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Training, Certifications, Skills, Advancement: Biological Scientists




A Ph.D. degree usually is necessary for independent research, industrial research, and college teaching, and for advancement to administrative positions. A masterís degree is sufficient for some jobs in basic research, applied research or product development, management, or inspection; it may also qualify one to work as a research technician or as a teacher in an aquarium. The bachelorís degree is adequate for some nonresearch jobs. For example, some graduates with a bachelorís degree start as biological scientists in testing and inspection, or get jobs related to biological science, such as technical sales or service representatives. In some cases, graduates with a bachelorís degree are able to work in a laboratory environment on their own projects, but this is unusual. Some may work as research assistants, while others become biological laboratory technicians or, with courses in education, high school biology teachers. (See the statements on clinical laboratory technologists and technicians; science technicians; and teachersópreschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary elsewhere in the Handbook.) Many with a bachelorís degree in biology enter medical, dental, veterinary, or other health profession schools.

In addition to required courses in chemistry and biology, undergraduate biological science majors usually study allied disciplines such as mathematics, physics, and computer science. Computer courses are essential, as employers prefer job applicants who are able to apply computer skills to modeling and simulation tasks and to operate computerized laboratory equipment. Those interested in studying the environment also should take courses in environmental studies and become familiar with current legislation and regulations. Prospective biological scientists who hope to work as marine biologists should have at least a bachelorís degree in a biological or marine science. However, students should not overspecialize in undergraduate study, as knowledge of marine biology often is acquired in graduate study. Most colleges and universities offer bachelorís degrees in biological science, and many offer advanced degrees. Curriculums for advanced degrees often emphasize a subfield such as microbiology or botany, but not all universities offer all curriculums. Larger universities frequently have separate departments specializing in different areas of biological science. For example, a program in botany might cover agronomy, horticulture, or plant pathology. Advanced degree programs include classroom and fieldwork, laboratory research, and a thesis or dissertation.

Biological scientists with a Ph.D. often take temporary postdoctoral research positions that provide specialized research experience. In private industry, some may become managers or administrators within the field of biology; others leave biology for nontechnical managerial, administrative, or sales jobs.

Biological scientists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Those in private industry, especially those who aspire to management or administrative positions, should possess strong business and communication skills and be familiar with regulatory issues and marketing and management techniques. Those doing field research in remote areas must have physical stamina. Biological scientists also must have patience and self-discipline to conduct long and detailed research projects.