Big Questions of Future Biologists

Hi! :blush: I’m a student and I’m in the 12th grade. :nerd_face: Big Questions for Future Biologists are intended to question and clarify some doubts about the profession of biologists :seedling:. I would love to be a biologist in the future, but I have a lot of questions and I would appreciate it if you could help me! :smile:
I live in Portugal :portugal:, a country with wonderful biodiversity! I really admire the work of biologists and would like to follow in their footsteps in the future. I love nature and animals. I want to be able to study them and meet new species. In addition to this, what I really want is to be able to fight for the preservation of different species and take care of our planet.
So, I would like to know how you biologists really knew that you wanted to work in this area. I would also like to know how the market is doing around the world and wages, especially in my country, Portugal.
Is a biologist always traveling around the world or can he stay in one place? Does a biologist have to study and touch all animals or can he choose, for example, to study birds, mammals or reptiles …?
Do all biologists, during their college course, have to experiment with animals, namely rats? :mouse2:
I hope you don’t take any of the questions wrong and thank you very much if you answer. The truth is that we students have a lot of information on the Internet. But that’s not enough for me! I like to talk to new people, who are in the area and have other perspectives.
Thanks again and THANK YOU for taking care of our planet and the beings that inhabit it! I really admire it! :green_heart: :wink: :star_struck:

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Greetings, @Carvalho ! I am glad you would like to help the environment and study biology. Congratulations on your excellent English!

There are quite a few biologists here, though this site is more for the study of life and faith (with Logos as God’s Word). You will find people of all opinions–religious and non religious–who enjoy talking about the intersection of science and belief here.

I have a bachelor’s (4 year degree) in biology, though my final career is as a primary care physician. I chose biology because I enjoyed the environment and animals, as well as health care. My favorite classes included botany, cell and molecular biology, organic chemistry, and evolutionary biology. We also enjoyed ecology studies. We studied the various plants and animals that grew in the mature forest around my university.

In my undergraduate class, we did experiments on fruit flies, irradiated seeds (many of which were sickly or did not grow because of mutations), and how to assess chemical reactions with, as I recall, spectrophotometry. I did not take an extensive course in experimentation, though, as I went on to medicine. My children, who are 7, 10 and nearly 13, love biology and science, too, and I hope they will study more than I did in that field.

Some of the biologists that visit this site make experimentation and research their living. I rely on them for knowledge to put into practice in medicine.

Best wishes and blessings in your care of Nature and the environment! There are many great jobs in biology.

Randy

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A big focus of my college was on biology as well. There are all kinds of paths that you can take with it. Unfortunately I don’t know what the pay grades are internationally or even from east to west coast in USA.

The level of freedom you have to choose your own career depends on your degree, your focus, and where you end up. A researcher working for a specific organization may want you to focus on this or that.

But to show how widespread the potential is I’ll tell you what I ended up doing and what a few friends of mine are doing.

I ended up focusing on landscaping. I found out through studying that in America what ended up dominating the typical yard was just turf grass. Boring old turf grass that provides very little ecological benefits. I learned how even yards with plants they tended to be non native plants and often invasive exotics. I learned how the nursery industry over a century ago brought over Chinese chestnuts as rootstock and it carried a fungal disease with it that the Chinese chestnut plant evolved with but it devastated the American chestnuts to less than 1% of its population and I learned about how kudzo chocked out trees, and Asian privets destabilized river banks.

As plants and insects evolve together they overcome one another. How monarch caterpillars eat milkweed but other caterpillars can’t because it’s toxic to them. Almost all caterpillars are host specific. I learned about how native plants and fungi developed these nutrient and chemical pathways. As more and more land was turned into yards and more and more yards were filled in with turf grass and exotic plants it resulted in less snd less caterpillars because less moths and butterflies were laying eggs which resulted in less food for birds and for less butterflies and so on. Entire food web systems were destroyed.

So with what I learned I begin to focus on thst within the landscaping industry. I still have a lot further to go to reach my goals though.

I have a friend whose a biologist and the director over a 1500 acre nature preserve. She keeps a eye on things and lead classes. Occasionally she does research as well or helps students with their research at the preserve.

