Be my career counselor?
February 12, 2014 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm a college biology major. Everyone I know is applying to medical school, but the idea of medical school scares me. I'm not qualified for jobs in my field. Can you help me identify alternative jobs or careers? I have some experience with radio, GIS, and computer-y things like Python.

I'm a college senior majoring in biology, with a meh GPA (3.6) at a top 30 university. Everyone I know from high school is applying to medical or pharmacy school, but I don't have any plans for after graduation. Everyone in my family is in law. I feel that I would be good at it, but the job market is bad, and I'm tired of school, and MeFi has pretty much scared me out of it.

I don't feel that I'm qualified for biology jobs. A lot of the entry-level biology research jobs I've seen have required two to three letters of recommendation, and I don't even know who I'd ask. I don't have strong relationships with professors. Additionally, while I have lab experience, I don't have research experience. When recruiters have looked at my resume, I have actually seen their faces fall.

I do my best work when I'm interested in what I'm doing. I am a leader and a superstar in the campus media-based clubs I'm in (think radio). If I could, I would spend all of my time working on projects for those organizations. However, it looks like I'm not qualified for public broadcasting or regulatory jobs, and the internships I've seen have only been for people returning to college in the fall.

I love broadcasting, and I enjoy teamwork, working with people, and writing. I'm very detail oriented, and I love solving problems. I have some experience with audio editing programs, ArcGIS, Python, and computer repair. I have also interviewed people on behalf of my university in the past, and I really enjoyed it.

Are there any jobs or careers you would suggest?

Because I know someone will suggest this: I have already made an appointment with my school's career advising office.

Thank you!
posted by A. mellifera to Work & Money (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you located and where are you willing to move to? You sound like you'd be a great fit for a marketing/"new media" position, especially for a start-up or smaller company; these positions are easier to find in a big city and the types of company will vary by location. For example-- tech start-up? You want to be in the Bay Area. Biotech or education? Might want to look in Boston. Fashion or media? NYC.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:40 PM on February 12, 2014

Do you know anything about bioinformatics? I don't know much, except that your stated interests and experience would seem to align pretty well with the kinds of things people in that field do (work as a team, solve problems, use computers, all in the service of biology).
posted by sleevener at 12:40 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Employment prospects in law are sketchy, except in patent law. With a bio degree you have one of the prerequisites to sit for a patent bar exam. Of course, you'd have to go to law school. There's something to be said about being in the family profession, and feeling like you'd be good at it.

American Public Media is hiring interns right now, and is also hiring "data journalists."
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 12:45 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a lawyer. Don't go to law school. "Being in the family profession" is not worth six figures of non-dischargeable debt when you don't have a lifelong passion for being a lawyer.
posted by ewiar at 12:56 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

When you picked biology as your major, what were you planning on doing?

If you've since changed your mind, then that's cool. If you want to work in radio and/or TV, start applying for interships, everywhere you can think of.

Or, get a regular job in a company that does what you're interested in. Entry level jobs in Media companies, and then work your way to other, more interesting jobs.

I don't care how good your resume is, one RARELY stumbles into a job that is interesting right off the bat. We've all got to start in the mailroom.

If you're in a top university, you already have an awesome entry into lots of entry-level jobs.

For example, CNN. They have lots of openings in Atlanta and elsewhere. Check them out. Don't be put off by the degree, if you have clubs and activities that mirror your interest in broadcasting, highlight them on your resume.

I have a degree in English, I've been in corporate America, doing engineering work for most of my career. The degree doesn't really matter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:02 PM on February 12, 2014

My wife got an MPH. She does a lot of computery things with data analysis.
posted by sanka at 1:03 PM on February 12, 2014

If I could, I would spend all of my time working on projects for those organizations. However, it looks like I'm not qualified for public broadcasting or regulatory jobs

Well my first advice would be to talk to real live people; your "it looks like" makes me think you've just looked at job postings. Minimum requirements can get your resume never looked at, it's true, but at the end of the day what employers want is a skill set, not a particular word on your diploma. If you have the skills, go sell them.
posted by solotoro at 1:10 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

This post comes off as though you lack confidence in yourself. A 3.6 GPA is not meh. It's Dean's List at most schools. After your first job nobody will ever again care about your GPA. You are qualified for any job you can convince somebody to hire you to do. You want to be the biology reporter for NPR? Go for it.

