Careers for Biological Sciences Majors

What Can You Do With Your Major?

We encourage you to explore the sorts of jobs you can hold in each of the many disciplines of biology. Remember, though, that the name of your major isn’t always as important as your scientific, communication, and organizational skills—that’s what gets you a job.

Studying biology teaches you to ask questions, judge evidence, and solve problems—skills that will be of use in whatever career you choose in the future.


Biochemistry or Biotechnology

What do biochemists do?

Biochemists combine the fields of microbiology, cell biology, genetics, chemistry, cell biology, and physics in their day-to-day work or experiments. Many of the remarkable molecular tools that allow us to analyze genes and proteins were developed by biochemists.

Biochemists use these powerful new tools to learn about the genome and the roles of specific genes and proteins. Some biochemistry professionals work to increase our understanding human disease processes and aging. Others focus on applying biochemistry to genetically engineer plants and animals, or produce useful products ranging from drugs and other pharmaceuticals to foods, biochemicals, and fuels.

Typical tasks for Biochemists:

  • Analyze foods to determine nutritional value and effects of cooking, canning, and processing on this value.
  • Clean, purify, refine, and otherwise prepare pharmaceutical compounds for commercial distribution.
  • Develop and execute tests to detect disease, genetic disorders, or other abnormalities.
  • Develop and test new drugs and medications used for commercial distribution.
  • Develop methods to process, store, and use food, drugs, and chemical compounds.
  • Examine chemical aspects of formation of antibodies, and researches chemistry of cells and blood corpuscles.
  • Isolate, analyze, and identify hormones, vitamins, allergens, minerals, and enzymes, and determine their effects on body functions.
  • Research and determine chemical action of substances, such as drugs, serums, hormones, and food on tissues and vital processes. (O*NET 2006)

What kinds of jobs do biochemists get?

Hot new growth areas for employment are in environmental and pollution control companies, and the biotechnology industry. Biotech companies use the advances in molecular biology to improve agricultural crops, develop new kinds of drugs, or harness microbes to recycle wastes. Many of the biotech companies use genetic engineering to accomplish their corporate goals.

Biochemists are also employed by county, state and federal agencies; or in the private sector, such as a vaccine company, a clinical reference laboratory doing tests for physicians and health departments, or a pharmaceutical corporation. Many industries require biochemists to ensure the safety of their products, such as food processing and the dairy industry.

What do I need to learn to prepare for a career as a biochemist?

Mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, and curiosity are important traits for future biochemists. Those who hope to work in industry should broaden their educational background to include courses such as economics, computer technology, and business management. Good oral and written communication skills are critical; many scientists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, and have contact with clients or customers with non-science backgrounds.

Although there are many career opportunities for biochemists with a BS, many professionals hold either a Masters degree or a Ph.D. For this reason, individuals interested in careers in microbial or molecular biology should give careful consideration to graduate study. Research the different jobs available at the BS, MS, and PhD levels as a part of choosing your major.

typically at MSU, about 40% of MSU biochemistry/biotechnology graduates go to work in jobs related to laboratory science, and 60% go to graduate or professional school.

Common job titles for MSU Biochemistry graduates:

Biochemist
Contract scientist
Chemist
Laboratory technician
Research Associate
Research technician
Quality control technician
Research analyst
Research scientist
Research Fellow

Majors you can choose in this field at MSU are:

  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology

Other majors you may also want to consider:

  • Medical Technology
  • Clinical Lab Science
  • Microbiology

Links for further research:


Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics

Medical Technology, or Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) are health professions within Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics with foundations in the basic sciences of chemistry, biology, mathematics and physics.

Clinical laboratory scientists test body fluids, culture materials, tissue sections and cellular specimens using a variety of technical procedures and complex, computerized instruments. CLSs act as a part of a team of physicians, pathologists, nurses, and other health professionals in the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

What kinds of jobs do CLS/MT’s get? What do they do?

The traditional orientation toward diagnostic testing is only one of many possible career paths for MT/CLS majors. Technical work may be performed in hospital or private reference laboratories; federal, state and local health departments; commercial and academic research laboratories, and even forensic laboratories. CLSs assume managerial and administrative roles in all these settings. The skills and knowledge of a CLS also have application in medical and scientific supplies sales, laboratory consulting and medical laboratory education. The MSU departmental website lists some additional advantages of a MT/CLS degree. Entry-level career opportunities are the same whether a student completes the CLS program or the MT major followed by an accredited clinical education program.

About 25% of recent MT and CLS graduates went on to graduate or professional school, 50% found employment in a field related to laboratory science, and the remaining 25% went on to work in a non-science field. (based on CERI data)

What do I need to learn to prepare for a career as a MT or CLS?

Mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, and curiosity are important traits for MT/CLS students. Those who hope to work in industry should broaden their educational background to include courses such as economics, computer technology, and business management. Good oral and written communication skills are critical; many scientists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, and have contact with clients or customers with non-science backgrounds.

The MT must demonstrate the highest degree of integrity — honesty, confidentiality, and responsibility — in all areas of professional life. Accurate and precise laboratory results require neatness, a high degree of persistence, and a capacity for patient, thorough effort.

Note: Enrollment in the CLS program is limited because it incorporates a clinical laboratory practicum into the degree requirements. Admission is competitive. Employment as a Medical Technologist is conditional upon completing a one-year clinical education internship.

Resources for further exploration:

Job Titles of Recent MSU MT/CLS Graduates:

Account executive
Clinical technician
Customer service representative
Data manager
Electron microscope technician
Histology technician
Laboratory technician
Leukemia researcher
Manager
Medical technologist
Microbiology technician
Patient correspondent
Pharmaceutical sales representative
Phlebotomist
Research technologist
Screening technician
Technical sales manager
Technician
Vascular technologist


Microbiology or Molecular Biology

Microbial and molecular biologists often combine the fields of microbiology, cell biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, cellular physiology, physics, ecology, and pathology in their day-to-day work or experiments.

Some professionals focus on findings critical to health, agriculture and environmental sciences, while others focus more on questions of how living systems function at the molecular level.

What kinds of jobs do microbiologists, biochemists, and molecular biologists get?

Hot new growth areas for employment are in environmental and pollution control companies, and the biotechnology industry. Biotech companies use the advances in molecular biology to improve agricultural crops, develop new kinds of drugs, or harness microbes to recycle wastes. Many biotech companies use genetic engineering to accomplish their corporate goals.

Microbiologists and molecular biologists are also employed by county, state and federal agencies; or in the private sector, such as a vaccine company, a clinical reference laboratory doing tests for physicians and health departments, or a pharmaceutical corporation. Many industries require microbiologists to ensure the safety of their products, such as cosmetics, food processing, and the dairy industry.

You can find more information about specific jobs and duties at:

What do I need to learn to prepare for a career as a microbiologist or molecular biologist?

Mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, and curiosity are important traits for future microbiologists and molecular biologists. Those who hope to work in industry should broaden their educational background to include courses such as economics, computer technology, and business management. Good oral and written communication skills are critical; many scientists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, and have contact with clients or customers with non-science backgrounds.

Although there are lots of career opportunities for microbial and molecular biologists with a BS, many professionals hold either a Masters degree or a Ph.D. For this reason, individuals interested in careers in microbial or molecular biology should give careful consideration to graduate study. Research the different jobs available at the BS, MS, and PhD levels as a part of choosing your major.

At MSU, about 45% of recent graduates went directly to work in industry or government, and 25% went on to graduate or professional schools. 30% found employment working in related fields, such as sales or management. (CERI)

Majors you can choose in this field at MSU are:

  • Microbiology
  • Environmental Microbiology
  • You may also want to consider:
    • Biochemistry/biotechnology
    • Medical Technology
    • Clinical Lab Science

Links for further research:

Typical tasks of a microbiologist might include:

  • Chemical analyses of substances, such as acids, alcohols, and enzymes.
  • Examines physiological, morphological, and cultural characteristics, using microscope, to identify microorganisms.
  • Isolates and makes cultures of bacteria or other microorganisms in prescribed media, controlling moisture, aeration, temperature, and nutrition.
  • Observes action of microorganisms upon living tissues of plants, higher animals, and other micro- organisms, and on dead organic matter.
  • Researches use of bacteria and microorganisms to develop vitamins, antibiotics, amino acids, grain alcohol, sugars, and polymers.
  • Studies growth structure and development of viruses.
  • Studies growth, structure, development, and general characteristics of microorganisms.

Job titles:

Anatomic pathologist
Bacteriologist
Biochemistry technician
Clinical microbiologist Development
Laboratory analyst
Medical laboratory technician
Medical researcher
Medical technologist
Microbiologist
Pharmaceutical sales representative
Production technician
Quality control manager
Quality control technician
Research scientist
Research technician
Treatment specialist


Physiology

Physiologists study life processes, both in the whole organism and at cellular and molecular levels.

Such investigations involve both examination of normal life processes and those of disease. Most physiologists specialize in specific scientific areas, like growth, reproduction, metabolism, respiration, or the nervous system. Some focus on specific diseases, like diabetes, cystic fibrosis, or metabolic disorders.

What kinds of jobs do physiologists get? What do they do?

Physiology is a very diverse field–so not surprisingly, there are many different kinds of physiologists. Some may work directly on disease mechanisms, while others may work in basic research, studying membranes or cellular biophysics and generating new ideas that may someday lead to new therapies.