Another friend whose of an acquaintance actually with their degree got a job to set up more natural environments for zoos. They select native and non native plants and create mini habitats with ponds and whatever at zoos and does maintenance on them. From volunteering at a botanical garden for a while I met a handful of biologist from the local colleges getting in hours. Often they would end up getting random jobs with specific agendas thst we’re usually founded through non profit organizations or colleges to visit a place for a while and collect data.

So depending on your focus there is all kinds of choices.

What are you wanting to focus on?

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Hi Carvalho,

I have a B.S., M.S., and (hopefully not too many months from now) will have a Ph.D in various biological disciplines, and I will try to answer your questions from my own experience.

So, I would like to know how you biologists really knew that you wanted to work in this area.

Mostly by trying a bunch of other types of jobs (before going to college) and finding out what I didn’t want to do.

I would also like to know how the market is doing around the world and wages, especially in my country, Portugal.

I can’t speak to Portugal specifically, but in general the market will differ depending on your specific skillset and career plans. Academic jobs tend to be both lower paying and less numerous than jobs at companies.

Is a biologist always traveling around the world or can he stay in one place?

There are a lot of ways to be a biologist. Some biologists work in labs and don’t travel for work much at all. Some biologists mix lab and field work a lot and may travel somewhat regularly. Some work at zoos, at museums or for various branches of the government. Some mostly teach. Some work at big companies that design drugs or help with breed new varieties of crops. Some biologists work for non-profit organizations with a variety of different aims and goals. Some biologists make theoretical models, while others are always sitting at the bench working with tiny molecules. Still others spend their time doing computer programming. Many do some combinations of these things.

Does a biologist have to study and touch all animals or can he choose, for example, to study birds, mammals or reptiles …?

Most biologists will specialize in a particular type of organism and/or a somewhat limited set of questions that they address (though there are plenty of exceptions). As an undergrad, I worked in a lab that mostly tried to answer questions about how different types of spiders and other arachnids were related to each other. I did molecular biology in the lab, worked with preserved samples, and we also went out in the field to find and collect spiders (which, yes, involved touching them).

During my PhD, I switched to working with plants. I grow plants in the greenhouse, pay other people to turn those plants into DNA, then I use computers to analyze the DNA. In fact, although I’m a biologist, most of what I do now is use computers (which I enjoy).

All that to say, just as life is fully of diversity, there are many, many diverse paths a biologist can take in their career.

Do all biologists, during their college course, have to experiment with animals, namely rats?

It really just depends on the courses you take. I didn’t do any work with rats in any of my courses, but there were plenty of classes I had that included labs working with live or preserved animals. The live animals are always fun. I don’t particularly enjoy dissection, and there wasn’t a lot, but there was some.

Hope that helps, at least a little bit!
Dave

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Hi Randy, thank you for your message! ´
Here we also study and experiment, particularly in the field of genetics, with fruit flies!
It is always good when we apply our knowledge of biology in other areas!
I wish you all the best, for you and your children!
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and professional history/evolution with me! :smile:

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Hi SkovandOfMitaze! Thanks for your message! I really love it! Here, in Portugal, we also have some invasive species, such as the Asian bee, which has spoiled some plantations and eats honey bees, reducing the number of individuals of this species.
In fact, biologists have several ways to choose to focus! I like yours! It must be amazing to be a landscaper!
To be honest, I still hadn’t thought about what I wanted to focus on, because I like everything a little! But I want something related to animals, especially birds and mammals (and perhaps marine ahah) and their preservation. I want to wake up every day and feel that I have contributed to our planet and the salvation of some species! I also love to discover new species and learn more about them, both in field and laboratory work. I think over time, I will find the answer to what I really want to focus on!
I would like and thank you very much if you could share with me some photos and studies of experiences that you have done and involve, for example, insects like you said or any other type of animals! Once again, thank you very much for your message! I wish you all the best! :smile:

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Hello Randy, your answer is in the wrong place ahahah I’m still getting used to working with this forum, quite different from the ones used here! Thank you for your message, I hope you can read my reply!

