From a career standpoint, the term “biologist” can have many meanings. As a biologist, you might study plants, animals, people or a particular environment. You could work in marine biology, wildlife biology or biochemistry, travel to the Brazilian rain forest to study biological compounds or work in a clinical laboratory as a microbiologist. In most cases, a license is not required to become a biologist.
Education and Work Settings
Although a bachelor’s degree might get your foot in the door, most biology positions require at least a master’s degree. Researchers generally have a doctorate, which will be especially important if you want to do direct research. Many biologists work for the federal government in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Agriculture. You could also work for a pharmaceutical company in a research lab.
Certification vs. Licensing
Some biologists are certified. Your friends may use the terms interchangeably, but a certification is not the same thing as a license. Many professional occupations in the U.S. require a license from a state regulatory board. If a license is required -- physicians and nurses, for example, must be licensed in all states -- you cannot practice the profession unless you are licensed. Certification is voluntary, and the certification is a credential issued by a private professional organization.
Certifications for Biologists
Certifications for biologists generally fall into one of two classifications. The first is an overall certification of competence in the profession. A biologist may have to meet educational or experience requirements or take an exam to become certified. An example of this type of certification is the Certified Wildlife Biologist credential offered by the Wildlife Society. Another type of certification is a credential given for a skill related to the profession. Marine biologists, for example, may need to become certified in scuba diving. Certifications for this skill are offered by the National Association of Underwater Instructors and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.
A few biologists must be licensed. Clinical genetic molecular biologists specialize in diagnostic testing for diseases such as cancer or for genetic disorders and may be required to be licensed. California is one state that requires a license for clinical genetic molecular biologists, according to California State University at Los Angeles. Some microbiologists may be physicians and are required to have a medical license, but not a microbiology license. Biologists such as marine biologists and wildlife biologists, however, are not required to have a license, although they can choose to get certified.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Microbiologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- Princeton Review: Careers -- Biologist
- World Education Service: Professional Licensing and Certification in the U.S.
- TheScubaGuide.com: Scuba Certification
- California State University at Los Angeles: Clinical Laboratory Science Postbaccalaureate Programs
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.