The outlook for careers in biological sciences is generally positive. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts steady growth for the biology and life science industry through 2028. For instance, employment in the fields of biochemistry and biophysics, which study the chemical and physical properties of organisms, is anticipated to grow by 7 percent through 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Agricultural and food scientists, who work to ensure safe and efficient food production, should experience average job growth in this period. Average employment growth also is expected for zoologists and wildlife biologists, who study animals and wildlife behavior.
The market research group Deloitte has noted that growth in the life sciences sector will occur due to aging populations, chronic diseases, expansion of the emerging market, and advances in treatment and technology. Life sciences companies will be looking to innovate and grow, and at the same time will face government regulatory challenges. In a 2019 report, the firm explained that a digital transformation was underway in the industry, and that data had become the "currency of life sciences."
At the same time, startup companies were challenging the status quo and stepping up competition with established industry players by developing new patient-focused gene therapies. "These startups could merge and form a whole new breed of company with a very different culture around innovation and life sciences," Deloitte observed. The firm acknowledged that finding the capacity to produce all the latest therapies was a challenge for the industry at the end of the decade.
Although the number of new biotechnology firms should stabilize, more professionals will be needed to expand on existing research, specifically, learning how to isolate and identify genes for the treatment of diseases, among other things. A doctoral degree is required for most of the scientific research and teaching positions in this field. The outlook for biologists with doctoral degrees who want to teach at a college or university is competitive for basic research positions. Biologists with bachelor's or master's degrees will be sought after for nonscientific positions in sales, marketing, and research management.
As companies respond to public concern for protecting the environment and human health, there should also be many new jobs available for biologists with environmental specializations. Ecologists, whose work examines environmental effects, will be needed to continue work on global warming issues and disappearing rainforests. An increase in the amount of research dedicated to health issues, such as AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease, should also result in an increase of job opportunities.
Genetics and biotechnology are two of the most promising employment areas for biologists. The American Institute of Biological Sciences says that botanists, horticulturalists, and plant geneticists, for example, will be needed to develop better methods of engineering crops. In an effort to curtail the loss of animal species due to human encroachment on wildlife areas and the effects of global warming, zoologists will be needed to develop and implement wildlife conservation programs. Researchers studying human biology will be hired in hopes of discovering ways to slow the aging process, cure genetic diseases, and reverse paralyzed nerve cells. Applications arising from new knowledge about recombinant DNA, or genetic engineering, promise to open up job opportunities, especially in the health care and pharmaceutical fields.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the life sciences industry was uneven compared to some industries. Disruption due to travel and social restrictions led to the pause of clinical trials and reduced productivity in many areas. However, the urgent need for COVID-19 diagnostic tests and a vaccine for COVID-19 presented opportunities for many companies which rushed research and development so that several vaccines hit the market in late 2020 and early 2021. As described by the consulting group RSM, the life sciences industry made impressive progress in 2020 in clinical trials and drug development, and expects 2021 to be a strong year for the industry. A new administration and changes in leadership at the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control, Health and Human Services, and the Federal Trade Commission will be helping to "shape the rate of play for life sciences companies, affect the public perception of pandemic-related efforts, and set the tone for drug approval and deal flow."
The many lessons that researchers and developers have learned throughout the pandemic will be applied to developing and bringing drugs to market in the coming years. According to a PharmTech.com article, advanced technologies, such as single-use technologies and remote monitoring, will become more important in bio/pharma operations. "Newer technologies offer benefits for bio/pharmaceutical processing that extend beyond pandemic demands." For example, clinical batches can be produced quickly and with less risk of cross-contamination.
Outside of industry, the outlook for academics in this field remained uncertain. With schools shifting to remote-learning models and non-essential business, including health care, limited by the pandemic risks, some employment avenues closed or dwindled. It remained to be seen if they would reemerge after the pandemic.