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Hello Davecarlson! I am very grateful for your message! Enlightened me a lot! Thank you for answering all the questions!
It must have been very interesting to study arachnids. I’ve read a lot about the black widow spider.
And it must be incredible to analyze the DNA! Right now, I am studying the genetics part of Biology and we analyze several experiments done by Mendel, for example! Some are based on the cultivation and study of sweet peas and others on fruit flies!
I love doing experiments, namely related to animals. I don’t like dissection either, I don’t think I would have the courage to do it. But I don’t mind studying animals and touching them (except snakes ahahah I have a kind of phobia)!
I would love to share some of your research, photos and knowledge with me! I’ve always wanted to see DNA photos, I’ve never seen real images.
Once again, I am forever grateful for your message! I wish you all the best! :smiley:

Landscaping can definitely be a lot of fun. Especially if you care a lot about nature and the environment. Some get stuck in that boring trap of just basic exotic plants tucked here and there among turf.

Before I start projects I like to pick random insects I’m interested in that goes with a clients needs. Like I had a client who wanted a nighttime entertainment area with a fire pit and so on. So I had fun looking up dozens of native moth species and learning about them and their best habitats. Since they are mostly nocturnal or early morning I searched out host plants that were lighter in color with stronger night time floral smells. Then mixed that with various evergreen plants so that there is something pretty to look at and smell at night for humans that also host moths.

I had a cool project with a property along a river that I got work on and spec the plants and some design features for. We removed the invasive plants, limbed up ( which is pruning lower limbs so that their is walking clearance under them ) the trees. Removed a few species to make room for more variation. Added in a sand pine, sweet bay magnolia, and some white oaks for the canopy. In a few years when those trees are a bit taller we will add in some rhododendrons, witch hazel and possibly some ozark chinquapins ( to help with conservation of this species that was affected by the chestnut blight ) and we’ve already planted several species of ferns there and a few other forbs I don’t remember at the moment. We kept some of the dead standing trees and laid them over and hid them with shrubs , rocks, and ferns to help create places for bees to overwinter in. We looked up a handful of bird species to see what types of birdhouses and heights they look for. A owl stays in a very different birdhouse than a blue jay and cardinals prefer platform type houses it seems.

I do like snakes though and so we brought in a few uprooted stumps and rocks to create micro habitats with mulch around it to help attract reptiles.

I have another cool project coming up this next fall to help do some work on restoring, and beautifying , a beach house with sand dunes. Between the oil spill, the city removing dunes to create more beach space, and bad visitors who walk over dunes to get to the beach instead of using board walks it’s really damaged the flora. Since the dunes use to be a lot larger, and tiered, we are building a few smaller dunes closer to the beach, and a few larger ones behind that, with some more smaller ones in front of that. Using several species of sea oats, false goldenrod, and native coastal morning glories. Then building a dune fence that is 6 feet high stretching 80 feet on each side to block it off. Then the back of the house will have fences between the neighbors and louvers along the back with the pier coming from the upper floor. We are even trying to work on getting permission for larger dune , and the next four houses after that to plant scrub oaks that do well in the coastal plains to reach back towards the wild side and install a wildlife bridge ( in this case a 6x6 tunnel that goes under the road and comes back out on the other side where it’s a nature preserve so that we can create a good den for foxes. The family currently actually has a family of foxes living under their house is a washout below the concrete. I guess it’s semi typical. I think someone from here mentioned their family having a similar interaction and I’ve came across about 5 more like that in the last few years.

So I really enjoy being able to use what I learned from biology, botany, and ecology to help with wildlife management.

Have you heard of Doug Tallamy? He has a few fantastic books about urban ecology.

I definitely believe that as Christians we need to rep that this is Gods creation. It was called very good. In the story of Adam he was told to help co-rule the garden by managing it. I believe part of our duty as humans, and especially as Christians, is to help maintain the health of the earth and protect nature.

Plus whatever you do as a biologist, it will better equip you to professionally explore any hobbies. Such as if you get into moths and focus on them for a career, you can also for a hobby seek out projects on toads. When hiking you can track down amphibians and learn about them and pass on that knowledge through blogs , podcasts, or talks and so on.

