Green Jobs in Biology - dummies

By Carol L. McClelland

The environment depends on all living things within it, which is why biology is a field full of opportunity in an eco-conscious career transition. If you believe that a sustainable future rests on the shoulders of a healthy living planet, explore biology’s role in environmental science. You just may find the perfect green job!

Biology is the study of living organisms to determine their structure and function, how they grow, their origins and evolution, and their classification and distribution on the planet. The specialties in biology are determined by the kind of organism being studied. For example, microbiologists study microorganisms while zoologists research animals.

The focus of study is generally based on the scale and the method used to research the target organism. Biochemistry, molecular biology, and cellular biology focus on the chemical reactions, systems of molecules, and cellular structures found in organisms. Physiology pinpoints the functions of tissues and organ systems. Ecology looks at the interactions between organisms and their environment.

What the biology field is like today

For much of the 1900s, biological research was compartmentalized according to sub-disciplines, with little discussion or exchange of ideas. In the 1990s the field began to move toward an integrative biology, which takes multiple perspectives and data into account. This transition to a more integrative science continues as it becomes clear that the complex questions of the day require a collaborative approach to research and problem solving.

Although all disciplines within biology contribute to our knowledge of the natural world, several disciplines are likely to play a bigger role in studying and combating climate change. Scientists who study particular animals — such as entomologists (insects), ethologists (animal behavior), herpetologists (reptiles and amphibians), ichthyologists (fish), mammalogists (mammals), and ornithologists (birds) — provide invaluable information about the state of these populations as the climate changes. Other biologists who study the natural world as a whole give us a broader, more integrated view of the situation.

Future trends in biology-related careers

Biologists are contributing their knowledge and expertise to discussions that are unfolding in politics, policy, and economics. It is critical that new policies and programs designed to resolve various environmental problems be based on a solid scientific foundation.

Those with a mathematical background are applying their biological knowledge to solve environmental problems through mathematical applications such as modeling. This technological application allows scientists to uncover trends and findings much more quickly and efficiently than through observation alone.

Biomimicry is an emerging discipline that looks to nature’s design and processes to find sustainable solutions to problems in the built environment. When designers, architects, engineers, and builders come together to design an element of the man-made environment sing biomimicry, biologists, ecologists, and other scientists join the conversation. After defining the problem, the entire team then looks to the natural world to discover how nature has solved the same problem in a sustainable manner. With natural models in mind, the team then looks for ways to replicate what nature has accomplished. Biomimicry solutions are innovative, elegant, and often more simplistic than man-made solutions.

Sample job functions in biology

Below are a few jobs you could consider if you’d like to explore a career in biology

  • Research: Biologists work in labs and in the field to understand biology and use that knowledge to solve practical problems

  • Environmental management and conservation: Biologists work in parks systems, zoos, and communities to preserve natural resources, conserve wildlife, and create management plans

  • Education: Educating students at all levels and the public at natural parks and nature venues is an important role for biologists from all specialties