You are here

Modern biology is the study of life's tiniest processes in the hopes of solving the world's biggest problems. Specifically, by studying living organisms and their relationship to the environment, basic biological research works to identify and find solutions to current global problems. Fields of employment range from medical research, agriculture, wildlife management, business, education and law, to military and space exploration. Meanwhile, there are a growing number of opportunities in emerging new fields, such as: bioinformatics, genomics, nanotechnologies, biofuels, nutraceuticals, and computational biology. Whew, that was a mouth full!

These new branches of bio-science provide us with opportunities for precise diagnostics and predicting of diseases, more efficient and customized medical treatments, better family planning, creating new energy sources, as well as reducing cost and improving the quality of nutrition. But to give you a quick overview of the fields your biology masters can take you, here are three of our top picks. 

Nanotechnology, for instance, is a new area where scientists work on the fundamental levels of molecules and atoms to produce technology that delivers creative solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges. Many applications of nanotechnology include: creating lighter and higher performing materials , low-cost filters to produce clean drinking water, medications and medical devices to better treat diseases with less side effects, toxic waste clean up, and more.

Dr. Pearl Sullivan, the founding director of the Collaborative Nanotechnology Graduate Program at the University of Waterloo, said, Professors from science and engineering work together. They co-supervise students and they are able to work on new materials, new processes, and new instruments that have potential commercial applications.

Nutraceuticals refers to foods that have medicinal properties with demonstrated health benefits. Nutraceuticals have increasingly entered the mainstream consumption as more people are realizing the benefits of natural products and supplements versus traditional medicinal drugs. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies are responding to that demand by investing heavily in the discovery of nutraceutical agents.

As explained by Janelle Ritchot, graduate program assistant at the Faculty of Human Ecology at the University of Manitoba, the graduate program in Human Nutritional Sciences provides opportunities for research in experimental nutrition, community and clinical nutrition, and research related to the development of functional and nutraceutical components from grains, oilseeds, and legumes.

In bioinformatics, scientists collect biomolecular data using computer algorithms to find out more about cellular pathways and predict patterns and processes that trigger disease. Modern neuroscience research is increasingly reliant on data-intensive technologies, such as DNA sequencing, transcriptome profiling, and brain imaging. Dealing with that data (organizing it and analyzing it) would be impossible without people trained in bioinformatics. That goes for all of medical research, said Paul Pavlidis, associate program director of Bioinformatics at the University of British Columbia.

How would you know if a degree in biology is the right path for you? A good way to test the waters is to volunteer or find summer work in a lab. That should give you a clear idea what the Master's or PhD studies in biology will look like, except that you are going to be pretty much on your own, without senior students to watch over the shoulder, according to Konstantin Savitsky, a graduate with a Master's degree in Molecular Biology from York University.

As reported by the Committee on a New Biology for the 21st Century, biology today may provide solutions to some of the most urgent challenges facing our world. How will you use your biology degree to make the world a better place? 

Photo: Guido Vrola/Thinkstock