Life Science Jobs: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career options for life scientists. Research education requirements, job duties, salary and employment outlook for those working in this field. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is Life Science?

Life Science is a wide open field that covers a wide array of professions and careers. As a biochemist and biophysicist you work with living things to understand the chemical and physical principles. You look at heredity, cell development, disease and growth. A wildlife biologist will study animals and other wildlife, their interactions as well as their ecosystems. Dentists work with teeth, gums and other mouth issues. With all of these professions you must start with a bachelor's degree and work up to the PhD or a Doctor of Dental Medicine.

Life science careers are very broad and include microbiology, wildlife biology, biophysics, neuropathology, immunology and more. The following chart provides an overview for three of the careers possible in this area.

Biochemist Wildlife Biologist Dentist
Degree Required Entry-level: bachelor's or master's degree
Independent research: PhD degree
Bachelor's or master's degree; PhD for independent research Bachelor's & Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM)
Education Field of Study Bachelor's/master's: biochemistry, biology, chemistry, physics
PhD: biochemistry with specialty such as proteomics, genetics
Wildlife biology, zoology, ecology; PhD may specialize in specific animal or issue Bachelor's: any major
Doctoral: dental surgery or medicine
Key Responsibilities Study physics & chemistry of biological organisms & processes; search for solutions to medical, environmental, energy, biotechnology problems Study physiology/behavior of animals, characteristics of habitats, impact of humans on natural conditions; develop plans for management & preservation of animals Diagnose/treat conditions of patient teeth/mouth; provide oral healthcare information
Licensure Required N/A N/A All states require licensing, specifics vary by state; additional license required to practice any of 9 dental specialties
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8%* 4%* 18%*
Median Salary (2015) $82,150 $59,680* $158,310*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Types of Degree Programs Are Available in Life Science?

Life science is a general term that describes any scientific field that involves the study of living organisms. Numerous undergraduate degree programs are available in the life sciences. Common examples include biology, biochemistry, bioengineering, animal science, nursing and botany. You could also find more specialized undergraduate life science degree programs at some universities. These include, but aren't limited to, molecular and cell biology, chemical biology, computational biology and biological psychology.

Life sciences programs tend to be more abundant at the graduate level. This is because graduate programs also allow you to specialize more in a subfield of biology or another life science area. Thus, while undergraduate degree programs in fields as narrow as immunology, structural biology and biophysics aren't available, many universities offer graduate programs in these fields. Other common graduate degree programs in the life sciences include medicine, neuroscience, biomedical sciences, pharmacology and developmental biology.

What Types of Careers Are Part of This Field?

Numerous careers can be found in the field of life sciences. You could consider a career in medicine, nursing or dentistry. Alternatively, a career as a veterinarian allows you to treat animals instead of human patients. If your interest lies more in research than in the treatment of patients, you could conduct biomedical research in such areas as neuropathology, microbiology, oncology, biochemistry, biophysics, genetics or immunology. Biomedical researchers work at pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, universities and government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health.

Other life science career options include genetic counseling, embryology, wildlife management and more. As a genetic counselor, you'd conduct genetic testing on patients to test for the existence of hereditary illnesses and provide advice to patients based on their test results. As an embryologist, you could work at a fertility clinic, where you'd perform in vitro fertilization procedures and help patients achieve pregnancy. A career in wildlife management allows you to work towards the conservation of endangered species and their natural habitats.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2015, biochemists and biophysicists earned a median salary of $82,150 annually (www.bls.gov). Wildlife biologists and zoologists made a median of $59,680, and dentists earned a median of $158,310 during the same time period.

BLS data on other professions reveals that in May 2015, family doctors and general practitioners earned a median annual salary of $184,390, surgeons made an average of $247,520, veterinarians took home a median of $88,490 and microbiologists took home a median annual salary of $67,550.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

With the diversity of Life Science there are a ton of related career fields like biological technicians and biomedical engineers. Both jobs require a bachelor's and require you to work with research scientist or medical doctors in designing equipment or running tests all of which aid healthcare in some way. With a doctorate you could work as a medical professional in several capacities. You could also be a chiropractor working in alternative medicine adjusting spines. Of course you could also work as a podiatrist specializing with patient's feet, ankles or lower leg issues.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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