What to do with a biology degree besides medical school?

Get a biology degree is an important step towards getting more advanced degrees or to get a job in the short term. 

Commonly, a biology degree is a necessary step to get into medical school, which is a top career selection in many countries.  What to do with a biology degree besides medical school?

Many options offer you a respectable and interesting professional life. For some jobs, you will not need additional formal education, but for others, you will have to. 

But let us start by clarifying what is a biology degree?

What do you need to get a biology degree?

A biology degree is an academic program that is pursued after finishing high school. It deals with the assessment of living beings and their interaction with other living, non-living beings, and the whole environment. 

Biology is an ever-growing field; hence, it incorporates numerous disciplines in its curricula; besides, professionals with a biology degree are expected to fill specific requirements of each country or region.   

Biology courses start with key subjects comprising the following topics, generally during the program first year:

  • Evolution.
  • Applied mathematics and physics.
  • Cell theory; cell morphology and chemistry.
  • Molecular biology.
  • Genetics, gene theory.
  • Physiology; biological adaptation.
  • Homeostasis.

After getting this general but comprehensive training, you will select an area of specialization, such as:

  • Microscopic or macroscopic anatomy.
  • Biophysics.
  • Biochemistry, cell, and molecular biology, genetics.
  • Computation and biology.
  • Physiology.
  • Evolution theory, ecology, marine biology, zoology.
  • Nutrition.
  • The biological basis of forensic science.
  • Theoretical biology. 

You will spend your time between laboratory training and theoretical courses. Typical biology courses last 3 or 4 years, but some programs offer an abroad fourth-year extension with work opportunities. In some colleges thus, you may get a master’s degree in biology, instead of a bachelor’s degree.  

What can you do with a biology degree?      

Not all countries, colleges, or universities offer biology degrees. In countries where it does not exist, for instance in South America, you go directly from high school to specific Faculties, such as Law, Medicine, Engineering.   

In the United States and many European countries, after you get a biology degree, you may take different professional paths. One preferred option is to apply for Medical School. Since the biology degree provides extensive training of potential use for doctors, medical institutions favor applicants with such an academic background. A bachelor’s biology degree is the most common background that applicants to medical schools have. 

Given that biology is inherently related to medicine, one would expect that a biology bachelor’s degree is the best predicting pre-med degree for getting a place in medical school.   Surprisingly, this is not the case. While biology was among the best predictors, number one was a bachelor’s degree in humanities. 

But if you are not planning to go into Medical School, you have many professional options. Some of them require additional courses; others may allow you to enter directly into the job market, such as microbiology and wild-life biologists. As expected, the more extensive and complex the additional training that you need, the higher the salary that you may anticipate.  

What can you do with a biology degree when not entering medical school?   

What follows is a list of professions you may engage in after getting your biology degree. I will add some of the requirements you might be requested for entering those professions and the expected salary you might get.   It is implicit that your biological background will improve your performance in such a new activity. 

