How to Become a Biologist: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


Biologists are scientists that study life—everything from whales to oak trees to the smallest bacteria. They make careful observations of plants, animals, and ecosystems, then collect and analyze data to expand our knowledge of living things and their environments. Biology is demanding but rewarding, requiring many years of advanced study, a deep knowledge of a specialist field, and the creativity to come up with new ideas to test.


Annual salaries for biologists will vary depending on your experience, education level, and expertise. Salaries also depend on your field of specialty. Here are average annual salaries for some kinds of biologists working in the 2013:

  • Zoologists and wildlife biologists: $62,610 per year
  • Microbiologists: $75,230 per year
  • Conservation scientists: $63,330 per year
  • Biochemists and biophysicists: $91,640 per year

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for biologists, click through to our Best Places to Work tab for information on the number of people employed and the average salary in each state.

Discover the Best States to Work in Biology

California has the most biologists in the nation in every specialty except for conservation science. Biochemists and microbiologists in the state make an average wage of $101,750 and $91,400 respectively—a good deal higher than the nationwide average for those positions.

Texas has the highest levels of employment for conservation scientists, who earn an average salary of $55,300 in 1,740 positions statewide.

Employment and Salary Information for biologists

Use our interactive map below to find out which areas of the United States are currently experiencing the greatest amount of growth and job availability for graduates looking for a career as a biologist. The associated information has been gathered from Bureau of Labor statistics, representing data collected in 2012.

Employment and Information Data for Biology

Why Become A Biologist?

Discoveries in biology have transformed our understanding of nature and ourselves. Many of these discoveries have led to breakthroughs in medicine that have improved countless lives. As a biologist, you could contribute discoveries of your own, but there are other perks, too:

  • Collaboration and Teamwork. The lone scientist is a thing of the past (if they ever existed). Work with colleagues in your own and other specialties to make discoveries.
  • It pays well. Every specialty we’ve listed makes, on average, more than $60,000 per year. Many make even more than that.
  • Practical work. Depending on your field of specialty, as a biologist you spend a lot of time either out in the field making observations, or designing and conducting laboratory experiments. You’re not stuck to a desk.
  • Contribute to scientific knowledge. Like any scientist, a biologist is trying to find the answers to questions no one has ever asked before.
  • Be a published author. Biologists publish research papers about their findings in scientific journals.

Biology: What You Need To Know

Biologists obtain funding for research projects from business and government, conduct projects involving observations in the field or laboratory experiments, analyze the data they obtain, and then write up and publish the results in scientific papers. All these steps require considerable skills and knowledge. A basic working knowledge of these skill sets will help to set you apart from other candidates.

  • Exceptional Knowledge of Biology
  • Mathematical Skills
  • Fieldwork or Laboratory Skills
  • Critical Thinking Skills
  • Creativity

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about biology careers, degrees, and applicable courses from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for Biology Careers

Bachelor’s Degree

Many colleges and universities across the nation offer biology. There are some entry-level positions for bachelor’s degree holders, but most biologists hold master’s degrees or PhDs.

There are many specialist fields in biology, and if you major in biology as an undergraduate you’ll be exposed to many of them. You may also be able to get a supervised research position at your university, giving you basic laboratory experience or even published research, which will make you more employable.

Master’s Degree

Master’s degrees usually take one to two years, and will allow you to develop more advanced knowledge and specialize further in biology. To conduct research, most biologists need a PhD in their particular field, or a combination of a Master’s degree and extensive experience in the field.


A PhD is a big commitment, requiring at least 5 years, although many students take even longer. If you do pursue this path, though, you’ll conduct your own original research, get a strong grounding in many areas of biology, and may have the opportunity to teach. It’s also the best possible grounding for many biology jobs.