How do I Become a Life Scientist?

D. Jeffress

Life science is a very broad field that involves the study of living things. Scientists might specialize in zoology, botany, microbiology, genetics, ecology, or any other scientific discipline that focuses on the organic world. A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum educational requirement to become a life scientist, but people who want to conduct independent field or laboratory research are usually required to hold doctoral degrees. In addition, an individual usually needs to gain years of professional training in fellowships or assistant positions before he or she can officially become a life scientist. Deciding on a specialty, honing research skills, and investigating many potential employers can lead a person to a rewarding life science career.

Some life scientists specialize in botany, the study of plants.
Some life scientists specialize in botany, the study of plants.

A person who wants to become a life scientist can begin preparing in high school. By taking many advanced courses in biology, chemistry, and physics, a high school student can be introduced to the fundamentals of scientific inquiry and research methods. In spare time, he or she can investigate different life science topics to decide which elements of the field are the most interesting. A student can speak with school guidance counselors to identify and apply to accredited colleges with respected science departments.

A life scientist can conduct research in a lab.
A life scientist can conduct research in a lab.

Once a person is enrolled in a four-year bachelor's degree program in biology, he or she has the opportunity to further explore interesting topics. Most undergraduate students get to take classes in a wide range of life science subjects. Taking laboratory courses is important to gain hands-on experience conducting research, and many students apply for research assistant positions at their universities to further improve their skills. Research experience is often an important factor in gaining admissions into a doctoral program.

An individual may be able to become a life scientist in an entry-level field research position after earning a bachelor's degree. Most people, however, choose to pursue advanced degrees before journeying into the profession. A doctoral degree in a specific area of biology generally is necessary to hold independent life science careers. Many schools offer four- to six-year doctoral programs, which include classroom instruction, laboratory studies, and practical internships at university or private laboratories. Students are usually expected to conduct detailed scientific research projects and publish their results in order to earn their degrees.

Upon graduation, a person can look for postdoctoral fellowship opportunities at colleges, biotechnology firms, government agencies, and research laboratories. Postdoctoral workers assist established researchers for up to three years to gain the practical skills and experience necessary to become a life scientist. With proven abilities and clear research goals, a scientist can begin applying for grants and conducting independent studies.

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