What Is a Biology Degree? A Guide (With Career Options)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 19 October 2022

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Biology focuses on the understanding of the natural world and the role living things play in nature. It helps us develop insights into the prevention and cures for some diseases. If you love learning about living things and their interrelationships, completing a degree in biology may be an option for you as it can give you access to exciting career options. In this article, we consider what a biology degree is, its entry requirements and the types of degrees and career options for biology graduates.

What is a biology degree?

A biology degree focuses on all aspects of animal, human and cell life. You learn about plant biology, zoology (animal behaviour), genetics, environmental biology, biochemistry and molecular biology during this degree. Degrees in biology include a variety of modules, allowing you to choose modules that interest you. Graduate studies focus on scientific research and development.

Related: Types of Degrees and How They Can Influence Your Career

Entry requirements for a biology degree

Universities require candidates to have biology at A level or an equivalent for a degree in biology. Most universities also require maths and chemistry at A level or equivalent. The requirements for biology-related courses may differ, but with maths, biology and chemistry at A level, you'd meet most universities' requirements.

Types of degrees in biology

You can follow a general degree or choose one of these more specialised degrees:

Human biology

A degree in human biology focuses on human health and development. The topics for this degree are human genetics, microbiology and disease. The degree considers related interdisciplinary social science topics exploring the impact of technology and society on human development.

Marine biology

A degree in marine biology explores the diverse marine life from the deep sea to coastal margins. Students learn about marine organisms' biology, ranging from microbes to marine vertebrates and marine algae. During this degree, students learn practical scientific skills to become practising marine biologists.

Molecular biology

A degree in molecular biology focuses on the function and structure of biologically important molecules. Topics covered during the degree include DNA, RNA, proteins and molecular events governing cell functions. The degree also explores some aspects of genetics, cell biology and biochemistry. During this degree, students learn theories and practical lab skills.

Cell biology

A degree in cell biology integrates principles from various disciplines, including physics, chemistry, genetics, physiology and biochemistry. Students learn about organic and physical chemistry. Other topics covered in this degree include cell, developmental and molecular biology.

Related: How to become a cell biologist (with steps and skills)

Life sciences

A degree in life sciences covers a range of subjects, including biology, zoology, botany, neuroscience and bio-engineering and neuroscience. The broad range of topics allows a student to specialise as they progress with their studies. Students can use a degree in life sciences for careers in psychology, food, law and medicine.

Anatomy

An anatomy degree gives students the skills to investigate the human body's form, function, and development. The degree covers the use of technology in anatomy and teaches students practical laboratory skills. Anatomy students typically complete a medical degree after graduating.

Physiology

A physiology degree develops your understanding of the mechanisms underlying the functioning of the human body in health and diseases. The degree covers a variety of topics, including pharmacology, neuroscience, genetics, anatomy and biochemistry. Most students continue with a medical degree after graduating with a physiology degree.

Related: How To Become an Immunologist

Microbiology

A degree in microbiology focuses on studying microorganisms and emphasises the biology of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms. Students learn about the pathogenic potential of the organisms that cause disease in humans. The degree also covers aspects of the biochemistry, genetics and physiology of microorganisms.

Courses students take during degrees in biology

During the first year of study, you take modules to prepare you for the rest of your degree. A general degree in biology includes a broad range of modules focusing on biomolecules, ecosystems and the genetic and biochemical processes of plants, microbes and animals. When you pursue a more specialised degree, your courses include general biology modules specialised ones. For example, if you study for a degree in marine biology, you may have modules focusing on marine biology and general biology. Typical first-year modules may include cell biology, physiology, microbiology and basic biochemistry.

You may start with a general degree but can specialise as your studies continue. You can take modules such as biotechnology, selective toxicity, immunology and molecular neuroscience to specialise. The options for specialisation differ between universities.

How long does a degree in biology take?

A bachelor's degree in biology takes approximately three years, and some universities allow students to graduate with a master's degree with one additional year of study. A doctorate in a specialised area of biology may be a requirement to become a research scientist or a university lecturer. A doctorate typically takes between three and six years, depending on whether a student does it full-time or part-time.

What to expect when studying biology at university

Universities use the following teaching methods for degrees in biology:

  • Lectures: The primary teaching method for this degree is lectures. Students listen to lectures and take notes of important points mentioned by the lecturer.

  • Laboratory sessions: A degree in biology includes practical work in a laboratory where you can do various experiments and tests to support the theoretical content of your degree.

  • Fieldwork: Fieldwork is work you do outside the university in a natural environment.

  • Seminars: Seminars take place when a small group of students get together to discuss a specific topic with the help of a tutor.

  • Computer sessions: Students learn to use computers to analyse numbers for statistical purposes.

  • Self-study: Students spend a substantial amount of time going through the coursework, preparing for lectures and studying by themselves.

Skills learned during a degree in biology

A degree in biology teaches students several valuable skills that students can use in their careers: These skills include:

  • Data management: These skills include the ability to use and manage information effectively. It also involves the ability to look for patterns in data.

  • Computer literacy: Biology students learn to use computers and popular software packages, including word processing and spreadsheets.

  • Research skills: These skills are the ability to find information about a specific topic and evaluate it. It includes conducting investigations, using critical analysis and developing hypotheses about particular issues.

Related: Research Skills: Definition and Examples

Career options for biology graduates

An undergraduate degree in biology won't be sufficient for most biology-related careers. These career options require at least a master's degree in a particular subdiscipline of biology. Some of the biology-related career options include:

1. Pharmacologist

National average salary: £21,232 per year

Primary duties: Pharmacologists often design and carry out experiments to test drugs on humans through clinical trials. They analyse and interpret data using specialist computer applications. Based on their research and findings, they may make recommendations about medicines and their use.

2. Biologist

National average salary: £33,707 per year

Primary duties: A biologist studies living organisms, their environment and their role within the ecosystem. A biologist's research focuses on how organisms came to exist and function. A biologist can specialise in other areas, such as zoology or genetics.

Related: How to Become a Biologist

3. Environmental manager

National average salary: £37,065 per year

Primary duties: Environmental managers monitor biodiversity, undertake fieldwork, prepare conservation reports and organise species. They implement environmental policies and practices. They also ensure compliance with environmental legislation.

Related: How To Become an Environmental Scientist

4. Academic researcher

National average salary: £37,316 per year

Primary duties: Academic researchers perform research to create new theories for publication in journals and books. Their research focuses on the study of living organisms and their interaction with their habitat. Their research also aims to improve the understanding of life processes to develop new products affecting these processes.

5. Marine biologist

National average salary: £41,514 per year

Primary duties: Marine biologists conduct inventories of sea creatures. They collect samples and data using processes, such as coring, visual recording and geographic information systems. Marine biologists analyse samples in a lab and create new theories from their experiments. They also preserve specimens and map the distribution and movements of marine species.

6. Microbiologist

National average salary: £70,104 per year

Primary duties: A microbiologist's duties depend on their area of specialisation. Clinical microbiologists prevent, diagnose and control the spread of infections. Manufacturing microbiologists work in quality control and check for signs of contamination. Microbiologists create and register new medicines and vaccines. They plan, implement and evaluate new products in clinical trials.

Related: How To Become a Microbiologist

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Related:

  • What does an immunologist do? (With skills and job info)

  • What does a neuroscientist do? With definition and skills


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