Biologists are concerned with human, animal and plant life, both in the laboratory and in nature. They investigate the origin, structure and function of organisms and their relationship with the environment. They can be involved in the study of plants (botany) or animals (zoology). There are opportunities to specialise in the many branches of the discipline including microbiology, genetics and immunology.
Biologists may collect and analyse field data, identify pests and diseases, assess effects of chemicals, develop routine tests or devise more efficient production processes. Much of their work is research-based and involves working in a laboratory.
Typical job responsibilities include:
- Designing and setting up experiments, measuring and observing changes
- Analysing, recording and presenting results – often using IT packages
- Studying organisms by using electron microscopes
- Testing large numbers of samples using automated testing equipment
- Taking part in field work to collect samples or monitoring experiments
- Designing projects and supervising staff
- Giving presentations at conferences
- Publishing articles in scientific journals
- Teaching and giving lectures
Biologists work in a variety of settings including laboratories in universities, colleges, hospitals, schools and industry. They may also spend time in an office. Depending on their role they may also spend time carrying out field work. Hours will vary but if you are working in research in a laboratory or teaching at a university you will work about 37 hours per week.
Field work can take place in all weathers and can involve substantial travel so you must be physically fit and be prepared to work in tough conditions.
Future career progression will depend on your qualifications, experience and the area in which you are working. You may be able to specialise in a variety of areas including zoology, botany, microbiology, genetics and immunology. There may be opportunities to advance to senior positions which usually involve managerial and administrative duties, for example overseeing field projects and supervising staff.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for biologists
- A genuine interest in animals, plants, science and the natural world
- Strong observational skills
- Research and analytical skills
- Methodical and systematic approach to work
- Problem solving skills
- High standards of accuracy and attention to detail
- Logical thinking
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to undertake practical and outdoor work in all weathers
- Project management and supervisory skills
- Team work skills
- IT Skills
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of biologists
Examples of public and private sector organisations which employ biologists include:
- Companies which manufacture pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals or foodstuffs, working in research and development or in production.
- Biologists are also employed in the Civil Service, NHS laboratories or water companies.
- Other opportunities are in research institutions and universities and in teaching opportunities in schools
Qualifications and training required
An appropriate degree in biological science is generally preferred, but some subjects with a biological basis may also be acceptable. Other related disciplines, such as a biomedical science or some of the agricultural sciences can provide useful background knowledge. You should choose your course carefully depending on the area of work you want to go in to.
Entry into a degree course requires a minimum of 5 GCSEs grades 9 – 4 (A*- C) and 2 A levels in biology and usually chemistry, maths or physics. Degree courses can be three or four years and can be full time or sandwich. Postgraduate study is an advantage.
Entry may also be possible through a Higher National Diploma (HND) or a Foundation Degree. There may be opportunities through an Advanced or Higher Level Apprenticeship. In most cases 2 A levels including Biology and one other science will be the entry requirements for these opportunities.
Training continues through practical experience in the workplace. Membership of the Royal Society of Biology can be attained by graduates with appropriate qualifications and 3 years' relevant experience.