Inside Biologist Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"Broadened My Skills...
most people would be surprised at the work I have to put in as the production officer in my company and field, I have come to add additional qualities into my resume as I see myself operating machines and chipping into maintenance if the engineer meant to fix a problem is not there as I must see to it that the production line does not stop for too long. also in my job I have people under me who I supervise and make sure they do their jobs accordingly, that can be really hard cause managing people takes a lot" (Production Manager; 2013)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Maryland, male
School: Studied Microbiology at Towson University in Maryland; completed Bachelor degree in 2009

"Learning Never Stops...
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It is very difficult, there is lots of work you take home to help you on the job. I was a bit frustrated at first learning everything. I felt like I kept screwing up, but I was learning." (Clinical Laboratory Scientist; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in California, female
School: Studied Clinical Science at CSU DOMINQUEZ HILLS in California; completed Bachelor degree

"Large Amounts Of Learning...
I was surprised that biology was such an interesting subject to be able to learn and grow in. I was also surprised about the amount of opportunity in the work field." (Biologist; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Nevada, female
School: Studied Biology at University Of Nevada Reno in Nevada; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

I did really well and was excepted with open arms even though I am in my mid thirties" (Forester; 2013)

Career: 4 years of experience, currently based in Maine, male
School: Studied Forestry at Umpi in Maine; completed Bachelor degree in 2011

"Traveling Biology Technician...
There was much more office and written work than originally thought. Traveling is almost always required." (Biological Technician; 2014)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Pennsylvania, male
School: Studied Environmental Studies at California University Of PA in Pennsylvania; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Not As Smart As They Seem...
I was surprised on how PhDs don't know that much. I work with a lot of PhDs in my lab, and most of them are oblivious to a multitude of things that affect their research." (Lab Technician Supervisor; 2013)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Louisiana, male
School: Studied Biology at Louisiana State University in Louisiana; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"All Relationships Are Important...
I was surprised by how small the plant biology community is. This can work both for and against you. Always try your hardest to get along with all collaborators" (Research Associate; 2014)

Career: 7 years of experience, currently based in California, female
School: Studied Psychology & Plant Biology at UC Davis in California; completed Bachelor degree in 2005

"Work With People...
It has more people interaction then I expected, and I wished that I had better coursework in this. Also- you need to be good at statistics!" (Wildlife Biologist; 2014)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Alabama, female
School: Studied Wildlife Science at Auburn University in Alabama; completed Master degree in 2012

"Importance Of Continuing Education...
I think I've been most surprised by just how competitive my field is. There's a heck of a lot more people looking for jobs than there are job opportunities. You have to take every chance you can to improve your skill set and become a potentially more valuable employee. Also, some positions require very specific skills that can be tough to pick up, creating a sort of Catch-22 situation." (Field Research Technician; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Oregon, male
School: Studied Fisheries And Wildlife Science at Oregon State University in Oregon; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"Jobs Are Available For Biology Majors...
I was very happy to get hired in this position, as most of the biology majors I knew in college were stuck as lab technicians or unemployed. I was surprised at how interesting the work I do is (mostly on government contracts) and how intelligent my coworkers are." (Scientific Consultant; 2014)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Maryland, female
School: Studied Microbiology at Cornell University in New York; completed Bachelor degree in 2012

"I Was Surprised At The Department I Ended Up Working In...
I knew that the degree was very generic & applicable to many different careers. I was surprised to land in Quality Assurance & Regulatory Affairs" (Biologist; 2014)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in New Jersey, female
School: Studied Biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"Very Specialized...
I am surprised how specialized research gets. Someone can have the exact same career title as me and not understand anything I do and vice versa. It is important to become an expert in your area, but not necessarily in other areas of biology. I was also surprised that managing a lab is like being a small business owner. You have to know how to manage money, employees and colleagues." (Research Assistant; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Illinois, male
School: Studied Molecular And Cellular Biology at University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign in Illinois; completed Master degree in 2011

"Minoring In Communications Paid Off...
I have been surprised by how much I have learned outside of school. I am also surprised by how useful the courses I took for my communication minor have been to my career." (Clinical Research Specialist; 2013)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Indiana, female
School: Studied Dietetics at Purdue University in Indiana; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"Amount Of Responsibility And Stress...
I was surprised at how stressful being a research assistant is. There are always new tasks that no one around you knows how to do but must get done. You are also responsible for the success of the study. If things don't go well, it's your fault." (Research Assistant; 2013)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Connecticut, male
School: Studied Psychology at Temple University in Pennsylvania; completed Bachelor degree in 2011

