What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Biology?
Biology is a field that remains in a constant state of exploration, discovery, and innovation. Earning a master’s degree in biology gives you a chance to be part of this exciting field, whether you use your degree to enter into the workforce as a biotechnologist, environmental scientist, or microbiologist, or you parlay this advanced degree into further study as a medical professional, researcher, or post-secondary educator.
Biology is the study of life and living organisms. The discipline contains a vast array of specializations. Your master’s degree in biology will give you a chance to focus on one of these specializations, whether you want to become a doctor or nurse, a zoologist or ecologist, a botanist or biochemist, an immunologist or virologist. As a biology graduate student, you’ll study, research and contribute to a field that is rich with opportunities.
Just getting started in the field? Check out our look at the biology major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in biology.
If you’re ready to earn your graduate degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Biology.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a biology master.
What is a Master of Biology Degree?
The master’s degree in biology is an advanced degree program that typically requires a minimum of two years, or the completion of 30-45 credit hours. The master’s degree in biology is both a practical degree for those who wish to enter the field, and a preparatory degree for those who plan to enter the medical profession or conduct professional research. Depending on your area of specialization, the biology master’s degree can prepare you to work as a forensic biologist, to teach K-12 science, to become a conservationist, to join a zoological or wildlife organization, and much more. If you plan to become a healthcare professional, conduct research for a think tank or government agency, or become a tenured professor, your master’s degree in biology will help prepare and qualify you for the next step, whether you’ll be earning an Medical Doctor (MD) degree or a PhD in a specialized area of biology.
If you plan to advance into a medical, research, or educational role in your field, this advanced degree is widely seen as an important threshold, particularly because a major component of your degree experience will be the design and pursuit of your own research undertaking, with support from an advisor or mentor.
Why Get a Master’s Degree in Biology?
Adam Hart, Professor of Science Communication at the University of Gloucestershire, and a top-ranking influencer in the field of biology tells us:
A lot of my job is to do with teaching undergraduates and postgraduates and involved with research, but quite a chunk of it is also involved in acting as a bridge, I suppose. Science communication is almost a bridge between publishing scientists, who are reading each other's work, but not necessarily getting it out there so much, and the public, which can include all sorts of people, including scientists a lot of the time, politicians and so on. We sort of need that bridge between the producers of science, if you like, and the people that are consuming it or needing it. And science communication forms that bridge.– Adam Hart
Dr. Hart’s experience highlights the versatility of an advanced degree in biology. His background and the subject matter of his courses demonstrates the permeation of biology in so many aspects of our lives. Hart’s influential role in the field illustrates that biology is more than just research—that an advanced degree also deals with the ways that this research impacts the lives of real people.
The focus on science communication illustrates the connection between the scientific community, government leadership, and public health. Cases like the global COVID-19 pandemic are a perfect demonstration of the important work played by scientists and health experts in communicating scientific knowledge quickly, clearly and accurately. In other words, earning a master’s degree in biology could give you a chance to make a very direct and positive impact on the world and the lives of others.
Want to see more from Dr. Adam Hart? Watch our full interview with him and learn more!
How Can I Qualify to Get a Master’s Degree in Biology?
There is no specific entrance exam for gaining admission into a biology master’s program, though some programs may require you to complete a Graduate Record Examination (GRE). If the GRE is needed, your program may either require a general exam, or a GRE specific to the subject of biology. Some programs may require you to meet a certain scoring threshold while others may merely require that you complete the exam. These requirements will vary from one biology master’s program to the next.
It could also vary from one specialization to the next. For instance, if you plan to pursue an advanced biology degree with a focus on medicine or dentistry, you would likely be required to pass a Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or a Dental Admission Test (DAT).
If you are pursuing a non-medical biology master’s degree, and no GRE is required, the primary requirement for gaining eligibility into a biology master’s program is completion of a bachelor’s degree from a properly accredited undergraduate school. While programmatic accreditation is not specifically required in this field, most regionally accredited graduate schools will require that your bachelor’s degree be granted by a regionally accredited college or university.
