The field of biology has a variety of opportunities at all levels of training and experience. It is impossible to list all the occupations in which one finds biology graduates.
Opportunities will change from year to year according to the interest of present day society, to the vagaries of federal support, and to world wide events. In any case, there are four major paths often followed by graduates with biological sciences majors:
- graduate school for advanced degrees (e.g. MA, MS, Ph.D.) in one of the subdivisions of biology or in an interdisciplinary program,
- health professionals programs including training to become a physician, nurse, dentist, medical technologist, physical therapist, radiologist, veterinarian, and other related health care programs,
- teaching in elementary or secondary schools, and
- direct entry environmental/resource management work.
The specific planning and actions necessary to follow one of these paths will vary greatly. See your adviser or the appropriate faculty member for direction or guidance. Often there is an elaborate process, whereas at other times, only personal contact through the professor to the prospective employer is necessary. It is wise to gather as much information as possible during the sophomore year because some requirements may need to be fulfilled during the junior or senior year. Generally, if you prepare for one of these paths and wish to change your orientation in your junior or senior year, you will not eliminate other options, though you may find it difficult to complete your degree and prepare for the chosen track in four years; in the worst case scenario you may need to stay in college two semesters longer, so advanced planning is critical.
The following suggestions may assist you in planning your career:
1. Graduate School
Information about many graduate programs is posted on the Post-graduate Opportunities bulletin board outside the Biology Department office. Applications are usually accepted during the winter of the senior year, so GRE scores should be available at this time. Admissions are usually determined by GPA, especially in science courses, by Advanced Biology and Aptitude (general) scores of the GRE, and by letters of recommendation. It is also very important that a student show evidence of capability in research; for example, a senior honors project, a 396/496 project, or a summer activity. A well-written report is an excellent selling point. A graduate school is more likely to accept a person who shows a definite direction in a particular field rather than one who is only interested in biology in general. High levels of motivation and ability to think critically and independently are perhaps the most desirable characteristics.
Admission to graduate school usually means that financial help is available as a research assistantship, teaching assistantship, scholarship, or fellowship. Beware, however. Some universities are now admitting graduate students without providing financial support or even tuition waivers.
2. Health Sciences
At least by the end of the sophomore year you should be aware of course requirements for the particular schools to which you expect to apply. The admission tests for the professional schools are usually taken in the spring of the junior year or one year prior to expected entrance. Be sure to attend meetings for pre-health professions students because important information is often made available. For example, several programs (WAMI, WICHI, etc.) exist that make professional schools more affordable.
3. Teaching in Elementary or Secondary Schools
A student must plan well in advance of graduation to become certified to teach in the public schools. This can be done by planning with the Education department. Normally, PSY-221 or EDU-199 would be the first course taken in education to prepare for this career track. If the scheduling of classes is arranged in the sophomore year, it is possible to major in biology and be certified within the four years; however, some students prefer to take another semester in order to have a less strenuous but better rounded program.
4. Direct-entry Environmental/Resource Management Work
Although a greater spectrum of career opportunities are usually open to graduate (e.g. Masters) degrees, many direct entry positions in this field are open to BA and BS biologists. Some governmental agencies that hire biologists (e.g. Soil Conservation Service and Bureau of Land Management) have programs to fund undergraduate studies in exchange for a commitment to career work in certain fields. As in other disciplines, careful planning beginning in the sophomore year will insure that you become well qualified to compete for field biology positions. Demonstration of good organizational, record keeping, and report writing skills and an ability to think critically and independently, as well as the ability to conduct independent field work, are selling points. Consequently, careful planning of your independent research or honors project will be useful in preparation for this career track.
Recent graduates in this department have continued their education in a variety of professions, technical schools, and areas of specialized employment. The following partial list of other jobs and professional work may be helpful. Graduates over the years have been successful in these and other jobs:
- Park Service
- Biotechnology Research Assistant
- Genetic Counseling
- Museum Curation
- Herbarium Assistant
- Peace Corps, Civil Service
- Scientific Journalism
- Veterinary Medicine
- Bureau of Land Management
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Division of Environmental Quality
- Military Services
- Scientific Illustration
- Industrial Research
- Space Technology
- Game Management (State / Federal)
- Field Research Technician
- Food Service Management and Food Inspection
- Horticulture and Greenhouse Management