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Hi! Thank you for sharing your projects with me. I really liked it, they are very interesting and are, in fact, to help care for the Garden of God! I am also a Christian and I really admire the beauty that has been provided to us. I am grateful for it. And I recognize that our mission is to take care of all of this! You are contributing a lot to this mission! Thank you!
I love foxes! I see lots of them here, fleeing to forests and hills. Three years ago, there was a fire, here in my area, which destroyed the habitats of many animals: foxes, a diversity of birds, wild boar, squirrels, reptiles and many others. It was very sad, some animals were burned and others were cornered and ended up dying from poisoning. Fortunately, some people helped to replenish forests, plant trees and care for the species that managed to survive. Currently, their habitat has already been rebuilt, but even so, there is a great decrease in living beings.
If you can share some pictures of your work with me, I would love to see them. I will also share photos of the fauna and flora of Portugal, from my area, which is Porto. I don’t even live in the city, but more remote, in the countryside. It is very beautiful and would not trade for anything!
I’ve never heard of Doug Tallamy, but I’ll do my research!
Thanks for everything, it’s always a pleasure to read your messages here on the forum, I’m really happy! Keep sharing, please!
I wish you all the best!
Here are some pictures of the place where I live:

image ![image|275x183]image (upload://hizxQSPo0oFonwXns9QbiFJWiFm.jpeg)

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I have a BS in biology (thesis on fossil mollusks), MS in geology (thesis on fossil mollusks), PhD in geology (dissertation on bivalve DNA phylogeny), and postdoctoral study on DNA of imperiled freshwater mollusks. There’s lots of poorly-studied diversity globally. I know there is some good work happening on imperiled freshwater mollusks in Portugal, but room for much more work. A challenge is that the type of basic study needed to inform the big picture decisions often doesn’t get as much support from governments, universities, etc. But being able to learn about creation and help care for it is a wonderful experience.

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Hi Carvalho! I think it’s great that you want to be a biologist, as I think it’s a really enjoyable and rewarding career :slight_smile: I currently teach biology at a college in California, USA (similar to a university in Portugal) while doing some research on the side on animals, their genetics and how they’ve evolved.

I would like to know how you biologists really knew that you wanted to work in this area.

I knew I wanted to be a biologist because I loved animals ever since I was a kid, and spent a lot of time reading about them and watching documentaries about them. There was a show called the Crocodile Hunter, and the host was practically my hero! When I chose where to go for university, I specifically picked a school where I could get a degree in Zoology, and when I picked a university for my PhD (doctorate) I went somewhere that I could study my favorite kinds of animals (mammals).

I would also like to know how the market is doing around the world and wages, especially in my country, Portugal.

I can’t comment on Portugal specifically, but I know that the market varies across the world. For example, a friend from Spain said it was really hard to find work there as a professor because the number of schools are limited in positions, and the older professors haven’t retired yet. By contrast, the USA typically has many positions available, but it depends on what kind of biology you want to do. There’s always a need for instructors at colleges and universities here, especially for teaching health-related biology, given that so many people want to become nurses and doctors. There’s also a big demand for biologists that work on genetics, drug development and bioinformatics (using computers to study biology). But if you want to be a marine biologist, say, there might not be as many positions.

Pay varies too, in part based on location and of course job. Some research biologists make around 50,000 USD, and some biology instructors make 120,000+ USD. Though the former may not be great pay for some people, others think of it as a trade-off: “I may not make a lot, but I love what I do!”

Is a biologist always traveling around the world or can he stay in one place?

Depends what you want to do! Yes, some travel the world, but those that do usually only do so for seasons (e.g., Spring, Summer). Sometimes it’s for weeks, sometimes months. Usually they go to the same spot. For instance, Peter and Rosemary Grant are professors at Princeton that have gone to the Galapagos islands every year for the past 30 years or so! Others, like myself, don’t need to travel, and work completely from labs or even home (if you do computational work). Travel is an added bonus for some collaborations and/or speaking at conferences, or sometimes temporary positions. When I lived in France, one of my friends came from Portugal to work there on his PhD. Others came from Australia and New Zealand.

Does a biologist have to study and touch all animals or can he choose, for example, to study birds, mammals or reptiles …?

It depends! I, for example, am fortunate enough to be able to work on almost any animal I’m interested because I work with their genomes, which I can analyze on my computer. Others are restricted to their location: if you live in South America, you can work on a lot of South American animals. Australian animals would require more travel!