Some colleges may offer bundled bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, where you could earn your advanced degree in one continuous five-year program. This option could save you time and money if you already know that you’ll be pursuing your advanced degree. However, the accelerated pace of such a program may make this a challenging way to earn both degrees. Find out if your school offers this bundling option and ask about eligibility requirements. But be sure you’re up to the added challenge!
For any additional questions about eligibility, refer to your intended program and learn more about application requirements and any additional requirements such as work experience, academic performance thresholds, and referrals. You’ll also want to find out well in advance if your master’s degree program requires you to have completed specific math and science courses before you can be eligible for enrollment. Be sure you know, and are on the path toward fulfilling these course requirements before you complete your undergraduate studies.
If you’re still working on building your qualifications for grad school eligibility, check out our look at the biology major to find out how you can get an undergraduate degree in biology.
What Kinds of Biology Graduate Degrees Are There?
- Master of Arts in Biology (MA): The MA in biology is a two-year degree that can require the completion of 30-45 credit hours. The MA balances an emphasis on biology with more general humanities courses. The master of arts degree in biology is best for those who plan to ultimately transition into a PhD program.
- Master of Science in Biology (MS): The MS in biology is also a two-year, 30 to 45-credit degree, but one that focuses almost entirely on science and technical courses, in lieu of humanities. Anticipate spending more time in laboratory and other hands-on settings. The MS is ideal for students who plan to transition into various professional settings. The practical dimensions of this progam can prepare students for high-paying careers such as physical therapist, biochemist, zoologist, or environmental scientist.
- Doctor of Philosophy in Biology (PhD): A terminal degree in the field, the PhD in biology is a five to seven year engagement that will largely center around the design of an original research question as well as the production and defense of a dissertation. PhD candidates will qualify to conduct field research and teach biology at the post-secondary level.
- Medical Doctor (MD): Biology students who are interested in entering into the medical profession may transition from a master’s degree program into a medical school program. This is a necessary step for those who wish to become doctors, surgeons, and nurse practitioners.
What are Some Popular Biology Specializations?
The specialization you choose within the field will be a matter of preference and interest, but can also help you narrow your career focus. The following are among the most popular biology masters specializations:
- Biomedical Engineering
- Environmental Science
- Cell Biology
- Molecular Biology
What Courses Will I Take as a Biology Major?
Your specialization will determine many of the courses you’ll take in your biology masters program. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as Advanced Biology and Immunology. You will likely also be required to supplement your coursework with a research project based on an original topic of your own design. You’ll typically work closely with the support of an advisor or mentor, and you may need to defend your completed research project before a committee in order to complete your program. Beyond this thesis or capstone project, common biology courses include:
- Advanced Bacteriology
- Biodiversity and Systematics
- Ecosystem Ecology
- Biostatistics and Experimental Design
Is a master’s degree in biology worth it?
Not only is a biology master’s degree worth it, but it may be a necessary degree on your way to a lucrative career in the sciences. Many of the best paying areas of specialization will require at least a master’s degree, and in many cases, a doctoral or professional degree as well. This means that the master’s degree could be a critical stepping stone on your way to a career as a medical scientist ($88,790; median pay, 2019), biochemist or biophysicist ($94,490; median pay, 2019), or pharmacist ($128,090; median pay, 2019).
What are the top jobs with a master’s degree in biology?
Biology masters enjoy a wide range of career options. Many of these are only accessible with an advanced degree, and in some instances, it may be necessary to earn a degree with a specific area of specialization. Be sure that you understand the degree requirements for your chosen area of specialization. The following are among the top jobs for masters in biology:
- Genetic Counselors
- Biochemists and Biophysicists
- Medical Scientists
- Agricultural and Food Scientists
- Soil and Plant Scientists
- Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- Environmental Scientists and Specialists
Curious how far you could go with a master’s degree in biology? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!***
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