BECOMING A BIOLOGIST: THE ROLE OF GRADUATE EDUCATION
WHAT IS IT LIKE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL?
Biology is a huge field of endeavor, ranging from the study of biologically significant atoms and molecules through entire ecosystems. People rightfully call themselves biologists who practice medicine, work on DNA structure, set up drift fences in remote swamps, study the taxonomic relationships of beetles in museums, sit at a computer determining the dynamics of hypothetical populations, teach high school freshmen, determine how to conform to environmental protection laws, and direct laboratories working on vaccines against AIDS.
Not unexpectedly, there is also great diversity in the formal academic training that is necessary to enter these highly varied occupations. Many students who go through an undergraduate department of biology are preparing to work in health fields. For most of these there are very specific post-graduate professional programs: for degrees in medicine, physical therapy, optometry, nursing, etc. Dr. Laura Thompson, Furman’s Health Professions Advisor, is the best on-campus sources of information for entering such programs and veterinary medicine.
Some biologically oriented occupations require no formal education beyond the B. S. degree. These include teaching (below the college level), pharmaceutical sales, technician (laboratory or field), interpretive naturalist, technical writing, and several others. Furman’s biology requirements are designed to make one competitive for these jobs. It should be noted that preparation for teaching must include several specific education and psychology courses; you should discuss this with Dr. Turgeon in Furman’s Department of Biology or with any professor in the Department of Education. Of course, there is also a wide variety of occupations available to any graduate of Furman, which do not have direct connections to biology. For instance, any biology graduate, with either the B. S. or the B. A. degree, is competitive for jobs in various businesses.
Anyone intending to become a professional biologist, and who is not aiming at a specific health-related occupation, should be planning to enter a graduate program either for the masters degree or the doctorate. The very nature of the field requires that you continue your formal education beyond the baccalaureate if you want to make original contributions to biological knowledge. Many of Furman’s graduates (who are not described by the above two paragraphs) enter graduate schools each year. A significant number of those who do not immediately do this will eventually apply to graduate schools. This guide is intended to inform you about graduate programs and how to apply for admission into them.