Home page


At a Glance

  • Study plants and animals
  • Mostly do research
  • Typically specialize in a subfield
  • Have at least a bachelor's degree
  • Work for the government, hospitals, research firms, or universities
  • Often work in a laboratory

Career summary

Biologists study plants, animals, and their environments.

There are many specialties within the biological sciences field. Common job titles include aquatic biologists, botanists, cellular biologists, biochemists, biophysicists, ecologists, entomologists, evolutionary biologists, geneticists, microbiologists, astrobiologists, and molecular biologists.

#from 2612 Biological Scientists

#4/2/19 lh

Biologists study plant and animal life ranging from single cell organisms to large animals. Their findings help solve problems, such as plant diseases or possible extinction of some animals. They also research ways to solve problems in human health.

Some biologists do basic research. They study the world to gain knowledge. Other biologists do applied research. They use knowledge gained from research to create new products or processes.

Biologists read articles and attend conferences to learn more about their research area. They determine research questions and design experiments to study those questions. Depending on the type of organism they study, biologists conduct experiments in a lab, forest, or other site.

They may work with the organisms themselves, or have research assistants do much of the work for them. If they have assistants, scientists train them how to conduct the research and keep records.

Once data is gathered, biologists analyze the data. They interpret the results and write reports. They may present their findings at conferences.

Some biologists teach at colleges and universities. If they have a teaching certificate, they can also teach at high schools.

There are several subfields in biology:

Related careers

This career is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to biologists.

Common work activities

Biologists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, biologists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Biologists frequently:

It is important for biologists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for biologists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Biologists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a biologist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

With a bachelor's degree in biology you can be a research assistant. You usually need a master's degree in biology for jobs in applied research. In biology, you study life science, chemistry, math, and computer science. You also learn to work in a lab and use computerized equipment.

You must have a doctoral degree (PhD) to lead research projects or teach at a college or university. When working on your doctoral degree you focus on an area of biology, such as microbiology or botany.

Many colleges and universities have bachelor's degree programs in biology. Fewer have doctoral and master's programs.

On-the-job training

Biologists may spend six months to a year doing on-the-job training. You learn about equipment, procedures, and goals of the lab you are working in.

Work experience

After completing a doctoral degree, some biologists work as postdoctoral fellows (postdocs). These university positions last for several years. Postdocs get experience working with other biologists. This research can lead to a teaching or research job at a university.

Military training

The military provides advanced training for some types of life scientists. However, it does not provide the training to become a biologist.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements. Biologists need a strong background in math and science. Take as many of these courses as possible.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Many employers look for applicants who have computer experience. They prefer to hire biologists who can apply computer skills to research tasks and operation of lab equipment. Employers in research and development often look for applicants who can work well as part of a team. They look for applicants with leadership skills and good oral and written skills.

Employers generally prefer applicants who have experience in the field of biology. Students can gain experience in college laboratories or through internships in industry. Many employers, especially in research, prefer to hire applicants with a PhD or at least a master's degree. Universities choose candidates based on their area of research and the quality of their published articles.

A bachelor's degree and field experience are the minimum requirements for jobs such as research assistant and laboratory technician.

Obtaining the broadest possible undergraduate background in biology and other sciences is helpful. Courses in computer science, physics, economics, chemistry, mathematics, statistics, or business administration during high school and college are very important. Most people interested in a career in this field should plan to obtain an advanced degree. However, for those who wish to work in natural resource management, practical field experience is often more important than a graduate degree.


People considering entering the biological sciences, particularly those in high school or at the undergraduate level, should gain experience through volunteer work or part-time employment working with plants or animals, such as in nurseries, hospitals, or university research programs. Younger people might explore opportunities in 4-H.

Since many positions are not advertised, meeting people in the field is very important. Attending professional meetings is one way to make contacts and obtain current information. Be willing to move to jobs in remote areas to get experience. This field changes very rapidly. You have to be flexible and ready to grow as it changes. Combining biology with math-oriented specialties like bioinformatics or business-oriented specialties like biotechnology will make you more employable.

