10 Great Jobs for People With Biology Degrees—Because You Don’t Have to Be a Biologist was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
If you have a biology degree—or you’re about to get one—you may feel like there are only a few jobs that you’re suited for, and almost all of them require further schooling. But as a biology major, you’re qualified for a number of jobs both inside and outside of a lab or a hospital—even if you don’t want to attend professional or graduate school.
When you think of yourself strictly as a biologist, you might be unnecessarily limiting what careers you can have, says Josh Henkin, PhD, founder of STEM Career Services. Apart from scientific knowledge and background, “students in the biological sciences have unique skills that make them great employees in any work setting,” says Kasey Johnson, Employer Engagement Coordinator for Career Services at the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
In addition to the traditional lecture classes most majors require, biology majors must take a number of laboratory-based classes. They have experience researching and forming plans, following protocols, troubleshooting problems, working with groups, and analyzing the results of their work in order to successfully perform experiments. This translates into a number of transferable skills, or skills that are valuable across a number of workplaces and employment scenarios, including:
- Problem solving
- Critical thinking
- Developing, testing, and iterating on a hypothesis
- Literature review
- Data collection and analysis
- Laboratory research and safety techniques
- Understanding and communicating complex scientific and medical topics
What jobs are biology majors qualified for with these skills? Here are 10—and many don’t require any graduate school to land an entry-level role.
Average research associate salary: $53,790
Research associates—also called lab technicians, research assistants, and clinical technicians, among many other titles—conduct tests and experiments in a laboratory setting, often as assistants to research scientists. They can work in academic labs at universities and in medical labs in hospitals, clinics, or other testing facilities. Or they might work for research and pharmaceutical companies; biological, chemical, and food manufacturers; or any other organization that has a laboratory.
Biology majors are well suited for these jobs because of the laboratory experience required by your coursework and the knowledge of research techniques and data analysis skills you gained as a result. You’ll also use your problem solving abilities and communication skills to navigate work within a lab since you’re typically working as part of a team and often trying to find new solutions or troubleshoot problems.
Research associates might choose to go back to school and get a PhD or master’s degree so that they can conduct their own research or hold a higher position within a lab, or they might become a lab manager who coordinates the work, maintains supplies and equipment, and sets procedures within a research laboratory.
Quality control inspectors and analysts monitor the manufacturing of products and make sure that procedures and safety regulations are being followed. Biology majors are especially qualified to do this work at companies producing drugs, vaccines, or any other product where the manufacturing process involves chemicals or requires an aseptic environment. Quality control professionals might also be in charge of monitoring and maintaining the equipment needed for the manufacturing or testing processes.
As a bio major, you’re well versed in basic laboratory procedures and “understand the importance of reviewing the regulations which govern the industry,” says DeNea R. Conner, founder of Advice Tank and a former biology major who has worked in operations, quality control, and management for several leading pharmaceutical corporations and who has hired biology majors for a number of positions. While some quality control jobs only require a high school diploma, those that deal with biology or chemistry usually call for a biology, chemistry, or similar degree.
In addition to monitoring the production of biological and chemical products such as medications, vaccines, and food components, biology majors are also especially suited to manufacturing them. Biological and chemical items—especially those that go into the human body—often need to be produced in a laboratory and/or a sterile setting, a type of process biology majors are familiar with from their lab classes. Putting together these products—or a chemical component of one—typically involves following laboratory protocols and using a number of experimental techniques biology majors likely learned to do in school.
A biology major can also prepare you to work in the assembly of other products, including cars, tech gadgets, or almost any item you can think of. Right now, manufacturing jobs are some of the hardest jobs for companies to fill, Henkin says. The field is becoming more and more technical, and many assembly workers don’t have the required training, but biology majors do. There are also a number of other jobs in the pharmaceutical and biologic manufacturing industry that you’re suited for as a bio major, such as supply chain management and logistics.
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Average medical writer salary: $72,850
Medical and science writers write about healthcare and other scientific topics in advertisements, training manuals, informational pamphlets, articles, and more. They could be writing for a number of audiences, such as doctors and pharmacists, marketers and advertisers, salespeople, manufacturers, or the general public.
For example, as a medical writer, you might write instructions for a piece of laboratory equipment for those who will be using it or a description of the effects of a new drug for a pamphlet for patients. You might work for a pharmaceutical company, a healthcare provider, or a nonprofit organization looking to educate people about a health or science topic. Or you might report and write about health and science for a newspaper, magazine, or another publication (online or in print).
Science and medical writers need to understand complex concepts and communicate them clearly to their intended audience, making this a great job for a bio major with some writing chops.
