Biological Scientist Job Outlook
Biological scientists can expect to face competition for jobs. After a recent period of rapid expansion in research funding, moderate growth in research grants should drive average employment growth over the next decade.
Employment change. Employment of biological scientists is projected to grow 9 percent over the 2006-16 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations, as biotechnological research and development continues to drive job growth. The Federal Government funds much basic research and development, including many areas of medical research that relate to biological science. Recent budget increases at the National Institutes of Health have led to large increases in Federal basic research and development expenditures, with research grants growing both in number and dollar amount. Nevertheless, the increase in expenditures has slowed substantially and is not expected to match its past growth over the 2006-16 projection period. This may result in a highly competitive environment for winning and renewing research grants.
Biological scientists enjoyed very rapid employment gains since the 1980s—reflecting, in part, the growth of biotechnology companies. Employment growth should slow somewhat, as fewer new biotechnology firms are founded and existing firms merge or are absorbed by larger biotechnology or pharmaceutical firms. Some companies may conduct a portion of their research and development in other lower-wage countries, further limiting employment growth. However, much of the basic biological research done in recent years has resulted in new knowledge, including the isolation and identification of genes. Biological scientists will be needed to take this knowledge to the next stage, which is the understanding how certain genes function within an entire organism, so that medical treatments can be developed to treat various diseases. Even pharmaceutical and other firms not solely engaged in biotechnology use biotechnology techniques extensively, spurring employment increases for biological scientists. For example, biological scientists are continuing to help farmers increase crop yields by pinpointing genes that can help crops such as wheat grow worldwide in areas that currently are hostile to the crop. Continued work on chronic diseases should also lead to growing demand for biological scientists.
In addition, efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the environment will continue to add to job growth. More biological scientists will be needed to determine the environmental impact of industry and government actions and to prevent or correct environmental problems such as the negative effects of pesticide use. Some biological scientists will find opportunities in environmental regulatory agencies, while others will use their expertise to advise lawmakers on legislation to save environmentally sensitive areas. New industrial applications of biotechnology, such as new methods for making ethanol for transportation fuel, also will spur demand for biological scientists.
There will continue to be demand for biological scientists specializing in botany, zoology, and marine biology, but opportunities will be limited because of the small size of these fields. Marine biology, despite its attractiveness as a career, is a very small specialty within biological science.
Job prospects. Doctoral degree holders are expected to face competition for basic research positions. Furthermore, should the number of advanced degrees awarded continue to grow, applicants for research grants are likely to face even more competition. Currently, about 1 in 4 grant proposals are approved for long-term research projects. In addition, applied research positions in private industry may become more difficult to obtain if increasing numbers of scientists seek jobs in private industry because of the competitive job market for independent research positions in universities and for college and university faculty.
Prospective marine biology students should be aware that those who would like to enter this specialty far outnumber the very few openings that occur each year for the type of glamorous research jobs that many would like to obtain. Almost all marine biologists who do basic research have a Ph.D.
People with bachelor’s and master’s degrees are expected to have more opportunities in nonscientist jobs related to biology. The number of science-related jobs in sales, marketing, and research management is expected to exceed the number of independent research positions. Non-Ph.D.s also may fill positions as science or engineering technicians or as medical health technologists and technicians. Some become high school biology teachers.
Biological scientists are less likely to lose their jobs during recessions than are those in many other occupations because many are employed on long-term research projects. However, an economic downturn could influence the amount of money allocated to new research and development efforts, particularly in areas of risky or innovative research. An economic downturn also could limit the possibility of extension or renewal of existing projects.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition
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