What did you do with your Biochemistry/Molecular Biology degree?
June 21, 2011 5:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a sampling of where biochemistry students wind up after college. Basically, where did you start out and where did you end up? How difficult was it for you to find a position out of college?

Next spring I'll be graduating after 3 years of course work (and one year of medical leave) with a B.S. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology. My GPA is pretty good despite poor performance freshman year - probably around 3.6-3.7 by graduation. I don't have a lot of research experience.

Graduate school is a good possibility in the future but I refuse to commit until I'm absolutely sure which specific area I'm passionate about. I don't want to spend 7 years towards a phD in bioinformatics only to find I'm more interested in medicinal chemistry.

I'll be looking for a position as a lab tech firstly in order to accrue experience in that environment, but I could see myself doing things not necessarily directly related to my degree. Many of my professors have complimented my writing skills so I could envision myself as a science writer for example.
posted by WhitenoisE to Education (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
At my undergraduate institution, I'd guess that the distribution was probably 50/25/25 for medical school/grad school/straight into the work force. I'm currently in medical school, but before I was accepted, had taken a job at a university research lab. A quick survey of my old classmates on Facebook tells me that the ones who went to work are pretty equally distributed in health sciences vs. plant biochemistry (which makes sense, given the presence of Monsanto in St. Louis).

I didn't have too much trouble finding a job straight out of school, but I was maybe a little more aggressive than most people about finding a job. I used both a hiring service and combed a lot of ads on my own; the job I ended up taking was one that I applied for independently. The jobs I interviewed for through the hiring service seemed to go to people who applied independently (which makes sense, given that the employer has to pay the service for any positions they fill through them). I should also note that this was five years ago, and I've been in medical school for awhile now - I'm not sure how different the environment for biochemistry jobs is now, compared to five years ago.

Best of luck in finding a job!
posted by honeybee413 at 6:16 PM on June 21, 2011

My sister graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry in 2005. As I recall, she'd had a tough time on the job market (granted, she only really started looking for lab tech jobs after she'd been rejected from medical school); I think she got a few offers, but they all paid very little (like 25K). She spent a year at home, taking a pharmacy tech job at Walgreens at the same time. She decided she liked pharmacy, and after taking a few prerequisites her bachelor's didn't cover, went to pharmacy school. Now she's a retail pharmacist and quite enjoys it. She even talked my younger brother into going to pharm school too.
posted by mesha steele at 7:32 PM on June 21, 2011

I have a 2009 degree in biochemistry and cell biology from a top-ranking private research university with much lower GPA than yours and two and a half years of undergraduate research experience. After graduating, I got a job as a research tech at a hospital research institute (starting salary was 37K I think). I liked working there a lot. I quit last week to move to Stockholm, where I will earn a MSc in biochemistry (I don't have to pick a particular specialization until I get there). I am considering applying for 2013 admission to US medical school next summer or a PhD program if I end up enjoying graduate school.
posted by halogen at 8:48 PM on June 21, 2011

Best answer: I graduated more than ten years ago, so my job search was probably not too relevant to you -- my cv was somewhere online that a placement service found it and called me. They set up interviews and the first place I interviewed hired me. I do remember that the company wanted me to be a temp for 3 months (i.e. no benefits) -- I said 'permanent,with benefits from the start' or no, and that was fine. I then spent ~ 3 years working a technician, first in industry and then in an academic lab. I too felt that I didn't want to commit so much time to a PhD without being sure. Working in the academic lab gave me a really good idea of what the PhD would entail and also demonstrated to me that I would enjoy the environment, pace, etc. (It helped that the PI I worked under was awesome, and treated me more like a grad student than a slave technician).

That experience in the academic lab, combined with the low salaries that accompanied both these tech jobs, convinced me that I wanted, and could get, a PhD. Like you, I also felt that my GPA was too low, but I ignored the fact that I had more than a year of independent, in-lab research on my cv, so I'm not so sure I couldn't have gone to grad school straight from college.Well whatever, the path was right for me, and I did better in grad school with the tech experience under my belt. My PI in the academic lab came to be a strong mentor and advocate as I was applying to school -- I feel like some people find a professor like that while they are still undergrads, but I hadn't. So, that's another reason that getting a job first was the right way for me to go to school.