  1. Microbiologist: annual average salary (AS) = $ 69,960; typical education level (TEL) = bachelor’s degree. You can work in research centers, drug manufacturers, and government agencies. 
  2. Environmental scientist: AS = $ 69,400;   TEL = bachelor’s degree. You can work in public or private agencies for environmental protection and development.  
  3. Agricultural and food scientist: AS = $ 62,910;   TEL = bachelor’s degree. You can work in agencies that look for improved scientifically based agricultural practices.   
  4. Conservation scientist: AS = $ 60,970;   TEL = bachelor’s degree but may become specialized. You can work in public or private agencies managing land quality and natural resources.  
  5. Genetic counselor: AS = $ 43,000;   TEL = master’s degree in general genetics or genetic counseling. You will assist people in weighing the risk of having children when inheritance is an issue. You will work alone but in general associated with a medical team. 
  6. Dietitian nutritionist: AS = $ 51,000. TEL = bachelor’s degree, but you have to pass an exam to get a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist title. You will work alone or be associated with a medical team, assisting people with health practices, disease prevention, and treatment.  
  7. Medical sales representative: AS = $ 55,000. TEL = bachelor’s degree. Your expertise in biology will aid in improving the credibility of your enterprise and communication with the targeted professionals. 
  8. Financial analyst: AS = $ 61,000;   TEL = bachelor’s degree, but additional training may be necessary. You may work in financial institutions dealing with health, retirement, and medical issues such as banks, mutual funds, insurance, and environment protection. Your training in biology may be highly appreciated by administrators and executives when making decisions with issues out of their expertise. 
  9. Forensic scientist: AS = $ 58,000;   TEL = bachelor’s degree, but additional studies may be required. You will work in crime investigation, either in the field or in the laboratory.
  10. Writer: AS = $ 61,820;   TEL = bachelor’s degree. You may work as a private writer in popular or specialized scientific topics or private or public institutions with educational goals.  A prominent example is Matt Ridley, a British biologist, trained in zoology, who became a writer and journalist. His books are desk references for natural scientists, philosophers, and the general public.   
  11. Archeologist: AS = $ 62,280;   TEL = you may need a master’s degree. You can work in public or private institutions studying the history and/or evolution of cultural or biological issues.  
  12. Wild-life biologist: AS = $ 62,290;   TEL = bachelor’s degree but may become specialized. You can work in public or private agencies assessing animal behavior, preserving endangered species, and implementing protection practices. 
  13. Health communications specialist: AS = $ 63,000; TEL = bachelor’s degree, but you may need additional training. You will work with public or private institutions dealing with health promotion, prevention, and treatment. It is expected that you will produce educational products for clients and the public media.  
  14. Registered nurse: AS = $ 70,000;   TEL = specific education and certification in nursing. There are certification courses for highly specialized nurses, such as those working in cardiovascular and neurological surgery. You can work in public or private agencies managing patient care and education.  
  15. Biology teachers: AS = $ 76,000;   TEL = you may have a bachelor’s or master’s degrees and even a doctorate level.  You may teach biology in high school or college. It is expected increased demand for biology teachers in the next quinquennial in the next five years in the United States.   
  16. Medical scientist: AS = $ 82,090;   TEL = doctorate degree. You can work in public or private institutions researching to improve knowledge, prevention, and treatment of diseases.   
  17. Biomedical engineer: AS = $ 80,000; TEL = master’s or doctorate’ degree. Your training in biology will improve your skills in the design, setting, and maintenance of artificial devices for health promotion and treatment.   
  18. Veterinarian: AS = $ 90,420;   TEL = doctorate degree. You can work in public or private institutions dealing with health promotion and disease treatment in different kinds of animals. Your work is essential in enterprises devoted to animal-based food production.  
  19. Biochemist of biophysicist: AS = $ 91,190;   TEL = doctorate. You can work in diverse institution types devoted to studying the physical and chemical foundations of life. 
  20. Medical and health systems manager: AS = $ 100,980; TEL = master’s degree in finances. You will evaluate, supervise, and hire health professionals and researchers, and will stand in a key position in your enterprise. 
  21. Physician assistant: AS = $ 104,860;   TEL = medical education. You will assist physicians in examining, diagnosing, and treating patients.   
  22. Optometrist: AS = $ 110,300;   TEL = doctorate. You will assess and treat the visual system particularly in situations requiring glass prescription.  You can work in a stand-alone clinic or as part of a medical team.   
  23. Pharmacist: AS = $ 124,170;   TEL = doctorate in pharmacology or related fields. You will have a profession with a high demand for working in hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and drug stores.  
  24. Podiatrist: AS = $ 127,740;   TEL = doctorate, with internship and residence training. You will work alone or in a medical team taking care of a very delicate bodily part that may be affected by numerous diseases. A prominent example is the foot problems in people with diabetes.   
  25. Patent attorney: AS = $ 137,000; TEL = doctorate. You will work in companies dealing with drug and medical instrument manufacturing and environmental protection. Your biological background will allow you to be an optimal bridge between conflicting parties.  
  26. Dentist: AS = $ 158,120;   TEL = doctorate. This is a high-rank profession where biological knowledge can make a difference between an average dentist and a top one. 

So, how worthy is to get a biology degree?

You will find two opposite answers to this question. The first is realistic; the second is rather pessimistic.

  • A degree in biology may be a step to improve your credentials for entering medical or dentistry school. If you will pursue a career as a scientist in biological issues, that degree may be essential. In this case, you will need additional training and degrees. Given the massive amount of theoretical and practical knowledge that a biology degree implies, you will have many worthy career options, but surely you will have to take additional courses.   
  • It is worthless indeed if you get it to go to graduate or medical school. But if you are not planning to go into post-graduate education, that degree in biology maybe 99% useless. 

These two contradictory answers illustrate how controversial the issue of getting a biology degree may be. When you are not planning to enter medical school, the biology degree gives you several valuable and profitable professional options. Some of them do no require additional studies, but most do. In all cases, biological training improves your skills and competence range, even though your job is set far from the biological field. 

References (in addition to linked text above)

Fernandes JD, Sarabipour S, Smith CT, Niemi NM, Jadavi N, Kozik A, et al. A survey-based analysis of the academic job market. eLife. 2020; 9: e54097. Published online 2020 Jun 12. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.54097

Allwood JS, Fierer N, Dunn RR. The Future of Environmental DNA in Forensic Science. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2020; 86(2): e01504-19.

Baptista T, Aldana E, Angeles F, Delgado H. Teaching evolution to psychiatrists, other medical specialists, and medical students: a pilot study. Canadian J Med Educ. 2012; 3 (2): el27-el37.  

Baptista T, Aldana, Abramson Ch. Arthur Schopenhauer and the current conception of the origin of species: What did the philosopher anticipate? Sage Open; 2019. Enero-Marzo, 1-15.