Biology is the scientific study of living organisms and their environment, it is the study of everything that is alive. The work of biologists builds our knowledge of the natural world, helping us face threats to the environment and combat disease. They study how life functions, the relationships between different lifeforms and the evolutionary process. The field offers immense potential to enhance human life and health.
Biological science is required in a wide variety of industries. In medicine increasing understanding of genetics is opening new avenues for treatment, with the potential to save lives and enhance patient’s quality of life. In agriculture, crop and livestock farming is aided by biological techniques. Even staple foods such as bread and cheese are the product of centuries of biological experimentation. But the applications can get more complex, ranging up to genetically modified crops.
Understanding the world around us requires research that ranges from small to large scale. This means biologists may study life at the molecular level or commit to developing an understanding of entire environmental systems. This variety equips those who’ve studied and work in biological science with a broad skillset, but it requires significant preparation and most working in the field science spent many years studying.
Biologists work in universities, laboratories and industry. They may be focused on research, developing our understanding of biological processes. Others will work in industry or healthcare settings, seeking to develop drugs, pesticides, vaccines or policies that can help protect humans, animals and plants.
The number of options facing those with a biology degree can be overwhelming, with opportunities in areas as diverse as education, medical research, journalism, veterinary science and many more.While they share common skills the potential career paths involving biological science vary greatly in prospects, work life balance, specialisation, academic requirements and salaries, so careful thought about your interests and ambitions is needed before embarking on a route.
Many career paths in the field are competitive with advanced roles requiring a very high skill level, this means practical experience and advanced degrees, especially masters and PhD’s, can be important. As well as giving you a good basis for building your career, they will help you decide which speciality is most suitable to you.
Perhaps the most important work experience for someone studying biology is of working in a laboratory, especially if you are considering working in research or industry settings. Familiarity with lab equipment, safety procedures and work practices will be a great asset in finding your first job and help you make an informed decision.
An education in biology is in demand in many areas of the economy. You could find yourself working in sectors as diverse as conservation, healthcare research, secondary school education, public policy or pharmaceutical sales.
Depending on the sector you practice in you will be using your skills to achieve very different ends. In healthcare the work of biologists is involved at every step, whether in designing methods used to diagnose patients or researching the medicines used in treatment. A biologist working with the environment may research novel means of cleaning polluted rivers or implement practical measures to protect plants and animals. Biologists help maintain health and safety standards in food production, whether it’s applying their understanding of life processes to preventing food contamination or ensuring the safe disposal of waste.
Existing at the intersection of technology and biology, biotechnology deals with the use of living organisms or systems in a practical manner. Biotechnology is an increasingly important area in which biological science is being used to create medical devices, food production methods, energy and even construction materials.
Skills and Abilities
The skills taught in biology courses prepare the student for a wide variety of jobs, both in science and beyond. Studying biology will provide you an opportunity to develop a range of skills beyond the core science skills of conducting experiments and using scientific equipment. For example, an education in experimentation will develop your ability to gather, organize, and analyse data, which is valuable in many careers.
Biologists can solve complex mathematical and statistical problems, most will do so regularly in the course of their work. Their work demands a deep understanding of biological knowledge and scientific methods and a successful biologist will be able to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to apply this knowledge successfully. Other characteristics essential to success include precision, attention to detail and an ability to think systematically.