Do you have questions about careers in biology?

Of all the natural sciences, biology gives you the broadest choice of careers available following graduation. But you may have questions about this big step in life. The following questions and answers are here to help you. Remember that it is important to start asking questions throughout your college training. These questions may or may not be answered here - but it is important to know who to turn to for help. These additional sources of help are described below.

What careers are available to students graduating with a Biology degree?

Of the diverse directions in which our graduates head, many move into the medical professions. This means that they go from UD directly into medical, dental, or veterinary schools for additional training. Similarly, many students will go onto graduate school where they gain additional, more academic, training for research and teaching positions. Additional graduate programs offer degrees in physical therapy, occupational therapy and nuclear medicine. These opportunities are described in more detail below. Other graduates will move directly into local jobs. With the increased public and commercial interests in environmental concerns, many students are moving into new positions where they assess environmental impacts of commercial ventures, they restore and protect area habitats, and use modern molecular biological methods to help "clean-up" toxic waste sites. A large number of students will move into research labs attached to hospitals and clinics to work as research assistants. Other positions occupied by biology majors include jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, in the food preparation industry, as quality control personnel, and biological sales staff.

There are many other career choices that will span different walks-of-life. For example, it is now possible to find many biological and legal profession careers merging as the exciting prospects of creating patented genetically engineered plants and animals become commercial products. Similarly, there are newly created jobs in the field of environmental law.

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What exactly is a biologist?

A biologist is a person with a career that revolves around some living entity. This definition has to be rather broad because of the incredible diversity of potential careers found in biology.

  • A medical doctor places a chest X-ray on to a light box and examines the profile of the arteries in the heart after they were filled with an X-ray impervious dye. Using incredibly powerful methods this doctor has the ability to help cure ill patients. This ability to directly impact the well-being of a person can be called human biology. The largest fraction of biology careers will be found in this area.
  • A researcher studying cancer cells growing in a plastic dish observes their rate of division and movement through a microscope after feeding them a newly designed drug. This is cell biology - but notice how this research although somewhat removed from a hospital setting will impact human biology since the researcher may find a cure for cancer.
  • An ecologist working by the side of a stream in a quiet part of Ohio is checking the acidity of the water using a sensitive portable pH meter - maybe the acidity of the water is the cause of the sudden loss of life in this otherwise undisturbed running water. But where did the acidity come from and will things return to normal? This person is concerned with our environment. We do not live in this stream - but we depend upon it. Someone will drink this water or eat fish living in it. Concerns about environmental biology also can affect human biology.

This is just a fraction of the types of work accomplished by biologists. It gives you a sense as to the diversity of choice, but the unity of purpose.

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How is biology subdivided into fields?

Environmental Biology: The way life interacts with and depends on its physical surroundings. Careers include conservationist, environmental consultant, biorestoration/bioremediation scientist, EPA scientist, environmental law consultant.

Ecology: The organization and interactions between groups of plants and animals. Careers include ecosystem manager and zoo management.

Botany: The characteristic structure, function and classification of plants. Work in this area includes a career as a horticulturist, forestry manager, or agricultural scientist.

Behavioral Biology: The manner in which animals act individually and as groups. Careers include wild life biologist and zoo management.

Zoology: The diversity of structure, function and behavior of different animals. Careers include veterinarians and zoo worker.

Anatomy: The overall structure of an organism. Some careers choices are surgeon, dentist, educator, forensic medical examiner, and physical therapist.

Physiology: The ability of an organism to survive by using processes such as respiration. Careers include physician, pharmacist, toxicologist, nurse, physical therapist, and pharmaceutical researcher.

Cell Biology: How the smallest living units, cells, bring about physiology. Careers include medical laboratory technologist, cancer research biologist.

Developmental Biology: How complex organisms can grow from a single cell created by fertilization. Some career choices are medical laboratory technologist, and reproductive assistance technologist.

Microbiology: The features and life-styles of the smallest types of cells, such as bacteria. Careers include medical laboratory technologist, food technologist, pollution manager, and food and water quality control personnel.

Genetics: The study of how hereditary information is passed from one generation to another. Work in the area includes a career as a biotechnologist, plant and animal developer, or genetic counselor.

Molecular Biology: How genetic information is read and controlled inside a cell. Careers include genetic engineer and biotechnologist.

Biochemistry: The interaction of simple chemical compounds to generate living matter. Careers include pharmacist and biotechnologist.

Notice how these fields can be seen as a progression from the widest scope to the most narrowest focus - from planet-wide biology to biology at the level of single molecules.

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What is the future outlook for careers in biology?

No one can predict the future. It is always difficult to know how many jobs will be available in any particular profession tomorrow. However, biology has been continuing to expand at an incredible pace, and it does not seem that this growth will stop any time soon. New applications of molecular biological technique in medical and commercial applications has ensured tremendous opportunities for people with expertise in these fields. There always will be a need for medical doctors, dentists and other medical-professionals so it will be unlikely that these or any other important biology career will decrease in popularity in the future.

It pays to prepare for the future by remaining flexible and being able to demonstrate this to your future employer. For example, computers are increasingly important in biology (like any other profession), so it may help your job applications to show that you have taken computer courses. The current unemployment rate in biology is less than 1%.

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Is my choice of courses going to influence my career choice?