"Unexpected Environment...
I was not expecting my first job from college to be working as a manufacturing technician, wearing a hard hat, steeled toe boots and working with large, dangerous machinery. It was probably the funnest job I ever had." (Quality Assurance Specialist; 2012)

Career: 15 years of experience, currently based in California, female
School: Studied Biology at California State University Of Sacramento in California; completed Bachelor degree in 1995

"Time Flies...
I was surprised at how quickly and enjoyably a day can pass when you like and care about your job. I was also surprised at how much exercise I get while doing my job, and at how quickly I've become stronger and more fit while doing it." (Agricultural Pest Scout; 2012)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Michigan, female
School: Studied Biology at Western Michigan University in Michigan; completed Bachelor degree in 2011

"Working Independently...
I was surprised at how much you work alone. I was also surprised at the amount of independence granted in making decisions about how to do the work." (Soil Scientist; 2012)

Career: 26 years of experience, currently based in Washington
School: Studied Plant And Soil Science at Arizona State University in Arizona; completed Master degree in 1974

"Money Drives Research...
I was surprised at how much science is dictated by money. Since the economy has been in a recession, funding has been drastically cut, and we aren't as free to do the research we would like to do. We are struggling to get funding, and it creates an environment of uncertainty." (Research Scientist; 2012)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Tennessee, female
School: Studied Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee; completed Doctorate degree in 2012

"Working With Other Labs...
I was surprised by how much you need to interact interpersonally with other labs for advice, desired reagents, or protocols. Nobody teaches you about this aspect of being involved in academic research, and it feels pretty awkward the first few times you have to email or call somebody you don't know for help." (Research Assistant (Scientific); 2012)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Arizona, female
School: Studied Neurobiology at University Of Maryland in Maryland; completed Bachelor degree in 2009

"I was surprised how much information was neglected about this position when I entered the work force. Also how incredibly irrelevant many of the courses I took during college were in preparing me for the "real world."" (Data Analyst; 2012)

Career: 3 years of experience, currently based in Illinois, male
School: Studied Life Sciences at University Of Wisconsin-Madison in Wisconsin; completed Bachelor degree in 2010

"In my line of work I thought I would only have to deal with analyzing test results. However, the part of my work where I found most challenging is the interpersonal exchange I have with patients. Learning more on how to deal with their emotions rather than statistical data on the likelyhood of a child carrying a genetic disease seemed much more difficult." (Genetic Counselor; 2012)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in California, female
School: Studied Cell And Molecular Biology at CSUN in California; completed Associate degree in 2010

"The occupation not only lacks a good salary but also respect by other scientists. Academic funding for research is in a major decline and the job stability is horrible. Also there is a cap on how much one can make in my position which is extremely frustrating." (Research Scientist; 2012)

Career: 15 years of experience, currently based in Ohio, female
School: Studied Nutrition at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio; completed Master degree in 2006

"What has surprised me the most is how difficult it is to get along with the patients we're are trying to help/do research on. I work with patients who have HIV and substance abuse problems. Most of them don't even want help. They are so difficult to talk to, relate to, convince, etc. I didn't think it would frustrate me so much." (Clinical Data Specialist; 2012)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Texas, female
School: Studied Neuroscience at Pomona College in California; completed Bachelor degree in 2011

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Stability Manager, Quality Assurance: "The best part is it is not too demanding; it is a flexible area in which we work independently on our timings- as long as we put in the 40 hours work week. I work with great folks that are similar at my career level so we help each other out and interact quite often. The salary pays well. The worst part is trying to figure out the next step in the career- since the positions are limited; it's hard to figure out how to rise to the next higher level if someone is already in that position. Cross training is very limited." (2011)

Research Assistant: "The best part of my career is the academic stimulation that it provides. I am constantly exposed to new ideas and different ways of thinking. I am able to attend academic conferences in cities across the country to present my work. The worst part of my job is the pressure that one feels when experiments are not going as planned. There are a lot of times when something that is theoretically a sound idea, becomes nearly impossible to implement." (2011)

Data Curator: "Best parts of my job are I work with a variety of different people from all kinds of different backgrounds and cultures. I work with some of the best scientific minds in the world. My job makes important contributions in research to finding new medicines for such diseases as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, infectious diseases, and inflammation. The work I do now may aid in research conducted 25 years from now. It keeps me up to date with advances in science and technology and I use everything I learned in college to perform my job. The worst parts of my job are dealing with language barriers with different scientists and being able to keep up with the work load and deadlines." (2011)

