If you're graduating from college with a biology major, you may wonder, "what can you do with a biology degree?" Earning a STEM degree will show employers that you are logical and hard-working.
Chances are high that you'll be able to find a job that pays well; biological scientists make an average salary of $69,000 or more. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 8–11% job growth over the next decade for many life, physical and social science occupations.
According to Nicole Mitchell, president and lead consultant at HR Biz in Atlanta, biology majors have plenty of options. "For graduates not pursuing graduate or professional degrees, there are great opportunities with pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and laboratories, whether private, university or hospital-based."
The job opportunities are as diverse as biology itself, so you'll want to develop a strategy for finding the right fit for you and your career goals. Mitchell says knowing what sort of work you like is important.
If you enjoy detail-oriented work that focuses on long-term projects, then research lab jobs are a smart option. If you're more results driven, investigate jobs at places such as clinical labs, pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms and cosmetic and food industries.
Go where the jobs are
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California, Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts and Florida are the states with the highest employment levels in biology-related fields. Look closely at the numbers to zero-in on other states and metro areas that have high concentrations of jobs for biology majors, indicating an industry cluster.
Based on these statistics, here are a few areas that job-hunting biology majors should keep in mind, whether you already live nearby or you're open to relocating:
Silver Spring, Maryland. This city in suburban Washington, DC, has a growing number of jobs in life sciences with an average wage of $69,492 in 2019. It's also where you'll find the headquarters for federal government agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, along with private firms like United Therapeutics, all of which are major job providers. The benefit of having a thriving industry sector is the potential for growing your career without having to relocate again later.
Cambridge, Massachusetts. Just outside Boston, Cambridge is another life sciences cluster with employers such as Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, you'll also be competing for jobs with grads from those schools.
Alaska. If you're feeling adventurous (and you don't mind the cold), The Last Frontier boasts a high proportion of jobs for biology majors. With fisheries, environmental groups and federal agencies offering a wide variety of employment options, Alaska may be an attractive option.
Be certifiably professional
One of the most important aspects of an education in a STEM field like biology is that it teaches you how to think critically and learn actively. Employers know that, and they will expect you to be able to solve complex problems.
Mitchell says companies will sometimes offer opportunities for new employees to obtain certifications and training to help you learn their framework and build upon your skills. "Training for specific fields like cytogenetics, molecular diagnostics and blood banking are often offered by companies competing for talent, where state or federal laws require certain qualifications for high complexity testing," she says.
If you're hoping to work in a specific field, show your eagerness to keep learning and grow your skills by pursuing certifications on your own. For instance, the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) provides board certification in specialty areas from cytotechnology to phlebotomy. Once you have those credentials, include them in your resume and build on them as you advance in your biology career.
If gaining additional certifications isn't practical right now, stay informed on developments in the field as best as you can. Organizations like ASCP are excellent sources of information for people at any stage of their career, and membership in a professional organization is a great thing to put on your resume. Fortunately for younger workers, these organizations often have free and reduced membership fees for students and young professionals. Look for an organization that's specific to your chosen industry or sector. Other biology-based professional groups include:
- American Institute of Biological Sciences
- Genetics Society of America
- American Fisheries Society
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
Consider civil service
When it comes to employing biology majors, the federal government has a wealth of opportunities in many science-related fields. Here are just a few options recently available:
- Medical technologist with Veterans Affairs
- Hydrologic technician with the Department of Interior
- R&D scientists at the Department of Defense
Government shutdowns notwithstanding, working for the government generally offers stability and good benefits.
To compete with the private sector and attract top talent to careers in civil service, the government has created a program for recent graduates called Pathways. Recent graduates can use Pathways to learn about federally funded internships as well as employment opportunities, all consolidated onto one site. If you're considering a job working for the federal government, Pathways can be a helpful tool to explore your options.
Whether you're hoping to work in a private lab or for a government agency, you'll need a solidly built resume that highlights your classwork and internship experience. Use LiveCareer's Resume Builder for guidance through the process of creating an effective resume that hiring managers will notice. You can also check out an Entry-Level Biologist Resume Sample for inspiration on how to get the job done.