What is Biology?

Biology Department


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One of our major goals is to help you figure out your career path.

What is Biology?

Biology is a natural science discipline that studies living things. It is a very large and broad field due to the wide variety of life found on Earth, so individual biologists normally focus on specific fields. These fields are either categorized by the scale of life or by the types of organisms studied.

Scale of Life

For example, the scale of biology can cover everything from genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology – studying the molecules of life inside our cells and how they help us function – to cell biology which focuses on the basic unit of life. There is also anatomy, physiology and other fields that focus on whole organisms, and to even larger scales such as animal behavior, population biology, and ecology and systematics that study groups and entire communities of organisms.

Study of Organisms

Other fields within biology focus on specific types of organisms such as bacteria and other microbes (microbiology), viruses (virology), plants (botany), animals (zoology), wildlife biology and marine biology. And often, biologists focus on both a particular scale and a particular organism, such as plant cell biology.

Many of the most interesting recent discoveries in biology have happened at the intersection with other disciplines such as biochemistry, biophysics, bioengineering, and computational (mathematical) biology and these intersections will be increasingly important in the future.

Biology is also a foundation for other biology-based professions such as medicine, nursing and allied health, pharmacy and pharmacology, dentistry, and veterinary medicine.

How do I know if Biology is right for me?

You may be wondering how to figure out what kind of biology and what career path is right for you.

College is a journey, not a destination. One of the major goals of a college experience is to learn what your path will be, as well as get an education that enables that path.

Some students come to UMD knowing exactly what they want for a major and what career path they want to pursue. But it is more common for students to know generally what they are interested in and then use their college experiences to help focus and define those goals.

Figuring Out a Focus

If you are interested in biology and the types of careers described above, you may still not know precisely what kind of biology, or what kind of career you want. You will learn through your coursework, discussions with your advisers, and other experiences here what you are most interested in and you will be exposed to a wide variety of career options that can assist you in choosing the right path for you.

Many students enter UMD with a general interest in science but do not know whether they will pursue biology, chemistry or another related discipline. That is okay too. You will be exposed to a broad spectrum of science, math and other disciplines as a first-year Swenson College student that will help you determine what major is best for you. No one is locked into their choice, particularly in the first two years.

Our advising staff is happy to talk with you about these different options so you can better understand how to make the right choices.

What does a Biologist do?

Biologists with a Bachelor’s degree often do laboratory or field-based work directly related to their undergraduate training. For example:

  • Work in an academic or private industry research lab.

  • Join a biology-based agency such as the state’s department of natural resources or forestry service

  • Get hired by federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Do environmental assessments or wildlife surveys with a consulting firm

Graduate School Options

You may decide to pursue graduate training in a sub-discipline at the Master’s and Ph.D. levels to explore a broad spectrum of options including basic and applied research, working in biotechnology and consulting.

Another popular option is to get your undergraduate biology degree as an entry point for graduate programs that prepare you for careers in nursing, allied health, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or pharmacy.

Biology can also be your foundation for advanced training in other disciplines that allow for specialization like law, policy making, scientific illustration, teaching, and a host of other career paths.

Career Opportunities

UMD's most recent graduate follow-up report, shows we have a very high placement rate for our graduates.

That means - nearly all students completing our program have successfully found work or entered graduate school for further study after completing our program.

The report also includes information on where students found employment in case you're interested in what career options would be available to you.