Costs to workers

After entering this field, a worker may wish to join a professional association, which pertains to his or her area of specialization. Most associations have annual dues. Biologists may wish to subscribe to professional journals. Workers may have to pay tuition costs for continuing education.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Biochemists and biophysicists (SOC 19-1021)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $21.17 $26.09 $32.56 $41.21 $51.55
Monthly $3,669 $4,521 $5,643 $7,142 $8,934
Yearly $44,040 $54,260 $67,730 $85,710 $107,220
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $20.71 $24.89 $31.30 $37.56 $46.31
Monthly $3,589 $4,313 $5,424 $6,509 $8,026
Yearly $43,083 $51,770 $65,104 $78,126 $96,322
    Vancouver Hourly $39.67 $42.39 $46.94 $80.40 $93.21
Monthly $6,875 $7,346 $8,135 $13,933 $16,153
Yearly $82,510 $88,171 $97,651 $167,219 $193,861
United States Hourly $23.67 $30.88 $44.85 $62.48 $85.42
Monthly $4,102 $5,352 $7,773 $10,828 $14,803
Yearly $49,230 $64,230 $93,280 $129,950 $177,680

Biological scientists, all other (SOC 19-1029)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $24.14 $29.80 $38.26 $45.86 $58.19
Monthly $4,183 $5,164 $6,630 $7,948 $10,084
Yearly $50,220 $61,980 $79,590 $95,390 $121,030
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $29.96 $37.02 $44.10 $48.73 $58.26
Monthly $5,192 $6,416 $7,643 $8,445 $10,096
Yearly $62,312 $77,000 $91,744 $101,366 $121,180
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $29.53 $33.56 $37.02 $48.01 $50.61
Monthly $5,118 $5,816 $6,416 $8,320 $8,771
Yearly $61,406 $69,809 $77,009 $99,857 $105,254
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $23.77 $29.52 $39.09 $49.36 $63.18
Monthly $4,119 $5,116 $6,774 $8,554 $10,949
Yearly $49,428 $61,395 $81,308 $102,677 $131,423
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $28.04 $31.95 $37.09 $41.87 $45.47
Monthly $4,859 $5,537 $6,428 $7,256 $7,880
Yearly $58,329 $66,440 $77,148 $87,092 $94,570
    Vancouver Hourly $27.16 $34.98 $41.94 $48.29 $53.84
Monthly $4,707 $6,062 $7,268 $8,369 $9,330
Yearly $56,499 $72,761 $87,223 $100,429 $111,992
United States Hourly $21.65 $28.97 $38.27 $47.13 $60.76
Monthly $3,752 $5,021 $6,632 $8,168 $10,530
Yearly $45,030 $60,250 $79,590 $98,040 $126,390

Microbiologists (SOC 19-1022)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $18.87 $23.90 $34.56 $44.64 $58.52
Monthly $3,270 $4,142 $5,989 $7,736 $10,142
Yearly $39,260 $49,700 $71,880 $92,850 $121,730
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $21.50 $25.70 $36.10 $45.41 $59.03
Monthly $3,726 $4,454 $6,256 $7,870 $10,230
Yearly $44,723 $53,446 $75,084 $94,455 $122,778
    Vancouver Hourly $16.94 $18.96 $27.63 $35.05 $43.15
Monthly $2,936 $3,286 $4,788 $6,074 $7,478
Yearly $35,227 $39,442 $57,480 $72,901 $89,740
United States Hourly $20.11 $24.88 $34.45 $50.91 $64.21
Monthly $3,485 $4,312 $5,970 $8,823 $11,128
Yearly $41,820 $51,740 $71,650 $105,890 $133,550

Wages for biologists vary by subject area. Wages also vary by level of education. Biologists who have a master's degree earn more than those who have a bachelor's degree. Those who have a PhD earn more than those who have a master's degree. In general, salaries are highest for those working in private industry and lowest for those working for colleges or universities.

Biologists who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Some employers also provide a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings. These figures do not include biologists who teach at colleges or universities.

Biochemists and Biophysicists (SOC 19-1021)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 352 15.1% 16.1% 43
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 22 4.5% 13.4% 2
    King County 244 17.6% 19.6% 31
    Snohomish County 12 25.0% 12.4% 1
United States 30,400 6.3% 5.2% 3,100

Biological Scientists, All Other (SOC 19-1029)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 1,307 9.8% 16.1% 141
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 51 0.0% 13.4% 4
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 104 4.8% 8.6% 10
    Benton and Franklin Counties 61 8.2% 15.0% 6
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 19 5.3% 11.9% 2
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 22 9.1% 15.2% 2
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 87 3.4% 14.1% 8
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 79 20.3% 14.6% 10
    King County 720 13.8% 19.6% 85
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 24 0.0% 13.8% 2
    Pierce County 13 7.7% 15.2% 1
    Snohomish County 18 11.1% 12.4% 2
    Spokane County 36 5.6% 13.9% 3
United States 47,100 5.7% 5.2% 4,700

