By Alexandra Bellink
The first question curious minds in authority usually ask a recent college graduate is “where did you attend school and what was your major?” For those majors in fields such as music, education, or visual arts, it is usually obvious what these graduates want with their lives, but majors in broader areas of study such as English or biology can have a broad range of professions to choose from.
In 2010, Bright Hub published a list of the best ten jobs for biology majors trying to figure out what to do with their degrees in a tough economy. Although, it should be noted that this list is generally aimed towards those who have a bachelor’s in biology as a main concentration, even though a number of the jobs listed do not even require a college degree.
Adeluisa Cokee, a laboratory technician, measures antibiotic sensitivity during lab tests at Clark USAF Hospital. Photo courtesy of Expert Infrantry.
First on the list of top professions in biology is the position of a medical/clinical laboratory technologist. Such specialists have several important duties such as analyzing body fluids, collecting blood samples, and logging data from tests. There are also several subcategories in which a lab technologist may work in from immunology to microbiology to blood banks. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that entry-level jobs for this position usually require a bachelor’s degree in medical technology or life sciences or an associate’s degree that includes clinical laboratory courses or nursing. Also, the average annual salary is $46,680 — as we’ll uncover shortly, this isn’t necessarily the highest paying job on the list.
Second on the list is being a high school biology teacher. Wisegeek states that in the field of teaching biology it is difficult to gain tenure or promotions without a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. In addition to three to seven years of post-graduate work, it is expected that the person participates in field research. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that the average salary of a high school biology teacher is approximately $53,000 annually, making it the highest paying job on the list.
Third on the list is a research and development (R&D) laboratory technician, a position that requires the preparation of prototypes, samples, and interpretations of lab tests. Through the studies of an R&D technician comes the development of new products as well as disease prevention. Life, physical, and social science technicians average a salary of $37,390 annually.
If you can’t tell by now (and if you are indeed a biology major then this is something you may have known since your freshman year), many jobs in the field of biology come in form of lab technicians. The fourth on the list is chemical laboratory technician, which requires the analysis of solid, liquid, or gaseous forms in lab scientists. The position requires a great deal of training and proper techniques; however, most chemical lab technicians have a degree in chemistry or engineering, not biology, according to Wisegeek. The average annual income is $42,040.
Fifth on the list is a job that has a broad range of fields that one may work in. Research technicians may perform work in agricultural and food science, biochemistry, forensic science, biotechnology, environmental safety and many other subfields. They provide assistance to scientists and similarly to the other technicians on this list, they help prepare tests, samples, and set up of equipment and analysis of test subjects.
Though biology is often referred to as the “science for those who aren’t good at math,” a strong background in math is also suggested for those who wish to become research technicians. It is also recommended for undergraduate students who are planning on applying to graduate school to become an assistant to a research technician or professors working on fieldwork (this is also applicable to the social sciences). As of May 2011, the average annual salary is $42,290.
While basic biology classes are required for number six on the list, it is not necessary for one to have a four-year degree in biology to become a veterinary technician. A high school degree, two-year associates degree in veterinary technology, and 16-20 hours of observation at a veterinary hospital are the main requirements to gain the skills to go into this field. If the student has an interest in becoming a veterinarian themselves, then they may go on to earn a four-year degree in animal sciences. The average annual salary is $22,040.
Seventh on the list is medical assistant, which is more of an administrative job than any others on the list so far. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, no formal training is required for this position other than a high school diploma. Main tasks include updating patient information, processing bills, and scheduling appointments. This makes you wonder why a graduate with a degree in biology would want to go for a job such as this. The average annual salary is $28,860.
The eighth profession on the list, medical research assistant bares similarity to the duties of an R&D technician. They assist in the set up and documentation of researching diseases and development of new drugs in hospitals and university labs. Often, this position is filled by medical students looking for a part-time job and experience in their field while still in school — not exactly ideal for recent graduates. They are usually hired on a temporary contract or for one specific research project that will only last a limited amount of time. As of 2012, the average annual salary is $34,299.
Ninth on the list is research technician, a position that also requires assisting scientists as well as making sure that their laboratory is stocked with the materials and equipment necessary for experiments. Similarly to the previously listed positions, this one also involves writing reports on experiments as well as observing and collecting samples. A degree in biology or chemistry as well as possessing strong math skills is required for this position. The national average annual salary is $35,000.
Last on the list of top jobs gained by biology majors is pharmacy technician. Their job is to help pharmacists dispense prescription medication in pharmacies. In 16 states, people are required to take a certification test in order to work in this position, but 42 states regulate their technicians. The regulations in these 42 states differ from state to state, so in order to obtain more information on it, one must contact their state’s board of pharmacy. While an education of one to two years from a pharmacy technology program is preferred, no prior background in biological sciences is absolutely required for this position. The average annual salary is $28,400.
Despite the fact that many basic biology jobs do not require a degree in the field, technician jobs in the scientific field are in high demand in the United States. The American Medical Academy tells us that there is a shortage of laboratory professionals in nearly all of the country, with 44 percent of labs having trouble finding people to fill these kinds of positions. It is estimated that by 2014, the country will need an additional 81,000 medical technologists. For young adults who have just earned their degree in biology, now that is good news.