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Natural Resource Biologist
Significant Points
  • Biotechnological research and development should continue to drive much faster than average employment growth.
  • A Ph.D. is usually required for independent research, but a bachelor's degree is sufficient for some jobs in applied research or product development; temporary postdoctoral research positions are common.
  • Competition for independent research positions in academia is expected.
Nature of the Work

Biological scientists study living organisms and their relationship to the environment. They perform research to gain a better understanding of fundamental life processes and apply that understanding to developing new products or processes. Research can be broken down into two categories: basic and applied. Basic research is conducted without any intended aim; the goal is simply to expand on human knowledge. Applied research is directed towards solving a particular problem. Most biological scientists specialize in one area of biology, such as zoology (the study of animals) or microbiology (the study of microscopic organisms).

Basic research in biological sciences advances our knowledge of living organisms so that we can develop solutions to human health problems and improve the natural environment. These biological scientists mostly work in government, university, or private industry laboratories, often exploring new areas of research. Many expand on specialized research they started in graduate school.

Many biological scientists involved in basic research must submit grant proposals to obtain funding for their projects. Colleges and universities, private foundations, and Federal Government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, contribute to the support of scientists whose research proposals are determined to be financially feasible and to have the potential to advance new ideas or processes.

Biological scientists who work in applied research or product development apply knowledge gained through basic research to develop new drugs, treatments, and medical diagnostic tests; increase crop yields; and develop new biofuels. They usually have less freedom than basic researchers do to choose the emphasis of their research, and they spend more time working on marketable treatments to meet the business goals of their employers. Biological scientists doing applied research and product development often work in teams, interacting with engineers, scientists of other disciplines, business managers, and technicians. Those working in private industry may be required to describe their research plans or results to nonscientists who are in a position to veto or approve their ideas. These scientists must consider the business effects of their work. Some biological scientists also work with customers or suppliers and manage budgets.

Scientists usually conduct research in laboratories using a wide variety of other equipment. Some conduct experiments involving animals or plants. This is particularly true of botanists, physiologists, and zoologists. Some biological research also takes place outside the laboratory. For example, a botanist might do field research in tropical rain forests to see which plants grow there, or an ecologist might study how a forest area recovers after a fire. Some marine biologists also work outdoors, often on research vessels from which they study fish, plankton, or other marine organisms.

Swift advances in knowledge of genetics and organic molecules spurred growth in the field of biotechnology, transforming the industries in which biological scientists work. Biological scientists can now manipulate the genetic material of animals and plants, attempting to make organisms more productive or resistant to disease. Those working on various genome (chromosomes with their associated genes) projects isolate genes and determine their function. This work continues to lead to the discovery of genes associated with specific diseases and inherited health risks, such as sickle cell anemia. Advances in biotechnology have created research opportunities in almost all areas of biology, with commercial applications in areas such as medicine, agriculture, and environmental remediation.

Most biological scientists specialize in the study of a certain type of organism or in a specific activity, although recent advances have blurred some traditional classifications.

Microbiologists investigate the growth and characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, algae, or fungi. Most microbiologists specialize in environmental, food, agricultural, or industrial microbiology; virology (the study of viruses); immunology (the study of mechanisms that fight infections); or bioinformatics. Many microbiologists use biotechnology to advance knowledge of cell reproduction and human disease.

Work environment. Most biologists spend their time in laboratories conducting research and in offices writing up results and keeping up with the latest research discoveries. Some biological scientists, particularly botanists, ecologists, and zoologists, do field studies that involve strenuous physical activity and primitive living conditions for extended periods of time. Biological scientists in the field may work in warm or cold climates, in all kinds of weather. Biological scientists usually are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination.

Many biological scientists, particularly those employed in academic settings, depend on grant money to support their research. They may be under pressure to meet deadlines and to conform to rigid grant-writing specifications when preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding.

Biological scientists typically work regular hours. While the 40-hour workweek is common, some biological scientists work longer hours. Some researchers may be required to work odd hours in laboratories or other locations (especially while in the field), depending on the nature of their research.

Natural Resource Biologist, GS-0401-12/13

Major Duties

The Natural Resource Biologist assists and provides technical advice to land and wildlife resource managers throughout the Region in implementing habitat management plans. Provides technical assistance to State and Federal land management agencies, flyway councils, and private conservation organizations. The Natural Resource Biologist oversees all aspects of the program activities and develops, coordinates and implements public outreach and off-refuge management projects.

