If you are wondering how to become a biologist, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in biology, as well as science and research job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Biologists study individual living organisms (animals or plants) to advance human knowledge and understanding of areas such as the environment, genetics, and animal or plant biology. Biologist can also specialise in other fields such as:

    marine biology
    molecular biology
    As a biologist (depending on your area of interest) you could use your skills in biology in a variety of ways, for example:

    in agriculture, developing organic plants for food
    to tackle environmental issues, such as cleaning polluted rivers so fish can thrive
    in conservation, encouraging a variety of plants and animals in their natural environment
    in medicine, developing new methods to diagnose, monitor and treat illness or disease
    in industry, preventing food contamination or creating ways to safely dispose of waste.
    Your work will include designing and conducting experiments, making observations, writing up reports and publishing scientific papers based on your research.

    You would often work in a team with other scientists and technicians. Your role may also include supervising support staff and carrying out administrative work. If you are based in a university or teaching hospital you will also teach and coach students.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good biological scientists include:

    practical scientific skills and theoretical knowledge
    an enquiring mind and the ability to think clearly and logically
    good problem solving skills and a methodical approach to your work
    accuracy and attention to detail
    the ability to work in a team
    leadership skills
    excellent spoken and written communication skills
    the ability to keep up with advances in your field
    an understanding of statistics and relevant computer packages
    a willingness to carry out fieldwork.

    How to become a biologist
    To work in biology, most employers will expect you to have a relevant degree and a Masters qualification. Increasingly, you will also need experience in your area of interest before applying for your first job, and many employers expect you to have (or be working towards) a PhD.
    A wide range of subjects are relevant, however, it is important you check with course providers to make sure the subject you wish to study will prepare you for the area of work you want to get into. You can study degrees and postgraduate courses in subjects such as:

    biology or applied biology
    biological science
    plant biology
    conservation biology
    marine biology.
    Course providers can give you details of exact course entry requirements.

    The Institute of Biology (IOB) offers a range of student support initiatives and careers information. Contact the IOB in Further Information for details.

    If you have at least four GCSEs (A-C) including science, English and maths, you may be able to work in biology as a technician. However, many employers are now asking for A levels, a BTEC National, BTEC HNC/HND or a degree in a science subject.

    Training and Development
    Once you are working as a biologist you will be trained by your employer on relevant health and safety issues. You will also be expected to keep up to date with your specialist area and contribute to research and advances in your field.

    If you do not have a postgraduate qualification, many employers will encourage you to study at this level or work towards membership of a professional body, such as the IOB. The IOB has a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme, which will help you maintain and build-on your knowledge and skills.

    If you are mainly based in a lab and want recognition for your skills, you can do an NVQ Level 4 in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities.

    If you are working in biology as a technician, you could do various part-time qualifications that may help you progress in your career. Relevant qualifications include:

    NVQ levels 2 to 4 in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities
    NVQ Level 2 in Clinical Laboratory Support
    BTEC National, BTEC HNC or degree in, for example, applied science or applied biology.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Starting salaries for research biologists can be around £20,000 a year
    University lecturers can earn around £40,000
    Professors may earn up to £60,000.

    Job Prospects
    With a background in biology, you will find job opportunities in a range of areas and with a wide variety of employers in both the public and private sectors.

    As a biologist there are opportunities for work in, for example, the pharmaceutical, agricultural or food industries carrying out research and product development or scientific analysis and investigation. If your specialism is environmental biology or ecological, you may find work with zoos, charities, research institutions and agencies such as the Environment Agency.

    Your prospects for employment are good and it is possible to more your career away pure science and working in universities and research institutes towards areas such as management, teaching, the media, administration and scientific journalism.

    Useful research and science resources:
    Institute of Biology
    9 Red Lion Court
    EC4A 3EF
    Tel: 020 7936 5900

    This page is for biologist careers advice and training opportunities.

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