It also helps now, as I have my PhD and do some management of technicians. I have a clear idea of what to expect from them. Overall I'm glad I got the PhD, but I wish I had known about the PharmD -- if I had understood that process better as an undergrad/recent grad, I might have gone that way.

One more thing, choosing your focus in grad school doesn't have to happen before you get there. As I said, I realized that I wanted to do the PhD, and in something that would further the Biochemistry; when I started applying, I found a lot of schools allow you to switch concentrations before you commit to a lab. The PI I worked under was not faculty in my program, but that was not a problem.

Anyway, hope one more anecdata is helpful.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:31 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

For entry level, you're looking at either research or production (i.e. pharmaceuticals, etc.). The latter pays quite a bit better, but the biotech stuff is pretty much all located in San Francisco, Seattle, and Research Triangle (NC).
posted by iamck at 3:08 AM on June 22, 2011

Best answer: Graduated in 2005 with a Biochemistry & Molecular Biology degree. When I was doing the job hunt thing, all the jobs wanted experience experience experience. I don't even recall potential employers asking for my GPA.

After graduation, I ended up living at home for a year working at Target until I landed my current gig working IT at a school, which I love. I ended up not getting a job in the lab precisely because of my lab experience: It wasn't for me at the time.

The thing is my lab, the PI, my partner, etc, were absolutely fabulous. The lab professor is one of my inspirations for wanting to work in education. The biological aspect of cancer, along with evolution, is one of the reasons I got the major I did and fascinates me to this day. Love the material.

However, the lab work itself drove me apeshit insane. I worked in a bioinformatics lab summer after my junior year, ovarian cancer research wet lab ~15-20 hours/week during my senior year, and the same wet lab full time that summer after I graduated. Though I don't recall all the details anymore, I still recall running countless PCRs and the associated gel electrophoresis. Creating cell cultures. Designing enzymes to create alternatively spliced genes to find cancer markers. [Insert other fancy jargon here]. The thing is that in all of this research, two things were consistent:
1) repetition repetition repetition. Those PCRs? I was running about 40 at a time, which I realize may not be a great number to some people, but when you multiply that out a few times to try various gene sequences, it becomes very tedious and repetitive. Same thing in creating cell cultures. Doing those same exact experiments with only tiny variations throughout the day? Uhg. Of course, any job will have some degree of repetition- my current job still has repetition, but it's different.
2) Lack of human interaction. Like I said, people I worked with were awesome, but my experience was that the work itself was very independent and isolated. Yea, you'd talk with people throughout the day, but it wasn't consistent like it is for me now where working with staff & students is a primary component of my job.

Before I started doing lab research, I though it's what I wanted to do. I was stoked to apply for PhD school- particularly neuroscience...Mmmm, brains- or go the work route first or something. But after doing the actual lab work for a while, the bench lost its appeal and I knew at that point in my life, lab work was simply not for me. That may very well change at some point and I still want to get back into the sciences, but just not then.

Above all, this is just my experience. The point of this entire posting is a suggestion make sure you get lab experience before making the investment. I'm sure other people have had different experience in their undergraduate lab lives. Check with your department to see if you can intern somewhere- all seniors at my school were retired to for a year and PIs were happy to take on free interns. Well, some of them.

At least my degree still has one benefit: The WTF faces I get when I tell people my degree!
posted by jmd82 at 8:59 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A great source for this information is the weekly magazine published by the ACS called the Chemical and Engineering News, particularly their Career and Employment section. Your university will almost certainly have hardcopies of this in their periodicals section. It's also a great resource for job seekers---it's got one of the most comprehensive job listings of any chemistry-pharma site out there (these jobs don't get listed on monster.com generally).

Specifically, here's a couple of recent articles that are exactly what you're looking for:
Leaping To New Opportunities In an unfavorable pharma job market, many chemists are migrating to new careers
Biotech Trajectories Large-molecule research is a warm spot for chemists in today’s chilly job market

The news sections in Nature and Science cover this too occasionally, but C&E has a much more practical focus on employment isssues. They publish a salary survey every year too, so you can have a good idea of what your degree is worth in various industries too (it's login-only, but you'll find it in the copies in your library: specifically Chemical & Engineering News, 89(11), March 14, 2011).
posted by bonehead at 10:19 AM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the excellent responses!
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:39 PM on June 22, 2011

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