Biologists study and do research on the origin, relationships, development, derivation, anatomy, functions, heredity and other basic characteristics of plant and animal life.  They study all aspects of living organisms, as well as the relationships between animals and plants and their environment. 

They usually specialise in research or the development of specific plants, animals or aspects of biology. The nature of their work depends on the field chosen, namely:

  • Botany: Botanists are scientists who study the origin, development, physiology, reproduction, distribution, interdependence, classification and other aspects of plants. They can specialise in plant morphology, plant ecology, plant genetics, to name but a few.
  • Zoology: Zoologists study several aspects of animals, namely the origin, behaviour and processes of life. Fields of specialisation include: morphology, taxonomy, genetics, zoogeographics, embryology, behavioural studies and aquaculture.
  • Entomology: Entomologists study all aspects connected with insects. Extensive study and research can be done in the fields of taxonomy, behaviour, insect pest control, etc.
  • Biochemistry: Biochemists examine the structure and functions of chemical compounds in all living organisms such as plants, animals, insects, viruses and microbes. They study aspects such as the metabolism, inter- relationships between structures, etc.
All such studies help to make advancements in fields such as medicine, industry and agriculture, and can be broken down into various fields of study:
  • Aquatic Biologists study plants and animals that live in water
  • Physiologists study the functions of living organisms and their parts
  • Cytologists study plant and animal cells
  • Anatomists study the bodies of animals, from organs and tissues to cell structures
  • Mycologists look into parasitic, poisonous and edible fungi, such as mushrooms and yeast.
  • Nematologists study nematodes, which are parasitic to plants, attack insects and transmit diseases, to find ways to control these pests
  • Geneticists examine hereditary factors in plants and animals
Biologists conduct their research in laboratories or outdoors in the natural habitat of the species they are studying.  Some of the tools used in ths career are fishing nets, dropping pipettes, drying cabinets or ovens, robotic or automated liquuid handling systems and stereo or dissecting light microscopes.  Technology would include analytical or scientific software, database user interface and query software, operating system software and spreadsheet software.

Personal Requirements

  • very observant
  • deep interest in biological science
  • love of nature and outdoor life
  • enjoy working in a laboratory
  • patient, accurate, determined and disciplined
  • ability to perform highly specialised research

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics and Physical Sciences
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

In addition, check the university admission requirements to see if you qualify for the programme you want to do.

What to Study

Degree: A BSc degree takes 3 years’ full-time or 4 years’ part-time study and can be obtained at any South African university. Prospective biologists are advised to obtain postgraduate qualifications in the fields in which they wish to specialise. At some universities a four-year BSc (Agric) course can be followed by those interested in the agricultural application of biology - see section on Agriculture..

Diploma: Various universities of technology offer related biological science courses, e.g. DUT, TUT. A N.Dip. can be obtained in any one of the following fields: Medical Technology, Veterinary Technology, Food Technology, Clinical Technology, Nature Conservation, Microbiology and there are several diplomas offered in Agriculture.


  • such institutions as the National Botanical Institute and National Parks Board
  • government departments, such as Trade and Industry and Health
  • universities and tertiary institutions
  • such organisations as SABS, CSIR and Onderstepoort
  • game reserves and zoos
  • private organisations
  • high school biology teacher
  • self-employment, e.g. zoologists can start their own businesses by cultivating oysters, mussels, shrimps, etc. or rehabilitation centres where wounded or poisoned animals can be rehabilitated and other biologists can open their own pollution laboratories, nurseries, pet shops, eco-tourism and environment impact centres

Further Information

Further information can be obtained from the various universities and universities of technology or any of the above mentioned potential employers.

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation work in a laboratory or with a biological research team
  • make an appointment to speak to a biologist about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

A PACE Career Centre Product. © All rights reserved | Developed by Netgen (Pty) Ltd. Disclaimer: Please see disclaimer