Microbiologists (SOC 19-1022)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 384 8.9% 16.1% 41
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 23 4.3% 8.6% 2
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 11 0.0% 11.9% 1
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 18 11.1% 15.2% 2
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 35 2.9% 14.1% 3
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 10 0.0% 14.6% 1
    King County 207 10.6% 19.6% 22
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 21 4.8% 13.8% 2
    Pierce County 16 6.3% 15.2% 2
    Snohomish County 54 7.4% 12.4% 5
United States 21,700 4.6% 5.2% 2,100

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Growth is expected to be about as fast as average. There will be strong competition for basic and applied research positions. Federal funding for basic research has grown. However, at the same time, the number of newly trained scientists has increased. Thus, the job market for research positions and research funding will remain competitive.

Drug manufacturing firms should continue to create new jobs for biologists. Biologists will also have a good chance of finding work at biotechnology firms. They will be needed to correct environmental problems, such as the negative effects of pesticide use. Some will find opportunities in environmental regulatory agencies.

Job prospects will be best for those with advanced degrees.

Other resources

American Association for the Advancement of Science (external link)
1200 New York Ave, NW
American Fisheries Society (external link)
425 Barlow Place, Suite 110
Bethesda, MD 20814-2144
American Institute of Biological Sciences (external link)
1800 Alexander Bell Drive, Suite 400
Reston, VA 20191
American Institute of Fishery Research Biologists (external link)
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (external link)
11200 Rockville Pike
Ste 302
Rockville, MD 20852-3110
American Society for Cell Biology (external link)
American Society for Microbiology (external link)
1752 N Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
American Society for Microbiology Podcasts (external link)
American Society for Virology (external link)
American Society of Agronomy (external link)
5585 Guilford Road
Madison, WI 53711
American Society of Mammalogists (external link)
American Society of Plant Biologists (external link)
Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (external link)
Association of Field Ornithologists (external link)
Bioinformatics Organization (external link)
Bio-Link (external link)
Biophysical Society (external link)
5515 Security Lane, Suite 1110
Rockville, MD 20852
Botanical Society of America (external link)
4344 Shaw Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63110
Careers in Biotechnology (external link)
Careers in Botany (external link)
(from The Botanical Society of America)
Careers in the Aquatic Sciences (external link)
(from the Association for the Sciences of Liminology and Oceanography)
Careers in the Biological Sciences (external link)
From the American Institute of Biological Sciences
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (external link)
4420 West Lincoln Way
Ames, IA 50014
Ecological Society of America (external link)
1990 M Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
Entomological Society of America (external link)
3 Park Place, Suite 307
Annapolis, MD 21401
Explore Ecology as a Career (external link)
Genetics Education Center (University of Kansas Medical Center) (external link)
Genetics Society of America (external link)
6120 Executive Boulevard, Suite 550
Rockville, MD 20852
Life Science Washington (external link)
188 East Blaine Street
Suite 150
Seattle, WA 98102
Marinecareers.net (external link)
National Academy of Sciences Interviews (external link)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (external link)
1401 Constitution Avenue NW, Room 5128
Washington, DC 20230
National Science Foundation (external link)
2415 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, Virginia 2231
Profiles in Ocean Careers (external link)
Science Careers (external link)
Scripps Institution of Oceanography (external link)
Seaweb Aquaculture Clearing House (external link)
Society for Developmental Biology (external link)
6120 Executive Blvd, Suite 725
Rockville, MD 20852,
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (external link)
3600 Market Street, 6th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (external link)
3929 Old Lee Highway, Suite 92A
Fairfax, VA 22030-2421
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (external link)
950 Herndon Parkway, Suite 450
Herndon, VA 20170
Society for Neuroscience (external link)
1121 14th Street NW, Suite 1010
Washington, DC 20005
Society for Range Management (external link)
6901 South Pierce Street, Suite 230
Littleton, CO 80128
The American Physiological Society (external link)
9650 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20814
The Wildlife Society (external link)
425 Barlow Place, Suite 200
Bethesda, MD 20814
United States Environmental Protection Agency (external link)
Washington State Science & Engineering Fair (external link)
You're a what? Mycologist (external link)
U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Outlook, December 2019


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupations

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational clusters