Many physiologists work in medical schools or for pharmaceutical industries in drug and chemical research and development. Physiologists are also active in investigating the effect of environmental pollutants on animals and plants, and in understanding neurobiology, to name a few other growth fields.

For more info, look at this brochure from the American Physiological Society.

About 70% of the recent MSU Bachelor’s degree graduates of the physiology program have gone on to graduate or professional school. The remaining 30% of recent graduates were evenly divided between research technicians, K-12 teaching, and careers outside of science.

What do I need to learn to have a career as a physiologist?

Mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, and an inquisitive mind are important traits for anyone planning a career in physiology. Prospective physiologists who hope to work in industry should broaden their educational background to include courses outside of biology, such as economics, computer technology, and business management. Good oral and written communication skills also are important because many physiologists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, or have contact with clients or customers with non-science backgrounds.

Although there are some career opportunities for students with a BS in Physiology, most professionals hold a Ph.D. Anyone aspiring to be an independent investigator in physiology should plan to obtain a graduate or an MD degree. For this reason, individuals interested in physiology careers should give careful consideration to graduate study. Research the different jobs available at the BS, MS, and PhD levels as a part of choosing your major.

Majors you can choose in this field at MSU:

  • Physiology (BS)
  • You may also want to investigate the Pre-Professional Program if you plan to attend a medical or other professional school after graduation.

Resources for further exploration:

Job titles of recent Physiology Graduates:

Cardiology Assistant
Clinic Generalist
Disease Control Specialist
Laboratory Technician
Medical Laboratory Assistant
Medical Sales Representative
Nuclear Medicine Attendant
Physical Therapy Technician
Research Technician
Resource Specialist
Ward Clerk


Zoology

Zoologists study life at the level of the organism, population, community, and/or ecosystem. Ecologists, marine biologists, taxonomists, wildlife and fisheries biologists, and others are examples of zoologists.

What kinds of jobs do zoologists get? What do they do?

County, state, and federal agencies employ zoologists in a wide range of positions. Sometimes the agency may not seem to be directly related to zoology, but actually hires a lot of field biologists—the US Energy Department and the US Geological Survey are two good examples. Many of these types of careers involve research, and some may be involved in the regulation and enforcement of environmental laws.

Zoologists may also find careers in industry and private business. For example, some industries employ field biologists to monitor and manage effluent production and land use around a factory, and to measure environmental health.

Examples of some typical duties of zoologists are:

  • Monitor wildlife health and create recovery plans
  • Communicate with the public by conducting field trips to point out scientific, historic, and natural features of a park.
  • Set up equipment to monitor and collect pollutants from sites, such as smoke stacks, manufacturing plants, or mechanical equipment.
  • Conduct experimental studies indoors and outdoors, using chemicals and various types of equipment.
  • Study origin, interrelationships, classification, life histories and diseases, development, genetics, and distribution of organisms in basic research. (Modified from O*NET, 2001)

What do I need to learn to prepare for a career in zoology?

Students planning careers as field biologists need strong mathematical skills, and should like working with computers. Perseverance, curiosity, and the ability to concentrate on detail and to work independently are essential.

In addition to basic biological knowledge, try to find opportunities to demonstrate that you can work well with a wide variety of people. Good oral and written communication skills are critical; many scientists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, and have contact with clients or customers with non-science backgrounds.

Experience through internships, undergraduate research, or co-op programs is highly valued by employers and graduate schools.

Although there are career opportunities for zoologists with only a baccalaureate degree, many professional field biologists hold either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. For this reason, individuals interested in careers in zoology should give careful consideration to graduate study. Research the different jobs available at the BS, MS, and PhD levels as a part of choosing your major.

About 25% of recent MSU zoology graduates went on to graduate or professional school, 30% work in a science field, and the remaining 55% work in fields not directly related to field biology.

At MSU, students interested in field biology and zoology often choose these majors:

Resources for further exploration:

Typical job titles for zoology graduates with a bachelors degree are:

Animal caretaker
Biology assistant
Computer specialist
Cytogenetic technician
Electron microscope technician
Energy analyst
Environmental educator
Laboratory technician
Maintenance technician
Museum collections manager
Parasitology specialist
Parks naturalist
Research technician
Sales representative
Veterinary technician
Zookeeper


Plant Biology

Plant biologists study the form, function, diversity, reproduction, evolution, and uses of plants and their interactions within the biosphere. Plant biologists usually study life at the level of the gene, cell, organism, population, community, and/or ecosystem.

Ecologists, botanists, and taxonomists can be plant biologists, as well as plant pathologists. People working with algae and fungi are often trained as or called plant biologists (even though, technically, those groups aren’t plants).

What kinds of jobs do plant biologists get? What do they do?

The major employers of plant biologists are educational institutions, biotechnology firms, nature organizations, public botanical gardens, and federal and state agencies. Environmental concerns such as water and soil pollution continue to create job openings for plant biologists in industry.

