Day in the Life
Biologists study living organisms: how they grow, reproduce, and interact
among themselves and with their environment. Most work in some kind of
research. Regardless of the area of specialization, in modern biology full
understanding of a process requires integrating studies at many levels of
organization: populations, individual organisms, organ systems, cells, and
molecules. Accordingly, the day-to-day activities involve a variety of
As for any experimental science, the Ph.D. Biologist must spend time
deciding on the question to be addressed, designing a series of experiments,
gathering the test materials, conducting the experiments, collecting and
analyzing the data, organizing the results for presentation to other
scientists (in meetings with colleagues, in papers published in scientific
journals, or in talks presented at scientific conferences), and then
thinking of the next series of questions raised by the experimental
results. In addition, the Biologist must spend time reading the scientific
literature, attending conferences, and talking with colleagues to stay current
in their field of research, learning of new findings, new theories, and new
Those working in government or industry often have to prepare
justifications for their working budgets. Those in academia usually have to
prepare grant proposals in order to receive funding for their research.
Professors must also spend time preparing lectures for students. All
research scientists who direct a laboratory must also supervise their
While the activities noted above are common to almost all biologists in a
general way, the details may be unique to the specialty area. Depending on
the organism being studied, a Biologist may need to grow it in the
laboratory (bacteria, viruses, algae, mice, fish, etc.), observe it in its
own habitat (mountains, meadows, forests, deserts, oceans, streams, or the
air, for example), or collect wild specimens to study in the laboratory.
The laboratory instruments used may be microscopes or special equipment for
observing electrical events, spectroscopic signals, or other chemical or
physical properties. If dealing with dangerous infectious or toxic agents,
then the Biologist must work in special environments that protect the
scientist, the environment, and the public from contamination.
Bachelor's and master's level Biologists do much the same as the Ph.D.s, although they usually are not responsible for
obtaining grant funding or professional presentations at scientific
Most Biologists also engage in some type of "service" activities
-- serving on committees in their workplace or for their professional
society, for example, or participating in outreach activities, explaining
their work to the adult public or school children.
Working hours for Biologists very much depend on the nature of their work. The
work in a laboratory may be very regular, but sometimes the demands of an
experiment go beyond a 9-5 day and the entire effort would be ruined if
stopped abruptly at the normal end of the workday. While out in the field
observing or collecting specimens, a Biologist must follow the habits of
the creature under study -- if it is nocturnal, for example, the day may be
9-5, but that is 9 PM to 5 AM!
The laboratory environment may be busy, with lots of coworkers and noisy
experimental subjects, or very quiet, with just one or two researchers. The
laboratory may be in a building on an academic campus, part of a complex of
industrial buildings, located in a hospital, or tucked into a corner of a
marine biology research vessel.
Biologists who work in the field have even more varied workplaces: as
different as the habitats in the world around us. The scientist may be
climbing a mountain, boating on a lake, tromping through a rain forest, or
diving at a coral reef. If a field station serves as headquarters for the
project, the facilities may be primitive (no hot water, for example) or
have all the amenities (including the latest sophisticated equipment).
For Biologists who work in an office, as an administrator, analyst, or
regulator, the work hours tend to be regular. Even in such jobs, however,
impending deadlines may require extra hours from time to time.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by JGPerpich, LLC
and the US Department of Labor, Bureau of