Career Advice for Job Seekers

What to do with my degree: Biology jobs and salaries

Anna Peters AvatarAnna Peters
November 27, 2017


Biology is one of the most popular college majors. What kinds of biology jobs are out there for you? We heard from Dr. Jeffrey S. Heilveil, who chairs the Biology Department at SUNY College at Oneonta. He has observed Biology students over the years, and has deep insight into what their options are, and where their strengths and weaknesses are. We’ve quoted his insight below.

What makes a Biology major worth it

JH: The sheer wonder of the natural world.  There are millions of questions to be answered, and each time we answer one, we find a dozen more.  Evolution has, over long periods of time, favored workarounds for many environmental challenges.  The similarities and differences in how organisms deal with these challenges are fascinating.  Whether your interest is in physiology, biomechanics, ecology, biochemistry, or conservation, there is new knowledge waiting to be sought.  It evokes that pioneering spirit of seeking into the unknown.

Common misconceptions about majoring in Biology

Dr. Jeffrey S. Heilveil: People often feel that it is too hard, or that they have to be “pre-health” to be a Biology major.  Honestly, I feel that many students see “pre-health” as the only viable career choice and this really isn’t true at all.  Many students seem to think it’s a good option if they are afraid of math, and they are mistaken.

Skills that Biology majors tend to have 

Biology students have many career optionsJH: At least at SUNY, Biology students learn two things. First, they learn to apply information and second, they learn how to perform current laboratory techniques.  As a minimum, all our students who graduate have repeated practice with applying knowledge to novel situations and how to analyze data to interpret trends.  At the same time, they learn DNA extraction, PCR, protein analysis techniques, and basic dissection, and that’s just in our core sequence.  At the upper level, depending on their specialty and focus in elective courses, they may perform neurobiology experiments, go electrofishing, or even do population genetic analyses.

Skills that Biology majors need to work on 

JH: Many students shy away from opportunities to improve their quantitative skills.  This is a poor choice, as a keen understanding of mathematics is fundamental in Biology, whether you are interested in how long medications remain in the bloodstream, or how much genetic diversity is needed to maintain a stable population.

Scientific endeavors are about picking the rare success out of a sea of failed experiments.  However, I have seen that many students across multiple majors lack the ability to cope with failure.

In graduate school or in a career, there is a grit, or resilience, that is critical to success. Most students play it safe, as they are too worried about their GPA, and not worried enough about the learning experience.

How Biology majors can build necessary skills 

JH: The most important thing that any Bio student can do is to actively engage in their subfield of interest.  If you think you want to be a doctor, go shadow a doctor.  See what the job is like when they aren’t with patients.  If you want to be a molecular biologist, get into the lab.  If you are interested in ecology, do some field research.  That hands-on experience will show you what the career is really like.  It will let you learn, in a safe environment, how to recover from failures.  It will give you practice with the everyday quantitative skills that professional biologists use.

Perhaps most importantly, shadowing a professional will either invigorate you for your career choice, or it will help you realize you need to focus elsewhere.  In our program, we feel so strongly about the importance of these experiences that we have made them a required part of the major.

Entry-level jobs for Biology students

Entry level biology jobsJH: While many Biology students continue on to graduate education, whether traditional graduate schools or professional programs, a good number of other students obtain positions in molecular biology laboratories, forensic labs (if they have research experience with DNA), and doing work for state and federal agencies.  Seasonal work with a government agency is actually a great option for students who want an excuse to travel around, or quickly tire of a single task.  Other students go on to work with NGOs after they graduate, bringing their science to the community at-large.

Multiple fields open to Biology majors

Joanne Meehl, career consultant at Joanne Meehl Career Services, and a member of College Recruiter’s Panel of Experts, has helped many students and grads find careers that fit their interests. She says that Biology graduates have many fields and roles available to them, including biomedical, medical devices, defense, chemical, pharma, sustainable resources, climate change impact, health care, bioinformatics, and biometric authentication.

Salaries for biology related entry-level jobs

These are national averages, provided by glassdoor:

  • Forensic Lab jobs: $116,403
  • Molecular Biologist: $62,634
  • Research Assistant: $42,114
  • Biomedical Scientist: $64,000
  • Medical Device Sales: $65,262
  • Pharmaceutical Scientist: $65,973
  • Microbiologist: $48.484
  • Computational Biologist: $101,545
  • Environmental Project Manager: $83,134
  • Biology Professor: $62,393
  • High School Biology Teacher: $48,803

Also read our other blogs in the series about different majors and students’ career options: 

Entry-level business jobs: Your business major isn’t a shoo-in

What to do with my degree: Psychology jobs and salaries

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