Most plant biologists have either a field or laboratory emphasis in their activities. Some things working plant biologists might do on the job include:

  • Investigating the effects of environmental factors such as rainfall, temperature, sunlight, soil, topography and disease on plant growth
  • Growing plants under controlled conditions to assess the significance of environmental and genetic variables
  • Studying the genetics of plants using biochemical and molecular techniques in the laboratory and so determine the patterns of plant evolution
  • Studying the nature and occurrence of plant chromosomes, cells and tissues
  • Working with other scientists to develop drugs, medicines and other products from plants
  • Searching for and classifying new species of plants, and identifying endangered species. (O*Net 2001)

Plant biologists work in various branches of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the Medical Plant Resources Laboratory, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), and the U.S. Forest Service. The U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey, also employs botanists. In Michigan many graduates work for the State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

About 33% of recent plant biology graduates went on to graduate school, 33% took a job in a science field related to plant biology, and 33% went on to work in a non-science field.

What do I need to learn to prepare for a career as a botanist?

Perseverance, curiosity, and the ability to concentrate on detail and to work independently are essential. It is helpful to develop strong mathematical and computer skills.

In addition to basic biological knowledge, try to find opportunities to demonstrate that you can work well with a wide variety of people. Good oral and written communication skills are critical; many scientists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, and have contact with clients or customers with non-science backgrounds. Experience through internships, undergraduate research, or co-op programs is highly valued by employers and graduate schools.

Although there are some excellent career opportunities for plant biologists with only a baccalaureate degree, many professional plant biologists hold either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. For this reason, individuals interested in careers in botany should give careful consideration to graduate study. Research the different jobs available at the BS, MS, and PhD levels as a part of choosing your major.

At MSU, students interested in plant biology may choose these majors:

Resources for further exploration:

Job Titles Of Recent MSU Plant Biology Graduates:

Arborist and pesticide applicator
Botanist
Cartographic specialist
County horticulture assistant
Ecologist, US Army
Extension specialist
Farm manager
Laboratory research aide
Landscaper
Natural Resources specialist
Pesticide program assistant
Research associate
Research scientist
Research technician
Technical supervisor


Human Biology

The Human Biology major is an interdisciplinary science degree. It’s suitable for students who want a broad background in biological sciences, and who want to understand the interrelationships among fields.

Much scientific knowledge quickly becomes outdated and the context in which it is applied rapidly changes. Therefore, the MSU human biology program focuses on underlying intellectual, scientific and technological principles, rather than a narrow body of specialist knowledge.

What kinds of jobs do human biology graduates get? What do they do?

A degree in human biology qualifies you for a wide variety of jobs. This degree provides a foundation to pursue veterinary, dental or medical school paths, in addition to positions in research and development, laboratory testing, instruction, production, and quality control.

Human biology provides a broad base from which to draw upon, but many new jobs in the biotech industry want students to have specific training in highly focused techniques. It may take more effort for a HB student to break into some of the specialized research and development positions than students with a degree that is immediately recognizable (biochemistry, clinical lab science, etc.) Students are therefore encouraged to take full advantage of the independent research and internship opportunities that exist in the program (NSC 497 and 498).

About 35% of recent human biology graduates went on to graduate or professional school, 20% pursued employment in the sciences, and 45% found employment in a non-science-related field (based on CERI data).

What do I need to learn to prepare for a career in human biology?

Students planning careers as biologists need strong mathematical skills, and should like working with computers. Perseverance, curiosity, and the ability to concentrate on detail and to work independently are essential. The human biology curriculum should help you develop skills that are valued by employers. These skills include the ability to analyze complex issues, to identify a problem and the means of solving it, to synthesize and integrate information, to make effective use of numerical information, and to work cooperatively and constructively with others.

Good oral and written communication skills are critical; many scientists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, and have contact with clients or customers with non-science backgrounds. Experience through internships, undergraduate research, or co-op programs is highly valued by employers and graduate schools.

Although there are career opportunities for graduates with only a baccalaureate degree, most professional biologists hold either a Master’s degree or a Ph.D. For this reason, individuals interested in careers in biology should give careful consideration to graduate study. Research the different jobs available at the BS, MS, and PhD levels as a part of choosing your major.

Resources for further exploration:

Job titles:

Animal husbandry specialist
Assistant toxicologist
Biology laboratory technician
Biological technician
Chemist
Dental assistant
Environmental educator
Field assistant
Graduate student
Laboratory research technician
Officer, US Peace Corps
Pharmacy technician
Medical Student
Public information officer
Ranger/ naturalist
Regional planner
Report coordinator
Research technician
Resource specialist
Safety technician
Sales representative
Shift supervisor
Wildlife biologist