The Natural Resource Biologist coordinates training opportunities for wildlife and habitat management experts and employees from the National Wildlife Refuge System, and foreign and domestic institutions. The Natural Resource Biologist also identifies, coordinates and conducts wildlife and habitat management research that addresses the needs of the refuge or refuge complex at a broad geographical scale as it relates to long-term Regional management planning.

The Natural Resource Biologist is responsible for publishing articles in professional journals and other outlets and presents findings at professional and local meetings.

A. Major Duties:

The Natural Resource Biologist is responsible for statistically designing, prioritizing, scheduling, coordinating, analyzing, and validating results of all wildlife and habitat related studies and research for the program to achieve refuge, regional, national, and ecosystem goals and objectives.

Provides management recommendations to Project Leaders, upper management, and other refuge partners.

The Natural Resource Biologist is considered a wildlife and habitat expert, designing and implementing complex analytical and statistical management processes for Service and non-Service professionals to produce scientifically based results in a variety of sensitive and potentially contentious land and wildlife management initiatives.

The Natural Resource Biologist is responsible for synthesizing available and existing research results, field data and other information accumulated in various refuge research and similar reports, files and other sources, into meaningful and useful summaries and format. This includes preparation of data for computer applications and using statistics to analyze data.

Provides biological expertise, advice and technical assistance to refuges, other federal, state, or private organizations, on the application of biological techniques, accepted scientific methodology and priority needs concerning land management practices.

Maintains liaison with research specialists, Federal and State agency biologists, and private entities involved in developing new techniques and methods related to wildlife and habitat management. These contacts foster an exchange of new developments, and ideas, and provide information to refuge management.

Promotes research on refuge lands, especially to address refuge needs, coordinates with the Biological Resource Division of the agency, and Universities.

Publishes technical reports and articles in scientific journals. Identifies continuing education needs of refuges staff. Promotes outreach opportunities to other federal, tribal, state, or private organizations, and the international conservation community.

Develops seminars, workshops, literature compilations, and other methods to address these training needs. Provides and facilitates transfer of technical biological information and assistance to project leaders, refuge managers, and biologists. Provides field personnel with current information about new management approaches, wildlife species needs, and habitat ecology.

Works with Regional Refuge Biologists to develop wildlife inventory and habitat monitoring procedures that are applicable to other refuges and ecosystems. Procedures will promote consistency in data collection to allow for exchange of information and evaluation among refuges and ecosystems. Data will be used for refuge-specific management actions and coordinated management programs among refuges throughout the Nation.

Coordinates with other program biologists, Regional Refuge Biologists, Refuge Biologists, project leaders of home sites, and the program coordinator in the Washington Office to evaluate or identify biological needs, programs, or policy development that will influence refuge biological priorities, techniques, and procedures nationwide.

Keeps current on new biological and ecological management techniques, policies and issues.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Basic Requirements:

  1. Degree: microbiology; or biology, chemistry, or basic medical science that included at least 20 semester hours in microbiology and other subjects related to the study of microorganisms, and 20 semester hours in the physical and mathematical sciences combining course work in organic chemistry or biochemistry, physics, and college algebra, or their equivalent.

    OR

  2. Combination of education and experience -- courses equivalent to a major in microbiology, biology, chemistry, or basic medical science that included courses as shown in A above, plus appropriate experience or additional education.

Graduate Education: Microbiology, or specific area of study such as bacteriology, virology, mycology, algology, protozoology, parasitology, immunology, serology, microbial genetics, or soil microbiology; or specific applied fields of microbiology such as clinical and public health microbiology, food tech-nology, production processes, industrial fermentation, pollution, etc. Graduate study in related fields such as experimental pathology, infectious diseases, epidemiology, biochemistry, animal or plant physiology, genetics, plant pathology, and insect disease control, may also be pertinent, provided it has direct application to microbiological work.

Evaluation of Education: Microbiology is a broad field of science encompassing a number of scientific disciplines or areas of science, the fields in which this science is applied, and related fields where the work is concerned with or involves microbiology. The scientific disciplines or areas of this science include bacteriology, immunology, serology, algology, mycology, parasitology, protozoology, rickettsi-ology, tissue culture, virology, and similar disciplines or areas of science. The applied fields include environmental, food, dairy, soil, industrial, public health, clinical, and agricultural microbiology, and similar areas in which microbiology is applied. Related fields include taxonomy and systematics, plant, animal, or human physiology or pathology, infectious diseases, epidemiology, ecology, and similar areas of science where the work is directly related or applies to microbiology. Except where the course work deals with a limited and specific segment of the science, where it might be limited in usefulness, most of the work, including that dealing with the development and use of microbiological methods, procedures, and techniques, is qualifying. In interpreting the substantive value of the course work, credit may be given for courses in related fields, depending on the degree to which the courses are related to micro-biological work.

