The Odd Ones Out

Unconventional Careers For Biology Majors

by Vaishali Talwar | SQ Staff Writer | SQ Online (2013-14)

What do many doctors, scientists, lawyers, lobbyists, writers and administrators have in common? A degree in biology! Many biology majors believe that they are forced to pursue one of two pathways after graduation: medical school or graduate school. However, these are not the only options available. Being a biology major opens a number of career paths.

Apart from the usual careers in the areas of healthcare, education and biomedical research, graduates can work in the fields of health administration, industry, law, government and even mass communication. Students can combine their love for the subject with other areas of interest to pursue the career that they desire.

For Aanya Mehra, a UCSD alumnus with a degree in General Biology, pursuing the path of medical law seemed like an ideal way to combine her love for debating and biology.

“After joining a lab during my second year here, I realized that pursuing research was not what I wanted to do,” said Mehra. “But I still loved biology, I didn’t want to drop it.”

After spending most of her second year pondering over her future, Mehra decided to join a mock trial team.

“Watching law shows on TV inspired me. I wanted to try something new. And I loved it. The debates were the best. Going over laws, examining them for loopholes – I could do that for hours,” said Mehra.

After attending a seminar on unconventional career paths, it all fell into place. Mehra knew that medical law was the path she wanted to take. Medical law is concerned with the responsibilities of medical professionals and the rights of their patients.

However, medical law is not the only kind of law a biology major can practice. Environmental law and patent law are also equally common and relevant fields of interest. Environmental law includes the study of laws and treaties which regulate the interaction between man and the natural environment, whereas patent law deals with the exclusive right to make, use, or sell a product; for example, a medical drug.

While certain students are interested in law, others may have an interest in the industrial domain. Market research, scientific consultation, product development and testing, sales, and bioinformatics are just some examples of diverse opportunities available at different levels. Careers in scientific consultation and product development generally require an advanced degree in biochemistry; i.e. a master’s. However, market research and sales simply require a bachelor’s degree in biology. Doing a minor in business administration or a double major in business and biology can prepare a student for a future in the world of industry.

Illustration by Bianca Chong
Illustration by Bianca Chong

Entrepreneurship is a unique way to combine a passion for biology and business. Managers or executives of pharmacological and biological research companies alike often only need a biology degree coupled with a Master’s in Business Administration.

For those who love biology and administration, a job in the government could be a good fit. The government employs hospital administrators, analysts, policy researchers and managers to look into waste management, water management, wildlife parks and other science related fields. A bachelor’s degree in biology along with a master’s degree in health care administration, public health or health services administration is helpful to those joining the government or any healthcare related administrative job. Certain departments in the government, such as the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, offer internships and training programs for students seeking practical experience in public administration.

For students interested in mass communication such as journalism, illustration or scientific writing, a number of schools offer graduate programs specifically tailored for biology majors. For example, UC Santa Cruz offers a graduate program which specializes in scientific writing. A graduate with such a degree could be hired as a science writer or a producer of science related programs on channels such as the National Geographic Channel or the Discovery Channel. Johns Hopkins University and the University of Illinois both offer programs on scientific illustration. Graduates with these degrees can be employed as illustrators in scientific journals.

The Division of Biological Sciences at UCSD offers several resources that help students discover their ideal career pathway.

“But you’re a biology major, why pursue law? How will you manage to take the LSAT? When will you take it? Don’t law schools have certain prerequisites? These questions kept raining down on me, so I decided to go to my academic advisor,” said Mehra. “She directed me to Career Services, UCSD. They helped me a lot. My career path didn’t seem like a burden anymore.”

The Career Services Center offers a number of workshops, career panels and internships in different fields. The Center for Discovering Opportunities in Biological Sciences hosts talks and sessions about different career paths. Furthermore, the BSSA has career panels as well as internship opportunities. UCSD also has a number of diverse clubs and organizations, catering to every interest under the sun. All these resources not only help students find what they’re looking for, but also present students with a new perspective – which is what university is all about.

Some Helpful Links :

1. Opportunities are available for biology undergraduates at the DoBio Center.

2. Review the resources that Career Services offers.

3. Check out some of the events the BSSA (Biological Sciences Students Association) is organizing.

4. Look into the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz.

5. Find information for those interested in scientific illustration.