Other biologists are less interested in specific animals, and more interested in specific questions such as “what is color vision like in other animals?” or “how do animals adapt to living in freshwater streams?” In those cases, they’ll work on whatever animals help address those specific questions.

Do all biologists, during their college course, have to experiment with animals, namely rats?

I am very fortunate to be able to say that I never once experimented on animals, either during college or during my own research. I’ve never had to sacrifice (i.e., kill) anything for my research, as my research depends on the tissues of animals that are already dead (e.g., died naturally). So no, you don’t have to do that, but if it’s something that concerns you, you should check the university program before going there. Some places definitely do!

I hope that was helpful! Please let me know if you have any further questions! :slight_smile:

-Chris Emerling

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Hello! Yes, it is true that here in Portugal there are several studies on mollusks and there are more and more marine biologists. There is also research on fossils! Near the area where I live, there is another place called Arouca, where Serra da Freita is located. This saw is considered a natural laboratory for geologists. You can observe the so-called bridle stones (characteristics there), shales and slates and some very rare minerals. Another attraction of Serra da Freita is the Mizarela waterfall. The fauna is also very diverse. There is a group of geologists there who study the trilubites, which existed there thousands of years ago and left some fossils. I have one. This fact is further proof that Arouca was once covered with water and was once a sea.
I loved your message. In fact, the government should contribute more to schools and colleges. We have little information and means at our disposal.
Thank you for your sharing! I will be very grateful if you share some experiences or investigations with me! I always like to learn more!
I wish you all the best!

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Hello, Christopher_Emerling! Thank you for your message, it helped me a lot!
Since I was little I also love animals and I see several documentaries about them. These past two weeks I have been talking to several biologists and I am really grateful to everyone. I learned that in general, scientists have not been highly recognized in terms of wages. Here in Portugal, biologists have been receiving more or less the minimum wage, which applies to the unemployed and people without a degree. It is a sad and shocking fact, as we study a lot as scientists and do several exams.
On the other hand, as you said, it is a very rewarding job! Knowing that we contribute to the preservation of our planet and that we do what we can for it, is incredible! I love mammals, birds and aquatic animals, and I would like to discover and study them around the world!
I’m still not sure what to do in the future (another profession that also captivates me a lot is journalist), but in one way or another, I will always take care of our home, our beloved blue planet!
I will be very grateful if you continue to share your knowledge with me: research, works, photos …
Right now I am studying genetics and any extra information is always very welcome!
Once again, thanks for your message! I loved it!
I wish you all the best! :slightly_smiling_face:

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The types of photos of DNA you will see in the lab:

image

image

DNA in the lab isn’t very photogenic, unfortunately.

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If you have not done it class, you can extract and see DNA at home with everyday supplies. Goggle "Extracting DNA at Home " and it will give lots of instruction.

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Thank you! Wow!!! Is DNA that little twisted and almost invisible thread? I will try to see it! :slightly_smiling_face:

For my undergraduate biology degree, I had one class that included experiments with live fruit flies and a few classes that included dissections. The class in Animal Behavior involved observing animals, but not doing anything to them. Some research involves collecting and killing animals for research, particularly if you are working on invertebrates, but it depends on the particular field. Vertebrates tend to be large enough that photos and perhaps a feather or bit of fur is enough to use for study, but I once applied for a permit to collect a rare snail for DNA analysis and received permission to take a tissue sample. A tissue sample of a cubic centimeter would include 64 whole snails, so this permission was probably not granted by someone actually familiar with the snails.

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In my physiology lab we killed frogs and dissected the leg muscles out so we could measure different aspects of nerve impulses and muscle contractions. That was the most advanced vertebrate we killed in lab. I also had labs with fruit flies (genetics) and we dissected lamprey, sharks, and cats for my vertebrate anatomy course (there may have been some others I am forgetting). I believe we did a few dissections for my Zoology 201 course as well. Overall, hands on experience with all of these species did help me later in my career which has involved working with mice and hamsters in a research lab setting.

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Ines,

You might like to check out this interview with Veronica: New Article: Veronica Frans: Seeking Answers Around the World

If you take a look at her CV, she has been doing research all over the world! https://www.canr.msu.edu/csis/uploads/files/VFFRANS-CV-2-12-2020.pdf

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