Average salary for policy analysts: $59,733
Science and health policy analysts research, analyze, and evaluate outcomes of possible or existing laws or government programs related to health, medicine, the environment, or any other scientific issue, such as a new environmental regulation or a proposed Medicaid expansion. As a policy analyst, you can work for a nonprofit; a science society or other membership-driven organization; the federal, state, or local government; or any organization involved in lobbying. If you’re interested in federal policy, most jobs are in Washington, DC and the surrounding areas.
You may be able to find an entry-level policy position with just a bachelor’s degree in biology (and the federal government and many state and city governments have special programs and fellowships to allow you to do just that), but to move up in your career you might need further schooling.
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Marketing coordinators create or assist in the creation of marketing campaigns. They also conduct market research and analyze results of different marketing initiatives.
Biology majors have the research and analysis skills needed for these positions, but they also have the background knowledge needed to work in marketing specifically in the science, health, and biotechnology spaces. You can work for a marketing agency or for a company that does its own marketing such as a nonprofit, pharmaceutical company, biotech company, telehealth organization, or a health tech startup.
As a biology major, you already “speak their language,” Henkin says. And if you have strong communication skills, you’ll be able to break down complex science topics in a way that makes the company’s products marketable and easy to understand.
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Public health program managers design, implement, coordinate, oversee, and evaluate health programs that may seek to increase public awareness of a health topic, provide access to social and community services, or strengthen the overall health of the public. You might work for a government agency, hospital, university, nonprofit, or other NGO (non-governmental organization) to implement programs locally, or if you’d like to help people around the world, you can work for an international health or international development organization.
Program managers need to have good analytical, interpersonal, and organizational skills as well as background knowledge in the subject their programs cover, making this a good fit for biology majors. You might be able to find entry-level program management positions with just a bachelor’s degree in biology, but many entry- or higher-level jobs will require a master’s degree in public health, biology, or similar.
Pharmaceutical and medical device sales representatives go into doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities to sell their products to medical professionals.
Biology majors are especially suited to these sales professions because “they understand the science behind the product being sold,” Conner says, which helps them make a stronger case for what they’re selling—for example, a new medication or a type of MRI machine—and ensures that the information they’re sharing with medical professionals is accurate.
If you’re a biology major who wants a job where you get to interact with a lot of people, this is a great choice. Plus, pharmaceutical and medical device sales are two of the highest-paying sales jobs, partially due to the potential to earn commissions and bonuses.
Research scientists review past and current research, formulate and test hypotheses, conduct tests and experiments, and analyze and present their findings. Research scientists are responsible for everything from developing new medications and vaccines to combating climate change to tracking and preserving endangered species to creating new technologies. Most research scientists—including biologists, chemists, and pharmacologists—work in a laboratory setting, but for some specialities, such as wildlife biology, ecology, or atmospheric chemistry, large amounts of research happen “in the field.”
Biology majors are especially suited for these careers by design—their classes provide the background knowledge and their lab work teaches them the techniques and procedures they’ll use and build on throughout their careers. However, to become a research scientist, biology majors need to obtain a master’s degree (approximately two years) and a PhD (approximately four to six years) or just a PhD in their chosen area of specialization—for example, neurobiology, instrumental chemistry, biochemistry, or computational biology. To work for a university, post-doctorate programs are usually required and can last from one to five years. Research scientists can also work for private research companies (known as “in industry); for the government; or for museums, zoos, and other educational facilities.
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Average salary for doctors in general practice: $154,220 (general practice is just one example; salaries are highly variable based on specialty)
It should come as no surprise that medicine is a top career choice for biology majors. Doctors diagnose and treat patients, perform tests and medical procedures, and stay on top of the latest research in their fields. Depending on their specialties, doctors might also perform surgery, administer anesthesiology and other drugs, or read and interpret scans and test results, among many other responsibilities. Doctors often work long hours, and the job can be extremely stressful.
A biology major provides the background knowledge and most or all of the prerequisite courses needed to take the MCAT and attend medical school. After four years of medical school, doctors must also complete a residency in their desired specialty, which can last from three to seven years, and some choose to do an additional fellowship after residency to further specialize. If you’d like to do clinical research as a medical doctor, you may have to also obtain a PhD or attend a specific MD/PhD program.
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If none of the jobs on this list speak to you as a biology major, keep in mind that this is just a small sampling and by no means everything you’re qualified for. “We see biology majors graduating and going on to great careers in many different fields,” Johnson says. In addition to these jobs, students also go on to work in “scientific education (at an environmental learning center or science museum), park services, healthcare, forestry, biotechnology, genetic counseling, and more.” You might also choose to attend a professional school to become a physical or occupational therapist, a dentist, or a pharmacist. But really, whatever interests you, Johnson says, you’ll be able to learn the new skills you need on the job or through training because bio majors are adaptable, critical thinkers.