Integrative biology is the study and research of biological systems. It does not simply involve one discipline, but integrates a wide variety of disciplines that work together to find answers to scientific questions. For example, biological sciences, engineering, physical sciences, and social sciences are all incorporated to address specific biological issues.
The interrelationships that occur between organisms and their environment are often studied through integrative biology. Specific research may involve genetics or environmental studies, yet the goal is always to solve a larger, biological problem. Although it always focuses on live organisms, the focus can vary from the smallest, molecular studies to broader studies of the biosphere.
Those who study and make a career out of integrative biology have a wide range of knowledge. They can consider themselves behaviorists, geneticists, physiologists, ecologists, paleontologists, and evolutionary biologists, just for starters. They can have a career in research or in academia. They can spend their time out in the field collecting data and specimens or teaching students in a university classroom. They can also continue on and receive additional degrees in medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, sociology, law, and psychology.
There are undergraduate and graduate level programs. Most undergraduate programs in integrative biology begin with an emphasis in the fundamental science and mathematics classes, such as introductory biology, chemistry, calculus, and physics. Upper level courses usually cover more detailed topics, such as integrative anatomy, genetics, behavior, environmental biology, and evolution.
It is common for both undergraduate and graduate students to partake in laboratory or field courses related to integrative biology. The hands-on experience is thought to be one of the best teaching methods. It works to deepen the understanding of the students and helps them convert abstract terms into something more physical.
Many traditional disciplines are researched in new ways through integrative biology. For example, students and researchers often think of new issues and new questions. They also analyze old questions and develop new theories. Research includes a wide range of topics, such as how environmental stressors affect the genes in animals and plants.
Integrative biology is an interesting field of study. It is ideal for the person who does not want to focus on only one discipline. It allows for flexibility and a convergence of disciplines, more so than any other field of study. Not every college or university offers degrees in integrative biology; however, with the appropriate research, there are plenty of options.