Evaluation of Experience: For positions at GS-9 that involve a substantial amount of work in a specific specialized area or applied field of microbiology, at least 6 months of the experience must either have been in the appropriate area of specialization or applied field of microbiology, or have direct application in the area for which the applicant is being considered. For the GS-11 and higher grade levels of such specialized positions, the experience must have been sufficiently specialized to insure adequate familiarity with the area of specialization or applied field of microbiology, or have direct application in the area for which the applicant is being considered.

Alternate requirement: For GS-14 clinical and public health microbiology positions, certification by the American Board of Medical Microbiology/American Board of Medical Laboratory Immunology, or election to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology fully meets the experience requirement for such positions.

 

Job Outlook

Employment of biological scientists is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations although there will continue to be competition for some basic research positions.

Employment change. Employment of biological scientists is projected to grow 21 percent over the 2008—18 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations, as biotechnological research and development continues to drive job growth. Biological scientists enjoyed very rapid employment gains over the past few decades—reflecting, in part, the growth of the biotechnology industry. Employment growth will moderate somewhat as the biotechnology industry matures, with fewer new firms being founded and existing firms merging or being absorbed by larger biotechnology or pharmaceutical firms. However, much of the basic biological research done in recent years has resulted in new knowledge, including the isolation and identification of genes. Biological scientists will be needed to take this knowledge to the next stage, understanding how certain genes function within an entire organism, so that medical treatments can be developed to treat various diseases. Even pharmaceutical and other firms not solely engaged in biotechnology use biotechnology techniques extensively, spurring employment for biological scientists. For example, biological scientists are continuing to help farmers increase crop yields by pinpointing genes that can help crops, such as wheat, grow in more extreme climate conditions.

In addition, efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the environment will continue to add to job growth. More biological scientists will be needed to determine the environmental impact of industry and government actions and to prevent or correct environmental problems, such as the negative effects of pesticide use. Some biological scientists will find opportunities in environmental regulatory agencies, while others will use their expertise to advise lawmakers on legislation to save environmentally sensitive areas. New industrial applications of biotechnology, such as new methods for producing biofuels, also will spur demand for biological scientists.

The Federal Government is a major source of funding for basic research and development, including many areas of medical research that relate to biological science. Large budget increases at the National Institutes of Health in the early part of the decade led to increases in Federal basic research and development expenditures, with research grants growing both in number and dollar amount. However, the increase in expenditures slowed substantially in recent years. Going forward, the level of Federal funding will continue to impact competition for winning and renewing research grants.

There will continue to be demand for biological scientists specializing in botany, zoology, and marine biology, but opportunities will be limited because of the small size of these fields. Marine biology, despite its attractiveness as a career, is a very small specialty within biological science.

Job prospects. Doctoral degree holders are expected to face competition for basic research positions in academia. Furthermore, should the number of advanced degrees awarded continue to grow, applicants for research grants are likely to face even more competition. Currently, about 1 in 4 grant proposals are approved for long-term research projects. In general, applied research positions in private industry are somewhat easier to obtain, but may become more competitive if increasing numbers of scientists seek jobs in private industry because of the difficulty finding positions in colleges and universities.

Prospective marine biology students should be aware that those who would like to enter this specialty far outnumber the very few openings that occur each year for the type of glamorous research jobs that many would like to obtain. Almost all marine biologists who do basic research have a Ph.D.

People with bachelor's and master's degrees are expected to have more opportunities in nonscientist jobs related to biology, in fields like sales, marketing, publishing, and research management. Non-Ph.D.s also may fill positions as science or engineering technicians or as medical health technologists and technicians. Some become high school biology teachers.

Biological scientists are less likely to lose their jobs during recessions than those in other occupations, because many are employed on long-term research projects. However, an economic downturn could influence the amount of money allocated to new research and development efforts, particularly in areas of risky or innovative research. An economic downturn also could limit the possibility of extension or renewal of existing projects.

Earnings

Median annual wages of zoologists and wildlife biologists were $55,290 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $43,060 and $70,500. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,850.

Sources of Additional Information

For information on careers in the biological sciences, contact:

  • American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1444 I St. NW., Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.aibs.org
  • Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814. Internet: http://www.faseb.org

Information on obtaining Natural Resource Biologist positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

Sources:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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