How to become an Biologist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about Biologist career.
What does a Biologist do?
Biologists study individual living organisms (animals or plants) to advance human knowledge and understanding of areas such as the environment, genetics, and animal or plant biology.
As a biologist, you could use your skills in a variety of ways, for example:
- in agriculture, developing organic plants for food
- to tackle environmental issues, such as cleaning polluted rivers so fish can thrive
- in conservation, supporting a variety of plants and animals in their natural environment
- in medicine, developing new methods to diagnose, monitor and treat illness or disease
- within industry, preventing food contamination or creating ways to safely dispose of waste.
You could also specialise in related fields such as:
- marine biology
- molecular biology
Your work would include designing and conducting experiments, making observations, writing up reports and publishing scientific papers based on your research.
You would often work in a team with other scientists and technicians, and you may supervise support staff and carry out administrative work. If you are based in a university or teaching hospital, you will also teach and mentor students.
You will usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with occasional evening and weekend shifts.
Depending on your specialist area of work, you may be based in a lab, a classroom, in industry or by the ocean. You will often need to wear protective clothing to prevent contamination and protect you from hazardous substances. Field work can take place in sometimes challenging conditions.
How much does a Biologist earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Starting salaries for research biologists can be around £26,000 a year.
- University lecturers can earn around £44,000.
- Professors may earn up to £67,000.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To work in biology, most employers will expect you to have a relevant degree and a Masters qualification. Increasingly, you will also need experience in your area of interest and be working towards a PhD.
Before choosing a course it is important to check with providers that the subject you wish to study will prepare you for the type of work you want do. Degree and postgraduate courses are available in a variety of related subjects such as:
- biology or applied biology
- biological science
- plant biology
- conservation biology
- marine biology.
Check with course providers for details of entry requirements.
You could also contact the Society of Biology for further advice, careers information and details of student support initiatives.
If you have at least four GCSEs (A-C) including science, English and maths, you may be able to start work in biology as a technician. However, many employers are now asking for A levels, a BTEC National, BTEC HNC/HND or a degree in a science subject.
Training and Development
Once you are working as a biologist you will usually receive training from your employer on relevant health and safety issues. You will also be expected to keep up to date with your specialist area and contribute to research and advances in your field.
If you do not have a postgraduate qualification, many employers will encourage you to study at this level and work towards membership of a professional body, such as the Society of Biology. They have a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme, which will help you build on your knowledge, skills and expertise and can ultimately lead to Chartered Biologist Status, recognised as the hallmark of excellence.
- Society of Biology
If you are mainly based in a lab or working at technician level, there are various part-time and work-based qualifications that may help you progress in your career, such as:
- NVQ levels 2 to 4 in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities
- NVQ Level 2 in Clinical Laboratory Support
- BTEC National, BTEC HNC or degree in, for example, applied science or applied biology.
Skills and Knowledge
- practical scientific skills
- an enquiring mind
- the ability to think clearly and logically
- good problem solving skills
- a methodical approach to work
- accuracy and attention to detail
- good teamworking skills
- the ability to manage and develop a team
- excellent spoken and written communication skills
- the ability to keep up with advances in your field
- an understanding of statistics and relevant computer packages.
You could work in the public and private sectors. There are opportunities for work in, for example, the pharmaceutical, agricultural or food industries carrying out research and product development or scientific analysis and investigation. If your specialism is environmental biology or ecology, you could work with zoos, charities, research institutions and organisations such as the Environment Agency.
You could also move into careers in management, teaching, the media, administration and scientific journalism.
Jobs are advertised in industry journals such as Nature, and Science, and on websites like the Society of Biology’s Jobs Board, and New Scientist Jobs. You should also check with professional bodies relevant to your specialism. For example, if you want to work in environmental management, check the British Ecological Society website for details of field work opportunities as well as paid jobs.