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Physiology is the study of life. Physiologists carry out research on how human or animal bodies work. They study the blood, digestion, hormone and nervous systems, body organs and the brain. They answer questions ranging from the molecular level or single cells to the physical and environmental interactions between human populations.

Physiology is a very general field that uses techniques and information from pharmacology, biochemistry, anatomy and cell biology. The majority of physiologists work in research and teaching and they specialize in a particular area of research. They can be found in laboratories, libraries and outside in the field conducting various studies. They use a wide variety of electronic, optical, chemical and mechanical devices to discover how the body operates.

Physiologists with PhDs may specialize in studying a wide variety of areas, such as the heart and circulatory system, hormones and glandular secretions, the digestive system, metabolism, the reproductive system, the nervous system at all levels up to coordinated neural functions. They might also study exterior functions such as the effects of physical activity on various body systems, the effects of high altitudes on humans, and the effects of radiation on biological systems.

For example, a physiologist may study how a particular enzyme contributes to the functions of a specific cell or investigate the cardiovascular system of an animal to answer questions about heart attacks and other human diseases. The study of physiology is important because it is the basis upon which people expand their knowledge of what life is, how to treat disease, and how to cope with stresses imposed upon our bodies by new environments. The rapid pace of technological and biomedical discovery means that the physiologist will see significant changes in the field during his or her career.

In spite of a physiologist's specialization area, they all are involved in classifying species or specimens, both large and small. They also study the structure of species and how they fit in to different environments. After intense research and experimentation, physiologists prepare reports on their findings in scientific and medical journals.

Senior physiologists and medical scientists are often under pressure to meet deadlines for grant proposals in order to get money to fund their research. Also, they are required to constantly update their knowledge and keep current with technological advances.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Physiologists must have good observation skills, and the ability to integrate data from many sources and test hypotheses rigorously. Like other biological scientists, they should have an open and inquiring mind, and good oral and written communication skills. Most physiologists enjoy synthesizing information, analyzing data, developing models and finding innovative solutions to problems.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Design and conduct lab or field studies, experiments, tests, surveys, and other research of the human environment
  • Uncover new knowledge of living organisms and their environments, and improve on methods or develop alternatives to conserve, manage, support and use biological resources
  • Conduct physiological and environmental impact studies and prepare reports
  • Sit on university committees and research grant panels
  • Attend meetings with other scientists and administrators
  • Educate medical, paramedical and science students about physiology
  • May supervise physiological technologists and technicians and other scientists
  • A typical day for a physiologist varies depending on the type of work they do. Physiologists employed by universities usually divide their time between teaching and research. Teaching requires many hours preparing for class, grading papers and meeting with students, and with research, there is no time frame involved, except for meeting deadlines. Those who work as full-time researchers spend most of their time in laboratories, but also travel to scientific meetings to present their results. They may work long hours, conducting experiments and analyzing results.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Many physiologists work for universities and colleges, teaching undergraduate courses in biology or animal science. Some may conduct research in other academic departments such as cell biology, microbiology, pharmacology, and zoology. They may also work in hospitals, government laboratories institutes related to sports health, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and rehabilitation medicine centers.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement for physiologists will usually depend on the individual's level of education and area of specialization. Some physiologists become environmental consultants or assessment biologists for various government departments. Another option is becoming a scientific writer or journalist, reporting on the latest scientific issues. Finally, some will also decide to go into education and can teach physiology at either the high school, college or university level.

  Educational Paths  
Physiologists, at a minimum have a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in physiology or in a related discipline such as pharmacology, biochemistry, biology or physics. Most physiologists go on to graduate and post-graduate training. Many physiologists train as physicians and then take advanced degrees in physiology.

The more education and experience physiologists have, the more independently they can work. Those with bachelor's degrees are qualified for technical positions, setting up experiments and recording results, whereas a PhD will allow physiologists to work as independent researchers, leading studies. Physiologists that wish to teach and conduct research in universities usually work as post-doctoral fellows before gaining permanent employment.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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