School of Biological Sciences

Career planning

There are many options and opportunities for graduates with a Biological Sciences degree. Find out about some of the career paths available and where you can go for more support.

Planning a career in structural biology

The main focus of structural biology is to understand biological processes at the level of the three-dimensional structures of biological macromolecules. In order to pursue a career in structural biology a thorough grounding in protein structure and function is therefore mandatory. This requires that the student first attend as many courses as possible covering methods in biochemistry, biophysical chemistry and protein purification and techniques in recombinant protein over expression. Next, the student may choose to attend course or courses that focus on contemporary methods in structural biology i.e. x-ray crystallography, electron microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and/or undertake an honours degree in any one of the chosen disciplines. Preferably, a PhD degree next can cement the training and position the student admirably to pursue an academic or industrial occupation.


Planning a career in molecular biology

The key undergraduate course is BIOSCI 201, Cellular and Molecular Biology, and to do this you should take BIOSCI 101, one other 100-level BIOSCI course (or MEDSCI 142), and a 100-level Chemistry course (remember that the “molecular” element is just as important as the “biology”) in your first year. In your second year, you should do at least one other biomolecular course (BIOSCI 202 Genetics, 203 Biochemistry, or 204 Applied and Environmental Microbiology). At third-year level, there is a much wider range of possible courses (BIOSCI 340, 347, 349, 350, 351, 353, 354, 356 and 359).

Given the rate of development of the subject, and the comparatively limited amount of laboratory work possible in undergraduate courses, a postgraduate qualification is highly desirable, if you are serious about a career in molecular biology. This will bring you closer to frontline developments, and a laboratory project will give you some extended “hands-on” experience of practical techniques. Talk to staff in the relevant research groups (Microbiology, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Plant Molecular Science, Proteomics and Structural Biology) about possible programmes and research projects.

You might find it helpful if this outline predicted likely growth areas for which a would-be molecular biologist could prepare. Looking back over 60 years of molecular biology, there have been some predictable trends. Sometimes these have moved very quickly as new technologies have emerged. We have gone from a generic human genome, to individual human genomes, in less than ten years, and the use of such individual information for making medical decisions is now a possibility. However, such progress has been offset by the complexity of cellular regulation being much greater than anticipated. Some approaches and technologies have been superseded, and others that seemed defunct may re-emerge. The study of cellular metabolism, for example, has been unfashionable for over twenty years, but the new interest in metabolomics is re-discovering metabolic information, and reminding us that it is an area where there is still a lot to learn. Perhaps the best advice is to pick a project or a research area that interests you now, and then to go where it takes you, adopting a flexible approach to new opportunities, new discoveries and new technologies.


Planning a career in microbiology

Microbiology encompasses the study of a wide range of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms including viruses, bacteria, fungi, algae and protozoans. Research topics range from basic studies of microbial diversity, evolution and ecology to more applied areas such as industrial, food, agricultural, environmental and medical microbiology. Students majoring in microbiology will typically take a range of papers in microbiology together with papers in areas such as genetics and evolution, biochemistry, plant and animal biology, ecology, etc., depending upon their main area of interest in microbiology. The microbiology research group in the School of Biological Sciences offers a wide range of research topics at Honours, MSc and PhD levels, providing training for both academic and industrial careers.


Planning a career in proteomics and biomedicine

Depending on your career aspirations, degrees are offered at undergraduate and post-graduate levels. The Biotechnology, Biomedical Science, and Biological Sciences undergraduate courses offered through the University of Auckland provide an excellent grounding with varied subject options at third and fourth-year level.


Planning a career in ecology, evolution or behaviour

A degree in ecology, evolution or behaviour opens the door to a dynamic and highly satisfying career, researching and understanding the natural world. Graduates are highly sought-after in New Zealand as well as internationally. Local employers include government agencies (e.g. regional councils) or statutory agencies such as the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Ministry of Fisheries.

Other employers interested in our graduates include Crown Research Institutes such as Landcare Research and the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research. Students graduating with doctorates often pursue careers as university lecturers and researchers, both in New Zealand and overseas.


Meet our graduates

Graduates from the School of Biological Sciences end up in a wide range of jobs ranging from biosecurity and brain health research, through to international aid projects and investment analysis. Find out what some of our graduates do and how they found their jobs.


Career Development and Employability Services (CDES)

CDES can assist you with all aspects of your career development, from finding a part-time job while you are at University to landing an internship or graduate role.

Discover their website and login to MyCDES, your personalised career management system, to book into workshops, one-on-one appointments with Career Development Consultants, and recruitment events. Discuss your career options, attend large industry expos, get your CV and application letters checked, get help with finding your career direction, try a practice interview, and much more.