Yes, but there are two reasons for this. First, for many jobs you will need experienced training in a particular field. For instance, it would be difficult for someone to work as an assistant in a clinical microbiology laboratory if they have never taken a microbiology course. This is not so much of a problem for those people who will leave UD to go on to graduate school or medical school, since they will get further, more specialized training later. However, the entrance exams (GRE and MCAT) into these schools are easier to pass if you have taken appropriately selected classes.

Secondly, the classes you take at UD will not only furnish you with information to keep in your brain - these classes are also a chance for you to see what opportunities exist in the world for people with this knowledge. Thus, your choice of career may change after getting worked up about hearing about something in one of these classes.

To help make the right choice about which classes to take, always consult with the academic advisor assigned to you at UD. These advisors will help you steer in the right direction.

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How important are grades in getting a job?

Good grades are one of the most important features that an employer will look at, in choosing a new employee. Remember that although the number of biology-related careers is very high, the number of graduates competing for these positions is also very high. From your freshman year onwards, it is important to work your hardest at keeping your GPA as high as possible.

It is also important to remember that employers also check more than just grades. You have to have a life! Spend time to develop your own interests and hobbies - these are important additions to your resume. Even more important to careers such as the medical professions, it is necessary to show you are able to volunteer time to help others. For example, a highly competitive medical student would not only have good grades, but would also have spent time helping out in a community hospital or helped in fund-raising events for local charities. Such experiences are a very important "selling point" that goes beyond grades.

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When should I choose a career?

Although you do not need to know exactly what you want to do when you join UD, it will help you make the selection of a major and the choice of accompanying classes. As you move through the broader-based required classes and then move onto your electives, you can narrow your interests. For example, you can start as a freshman being interested in biology, but after taking your first biology classes you recognize that molecular biology is what you like most. From this point onwards you should find out what jobs are available for this particular field of biology. You should have a good idea about which career interests you most during your sophomore and junior year. Between the junior and senior years you should be actively looking for a position. If this involves going onto to the medical profession schools or graduate school you need to make applications to the schools and take entrance exams (MCAT for medical school, GRE for graduate school).

As with all other aspects of your choice of career, there are resources at UD to help you make decisions at the right time. Principally these resources are your academic advisor and the Career Placement Center.

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Would work-experience outside of the classroom help me get a job?

In most cases, work-experience can greatly help your chances of getting a job. This work experience may have come from before studying at UD, or during the breaks during the academic year. Although it is important to budget your time so that you are able to study and succeed in class - it is also important to recognize when (and how much) work experience will help you get a job. Frequently, internships can be served to gain experience. Many local companies offer internships, and these opportunities are posted in the Department of Biology or in the UD Internship Office. If your future career includes research, you may find that working within the Department of Biology as a work-study to a faculty member will greatly expand your interests and abilities to perform research.

There are many examples of Web sites that list available internships.

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Who can help me make the right career choice at UD?

You have several excellent sources of guidance at UD. First and foremost, remember that your academic advisor is assigned to help you. If your advisor does not have an answer to your questions, they should be able to point you to someone who will have the answers. We also have a Career Placement Center and an Internship Office where many career-related questions can be answered. People from these centers will become known to you through required classes such as ASI 150, taken while at UD. Also note that the faculty are always willing to help you make important career decisions. This means you should speak to your teachers to find out what its like to work in a particular field of biology and if they have any insights that can help you make a decision.

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Where do I get help about specific careers?

Faculty will often know the best sources of information about careers in specific fields of biology. The Career Placement center will also have addresses of companies, or other sources of information that can help you make career choices.  Browse through our career development menu to learn more about career areas.  A good place to start is visiting the U.S Department of Labor.

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Will someone help me write a resume?

Career Services at UD has plenty of information to help you know how to write the perfect resume. A computer program, located at the center, can also be used to aid in the creation of your resume. Be sure that you have the names and addresses of people you have worked with in some context, that have permitted their names to be used as references. Faculty of the Department of Biology would be able to write letters of reference or recommendation, if you have been in close contact with them - for example, if you have worked in the laboratory of a faculty member.

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Will someone help me prepare for a job interview?

Career Services at UD has information to help you brush-up on your presentation and interviewing skills. Many of your classes at UD will prepare you for public speaking, so your speaking skills should be up to speed by the time you have an interview. The staff of Career Services will give plenty of helpful suggestions concerning your technique.

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What salaries can I expect in the work place?

Salaries are very variable in biology because there are so many different career choices, with each demanding different degrees of prior educational experience and professional skills. The highest paid biologists tend to be medical doctors with initial starting salaries of $50,000 or more in the first year after residency. At the other end of the scale, a B.S. student straight out of UD could go into a job and be paid between $20,000 and $30,000 during the first year.

In general, it is true that the more education you get, the higher the salary. This is why so many B.S. students go on and take a masters degree (M.S.) or a doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.) in biology or some particular field in biology. By earning these degrees, it is possible to earn much more money, even though you would join the work-force much later than someone with a B.S. However, remember that salaries are just one aspect of a job. There are other traits equally important as salary, such as freedom to make your own decisions, the amount of vacation time, and fringe benefits. Again, in general those people with higher degrees fair better in the long-run.

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Where can I go for career information after graduation?

Career Services is open to alumni of the University of Dayton following graduation. If you need help, the staff will be more than happy to work with you. Local and national career fairs are also a great way of finding out about availability of jobs.

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