D. in biology to work in independent research or development positions.
A Future as a Biology Major
Given the vast nature of field, there is any number of directions you can take a biology degree. Depending on your level of education and interests, you may be prepared for work in health care, conservation, forensic science, genetics research, or at a government regulatory agency. Biology majors go on to teach science at the elementary and secondary level or in institutions of higher education. They perform research in labs, looking for cures to such ailments as cancer and AIDs, enhancing the effects of pharmaceuticals, finding new methods to produce biofuels, or researching ways to increase crop yields for farmers. They also may go on to professional programs and earn their doctorate in medicine, dentistry, or veterinary science.
Prospects for biology graduates are promising, especially for those looking to go into research. According to the BLS, employment of biological scientists is expected to grow 21% over the 2008-2018 period, driven by growth and demand for these positions in the biotechnological and pharmaceutical industries. There is also expected to be demand in the environmental field, such as working for environmental regulatory agencies or advising lawmakers on environmental policies. Salary will depend greatly on your level of experience, location, and job field. For example, according to the most recent figures available from the BLS, as of May 2010, biological technicians make a mean annual wage of $41,740, while biological scientists make a mean annual wage of$71,310.
- Biological technicians
- Zoologists and wildlife biologists
- Environmental scientists and specialists, including health
- Environmental science and protection technicians, including health
- Fish and game wardens
- Natural sciences managers (Best salary!)
- Conservation scientists
- Occupational health and safety specialists
- Medical and clinical laboratory technologists
- Veterinary technologists and technicians
- Forest and conservation technicians
- Massage therapists
- Registered nurses
- Farm, ranch, and other agricultural managers
- Soil and plant scientists
- Environmental engineering technicians