How to Become a Biology Teacher



Biology, also known as life science, is a branch of the natural sciences concerned with the study of living organisms. Biology is a vast and eclectic field of study with a myriad of subfields ranging from zoology to microbiology. For this reason, while some biologists work primarily in laboratory settings, others spend extended periods of time in the field observing living organisms in their natural habitat and still others work in hospitals and medical research centers. As an interdisciplinary field with many branches, there are also a myriad of contexts in which one can teach biology and a need for biology teachers at all levels of the school system.

How can I become an elementary biology teacher?

science, chemistry, technology, biology and people concept - close up of young female scientist face looking to microscope eyepiece and making or research in clinical laboratoryWhile elementary schools typically do not employ teachers to teach exclusively biology, many elementary schools employ science specialists who meet students once or twice a week, and biology is generally a major part of the elementary school science curriculum. After all, while small children may struggle to grasp the more abstract concepts introduced in fields such as physics, biology is concerned with the material world and therefore much easier to introduce at a very young level.

Indeed, children are often extremely curious about living creatures and things from worms to fungi, and this makes biology a natural place to begin one’s science education. Elementary level science teachers typically have completed a bachelor of science degree in biology or another science field (e.g., physics or chemistry) and a bachelor of education degree with a specialization in science education. They must also be certified to teach in their state.

How can I become a middle school biology teacher?

Some but not all middle schools employ biology teachers but in many cases, middle school science teachers are still expected to be generalists, teaching biology, as well as other STEM subjects in the context of a general science program. Middle school science teachers have typically completed a bachelor of science degree in biology or another science field (e.g., physics or chemistry) and a bachelor of education degree with a specialization in science education and are certified to teach in their state.

How can I become a high school biology teacher?

While some smaller high schools expect science teachers to teach across the science or STEM curriculum, in larger high schools, especially those with a focus on STEM subjects, teachers may be hired to exclusively teach biology. As a high school biology teacher, one can expect to introduce students to increasingly advanced and specialized topics in biology. Classes are typically held in a laboratory setting. As a result, supervising students engaged in hands-on activities, such as dissections, is a major part of one’s job. To become a high school biology teacher, one must hold a bachelor or science degree in biology or a bachelor or science degree with a certain number of credit hours in biology (usually at least 30 semester credit hours). Many high school biology teachers also hold additional qualifications, such as a master of science or master of arts in science teaching or master of education.

How can I become a college biology professor?

College level biology professors may teach biology courses to biology majors or in some cases, teach biology to students enrolled in applied programs where some knowledge of biology is critical. Depending on one’s area of specialization within biology, then, biology professors may find themselves teaching biology courses to students pursuing certificates or diplomas in fields as diverse as kinesiology, physical therapy, nursing and environmental management. Whatever their focus, most college biology professors hold at least a master of science in biology and usually a PhD in biology with a demonstrated area of expertise in one subfield (e.g., molecular biology, evolution and zoology).

How can I become a university biology teacher?

At the university level, biology may be a single department or divided in to many departments. Harvard University’s life sciences program has five separate biology programs dedicated to specific areas of specialization, such as organic and evolutionary biology and molecular and cellular biology. At smaller universities, a single biology department may offer courses across the biology curriculum. Another unique aspect of biology is its connection to the arts. While biology degrees are usually offered in the sciences, at some universities, such as the University of Vermont, biology degrees are conferred in the arts and sciences.

In most cases, scholars who choose to specialize in biology choose an area of concentration at the undergraduate level and continue to specialize throughout their careers. For this reason, a PhD in biology can mean many different things. In the Department of Biology at Stanford University, for example, PhD candidates choose to concentrate in one of three areas of concentration: molecular, cellular development and genetics; integrative/organism; or ecology, evolution and population biology.

Whatever the focus, PhD candidates in biology are typically expected to complete graduate coursework in their specific area of concentration; write one or more field exams demonstrating their expertise in their chosen field, and write and defend a dissertation based on original research in the field.

Following graduation, PhDs in biology usually complete one or more postdoctoral positions before finding full-time work. As a university biology professor, one is expected to teach courses in their area of specialization, contribute to the governance of their department, recruit, train and supervisor graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and carry out original research.

As in other fields, it is imperative than one present their research findings at annual conferences (e.g., microbiologists present their research to other microbiologists at annual conferences, such as the American Society for Microbiology) and to publish research findings in highly esteemed journals in the discipline.


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