Research Project Coordinator: "The best part of my career is working with people. The particpants and other people I interact with regularly are diverse and interesting. This keeps my job fresh and fun. I also enjoy managing and thinking outside the box for new strategies. However, the job is not very fun when the results have flaws and when we have difficulty recruiting participants. In addition, working with people with bad attitudes can have a negative influence on the energy and motivation of the study. Overall, this job is awesome." (2011)

Research Assistant: "The best part of the job is the opportunity to demonstrate brilliance, whether it's in an expertly carried out surgery, a deftly performed computer technique, a good piece of technical writing, a clearly communicated idea taught to someone who needs it, or a statistical analysis correctly conceived, properly programmed and debugged, and well interpreted that makes the paper publishable. The worst part of the job would be the occasional need to sift radioactive rodent poop. Science isn't all glamor." (2011)

Fish Facility Manager: "There are two things I particularly like about the job. First, I really enjoy working with animals. Second, I like that part of the job is active (working in the fish room) and part is more mental (reviewing the scientific protocols for the IACUC). The part I like least is that sometimes work in the fish room can get repetitive. It can get a bit boring cleaning tanks day after day." (2011)

Sr. Manager, Clinical Quality Assurance: "The part of the job I enjoy most is the interaction with a variety of people and learning about what everyone does. I also enjoy creating the training material that people use to learn how to do their job. I enjoy teaching and it makes me proud when I know that I am contributing to the success of the company by making it work better and smarter. I guess the worst part would be trying to schedule meetings with people who are already very busy. It's always a challenge to get the time you need with the people who have the information you want." (2010)

Research Associate: "The best part of the job is getting to play CSI. Doing a necropsy (an autopsy on an animal) and trying to find abnormalities can be a little gross at first, but seeing how all the organs work and are connected is pretty interesting. Also, knowing that the work you do is helping to develop drugs that can cure diseases in the future is very rewarding. These drugs could cure diseases or medical conditions that currently have no known treatments. The hard part is that groups such as PETA and other animal rights activist groups dislike the work we do and have infected the general public with a dread and distaste that make our efforts unpopular." (2010)

Manager, Quality Assurance: "The best part of my job is helping people, which is in a sense customer service. The worse part of my job is some of the repetitive and very detailed work. I like to work on the bigger picture instead of the minute details." (2010)

Career Tips

"The Traveling Life Of A Biology Technician...
If you want to be successful be willing to move and travel frequently." (Biological Technician; 2014)

"Apply To Everything...
Apply to everything that you find because you never know what you will land." (Biologist; 2014)

"Get To Know People...
If you want to be a successful wildlife scientist, you need to realize how important it is to network and interact with other scientists and land owners. People skills are very very important!" (Wildlife Biologist; 2014)

"Masters In Science Not Worth It...
It actually isn't really beneficial to get a masters degree in science. Positions that masters students can get can also be given to bachelors degree holders with experience, but PhD level positions will never be able to be given to masters level workers. Better to earn money right away" (Research Associate; 2014)

"Diversify Your Skill Set...
I would recommend taking additional courses in computer science (or another in-demand field). I took two computer science classes and they have been very useful in my current position, as bioinformatics is becoming very important in many biology fields." (Scientific Consultant; 2014)

"Find A Mentor Early...
I would sincerely recommend finding a mentor for yourself while attending school. If you can find a professor to work closely with, even if it's not something you don't fully 100% enjoy or if you have to volunteer, the networking benefits alone that can arise (on top of skills gained) can be invaluable to jump-starting your own career." (Field Research Technician; 2013)

"Publish Good Papers Which Will Help You Achieve What You Going To Be....
If u want to be a successful researcher you need to publish good papers. It will give you a good career." (Postdoctoral; 2013)

"UMPI For Forestry...
Ump has a great program" (Forester; 2013)

"Talking To A Wall...
You will work with a lot of hard headed people in this position who think they know everything. You need to be able to break it down for them on why their ideas will not work in a real world application." (Lab Technician Supervisor; 2013)

"Paid Internship...
Go to a college that provides a paid internship, it is a bit hard to work outside of the internship." (Clinical Laboratory Scientist; 2013)

