The Job and What's Involved

Biology covers a broad range of subject areas. It includes animal biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, ecology, environmental biology, genetics, immunology, marine biology, microbiology, molecular biology, plant biology and physiology. While biologists may have a good understanding of all these subjects, they normally specialise in just one.

The work usually involves:

  • Designing and conducting experiments, and making observations and measurements.
  • Studying living things - either whole organisms or cells of an organism.
  • Supervising the work of support staff.
  • Analysing results of experiments and writing about them in reports and scientific papers.
  • Completing fieldwork, and attending scientific meetings and conferences.

Biologists work in many different areas. They may be involved in:

  • Investigating how living organisms work - looking at the chemical reactions within individual cells or how cells function within a whole organism.
  • Studying how plants, animals and microbes interact with each other and their environment.
  • Monitoring the impact of human activity on the environment and finding ways to reduce and prevent pollution.
  • Investigating animal, plant and human diseases.
  • Developing medicines and other healthcare products.
  • Ensuring quality and safety of medicines, foods and other essential products.
  • Improving the production and distribution of food crops or other plants.
  • Communicating science as a teacher, journalist or writer.

Some of the laboratory equipment used to carry out measurements and analysis of biological samples is highly specialised.

Most biologists work 37 hours a week, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although this can vary. There may be some evening and weekend work.

Biologists normally work in a laboratory. Some are also involved in fieldwork. Fieldwork takes place in a variety of locations. It can sometimes be physically demanding.

When working in the laboratory, biologists wear protective clothing, both to protect themselves and to prevent the contamination of samples or equipment. There are also special health and safety requirements for working with animal and human cells and tissues. Some biological samples can be unpleasant to work with.

Starting salaries may be around £15,000 a year. Salaries are generally higher in the private sector.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Biologists work in a large number of areas and for a wide range of employers throughout the UK.

Some work for companies in the pharmaceutical, agriculture, food and biotechnology industries. Biologists also work at universities, hospitals and a variety of government funded research institutes. Those specialising in environmental biology and ecology may work for organisations such as the Environment Agency and English Nature, or for water companies, environmental consultancies, charities or zoos.

Other biologists apply their specialist knowledge outside the laboratory, working as patent attorneys, scientific journalists and editors, and teachers in schools or further education colleges. A few work as forensic scientists.

Employment opportunities may be found on the websites of the various professional bodies and specialist recruitment agencies. They are also found in New Scientist (and on the website

Education and Training

Most biologists are graduates. A degree, and sometimes a postgraduate qualification, is essential for most jobs. Increasingly, graduates also need to gain relevant work experience through volunteer work or paid placements before applying for their first job.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Entry requirements for a degree course vary, but applicants usually need at least two A levels/three or four H grades in science (chemistry, biology, physics or maths), or equivalent qualifications. Some universities require three science A levels/H grades.

Technicians may study for NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 2 to 4 in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities, or relevant HNC's/HND's and degrees.

It may be possible for school leavers to work as trainee technicians or lab assistants. Entrants usually need at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including science, English and maths, or equivalent qualifications.

Biologists are given regular on-the-job training to learn new experimental techniques and keep up to date with their specialist area, IT developments, and health and safety regulations.

Biomedical scientists in hospitals must follow a training programme working towards state registration. Graduate clinical scientists in the NHS and the Health Protection Agency follow a four-year training programme, attaining a Masters degree before specialising in a particular field for their PhD.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Biologists should:

  • Have enquiring minds.
  • Be able to think clearly, creatively and logically.
  • Be good at problem solving.
  • Have the ability to analyse information and data, and draw conclusions from what they observe.
  • Be able to work accurately and pay close attention to detail.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be competent working with computers and other technology.

Your Long Term Prospects

As biologists progress in their careers they may take on supervisory and management responsibilities. They may move away from laboratory science altogether.

In industry, scientists may become more involved in the commercial aspects of their company's work.

In universities, hospitals and research institutes, senior scientists manage teams of research and technical staff.

Get Further Information

Biochemical Society, 3rd Floor, Eagle House,
16 Procter Street, London WC1V 6NX
Tel: 020 7280 4100

Bioindustry Association, 14/15 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PS
Tel: 020 7565 7190

British Ecological Society, 26 Blades Court, Putney, London SWI5 2NU
Tel: 020 8871 9797

Royal Society of Biology,
Charles Darwin House, 12 Roger Street,
London WC1N 2JU
Tel: 020 7685 2550

Institute of Biomedical Science, 12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7713 0214

Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management,
45 Southgate Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 9EH
Tel: 01962 868626

Institute of Food Science and Technology,
5 Cambridge Court, 210 Shepherds Bush Road, London W6 7NJ
Tel: 020 7603 6316
Websites: and

Institute of Science Technology, Kingfisher House,
90 Rockingham Street, Sheffield S1 4EB
Tel: 0114 276 3197

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655

Health Protection Agency, 7th Floor,
Holborn Gate, 330 High Holborn, London WC1V 7PP
Tel: 020 7759 2700

Health Protection Scotland,
Clifton House, Clifton Place, Glasgow G3 7LN
Tel: 0141 300 1100

Society for Applied Microbiology,
Bedford Heights, Brickhill Drive, Bedford MK41 7PH
Tel: 01234 326661

Society for General Microbiology, Marlborough House,
Basingstoke Road, Spencers Wood, Reading RG7 1AG
Tel: 0118 988 1800

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