"You Have To Be Inventive...
if you want to enter the manufacturing section you have to be ready to get dirty once in a while. also you need to be ready to adapt and change whenever the systems changes, you need to be flexible cause demand can change at anytime. you have to be a fast thinker and know how to manage your time" (Production Manager; 2013)

"Being Able To Stay Focused...
If you want to be successful, you have to be able to be persistent and willing to learn." (Biologist; 2013)

"Adapt To Your Co-Workers...
1). Do all your schooling while you are young; it will help you continue your career once you land a job and will help you keep going in your momentum without stopping for further education. 2). On the same note, sometimes you don't know what you really want to do until you are working; so feel free to change career paths. In the end, you want to be happy doing what you like and are comfortable with. 3). Be ready to deal with many different types of people in the workforce and adjust. Everyone has different personalities. Be nice to your boss." (Stability Manager, Quality Assurance; 2011)

"Get Lab Experience In College...
To break into biomedical research, gain experience working in a laboratory at some point during college. It might be necessary to start off by volunteering until you gain some experience conducting laboratory work. This is easily accomplished by contacting various investigators at local colleges and universities. Take courses in the sciences and make sure to earn at least a B average. If you want to pursue graduate coursework, it will usually be necessary to have achieved a grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. If your are below this threshold, you will not be considered." (Research Assistant; 2011)

"How To Prepare Yourself For A Science Career...
Learn a variety of different scientific disciplines. Aspects of chemistry, physics, biology, writing, computer science, mathematics all help me do my job. A foreign language might be helpful like Chinese or German etc. Try to gain laboratory experience thru an internship or coop while still in college. Advance degrees don't always help advance careers in science like they used to. Depending on where you want to go you might want to examine that or consider finding employment where they will help pay for that advanced degree." (Data Curator; 2011)

"Statistics Understanding Key...
Tip 1: It is important to stay organized and on top of things. For example, in school keeping an agenda or a calender is a good way to stay organized. Making this a habit will be helpful. Tip 2: It is important to be knowledgeable about statistics. Most research uses statistics to interpret the data into helpful information. Taking statistic classes will be helpful. Tip 3: If you are interested in progressing in your career, more education is required. Generally, to move up the rank you will need a PhD for lead bigger and better research studies." (Research Project Coordinator; 2011)

"Stay Plugged In To Your Research Field...
Organization is key. You never know when you will have to quickly come up with the paper, the data set, the inspection record that's needed right then. Continue your education. Read up on the field you're working in - it will enable you to be a more productive member of your lab group. You may also develop interests that complement your lab group rather than merely duplicating it. If you become an expert in something it will make you more valuable, and it may lead your career in new and promising directions." (Research Assistant; 2011)

"Volunteer Working With Animals...
1. Try to volunteer in an aquarium or zoo. When I hire entry level people I look first to see if they have experience with fish or other animals. When I see that people have already worked with animals, I know they understand that it can be messy work. 2. Many universities or teaching hospitals also use fish. They are always looking for students to help with feeding and tank cleaning. 3. Animals need to be fed on holidays too. Be prepared for questions about weekend or holiday availability at your interview." (Fish Facility Manager; 2011)

"Need A Relevant Degree...
If you are looking to get into the pharmaceutical/biotech field in general, you would really need some kind of science degree, whether it's in biology or chemistry. They even have several now related to biotechnology. You really cannot break into this industry without a degree of some sort. If you are looking to get into the corporate training field, I would suggest looking into either an instructional design degree or a certificate program. Also, online learning is really hot right now so having a good background in computers, especially Flash, is a bonus." (Sr. Manager, Clinical Quality Assurance; 2010)

"Talk To Researchers...
Find people who work in biomedical research and talk to them. Get your information from a source inside the industry, and don't believe everything you hear. A college major in any of the life sciences will prepare you well for the work you'll do in this kind of lab. Additional experience in a veterinary clinic or hospital, or even an animal shelter will be of great help in this field." (Research Associate; 2010)

"Think Of The People You're Helping...
I would advise anyone seeking a career in clinical research to get a college degree. You've got to be willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. It takes time to hone your skills and most of these derive from on-the-job training. I encourage you to think about the skills you already possess and about how you could apply them to work in the field. To be a success in this career, you must have drive and a sincere desire to help people. Sometimes when the work gets difficult, it is better to focus on the people that you are helping. It is important to know that every job is important even when you are in a supportive role such as mine." (Manager, Quality Assurance; 2010)