Maybe you are just having a bad day or something, but if you project in interviews or even casual conversation like you project in this post, you will have a hard time getting hired at McDonalds.

Work on that first, because it's not really going to matter what you decide about your career if your attitude severely inhibits your ability to move forward on that career.
posted by COD at 1:17 PM on February 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

You understand science and you can write? Plus you enjoy teamwork and interviewing people! Why not think about Science Communications? Yeah, there are not so many (any) jobs for journalists these days. (Unlike in my day.) But there are jobs for science communicators in research centres, universities, medical centres and the like. I work with people who do this kind of writing -- they really enjoy it. It is indeed a special skill to be able to explain science to a lay audience.

Look into some programs -- like this one -- and see what you think. I know you said you are tired of school, but the programs are not long -- a year.
posted by Lescha at 1:23 PM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

A life sciences background is useful in a host of industries, including anything about food, anything about plants and gardening, testing labs, etc. Try to think outside the academic tracks.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:54 PM on February 12, 2014

I have an undergrad degree in bio plus a graduate degree, and have worked at many alternative careers.

I"m traveling so i cant link to former questions, but this may point you in a direction. I also cant edit easily, but whatever.

One career that you may want to consider is medical writing, since you state writing is an interest. There are genereally two pools that are hired from: 1) pple with phds in the biological sciences or 2) pple with an undergrad degree in english (as in they can show writing samples/interest) and if they have a background or interest in science, it is a plus. I posted a question asking how to break into the field, and someone mentioned that getting a job was likely to it require taking an onsite writing test. For me, it was exactly as described -it was basically interpret a few journal articles and summarize it in bullet form or a paragraph. I think having a degree in bio should be a plus for you. If you are interested in this and are located near a major city, drop me an email and i can send you a list of companies you may want to consider approaching (and if you live in nyc, i kmow a few companies that prefer pple with an undergrad degree). The type of content you would write is material to educate physicians, but it is related to your degree.

I had useful alternative career suggetions in my first ask meta question, and pple suggested interesting careers for a background in bio.

Finally, even if you dont know faculty, did you get to know TAs/grad students who taught your labs? Ask if any would be willing to write one for you. I provided recommendations for undergrads as a grad student, and faculty often followed up. If it was a serious recommendation, sometimes i cwrote a rec. and faculty collaborated and signed off on it.

You are also likely to qualify for research assistantship jobs at universities. They are easy to get IMO, but it may require knocking on the door of faculty and/or emailing. Volunteering a few hours per week iin a lab can also be sufficient on gaining experience/references/job offers for these type of jobs. I can share more info on these type of jobs, both as a person who used to work in a lab and hired students part time to work in a lab. These jobs offer a few free courses per semester, so you can explore other career options on someone elses dime.
posted by Wolfster at 1:58 PM on February 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is one of those questions where the question you're asking is not the question. The issue is that you're lacking confidence. Your question contains repeated excuses for why you can't pursue various professional paths (med school scares you, the legal job market is bad despite the fact that this is a family business and patent law is still lucrative). "Computer repair" is not a job qualification for anything but a low level position. That said, marketing yourself as a programmer for a scientific software company might have potential.

Who do you want to be in life? Ask yourself that admittedly abstract question and then figure it out from there.
posted by deanc at 2:02 PM on February 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

So I say this in a lot of these types of threads, but if you are a young student, fresh out of undergrad, you need to realize that you are not going to hop into a lifelong career right away.

So, while these big life goals questions are good and healthy and important, right now you need to ask yourself some more concrete ones as well:

1) What is your (paid) employment history like?
2) Have you written your resume yet? What does it say? Where could the skills and experience you have thus far be applied?
3) Have you just started looking at straight-up job boards yet? Start looking at what a well-paying job for someone with your education and experience may qualify for. Then start practicing your resume building and cover-letter writing.

Seriously: just go on right now and start browsing.

You are going to spend the next few years of your life learning a lot about yourself, your interests, and the kind of work environment you prefer. You will know yourself a lot better when you have a salary, benefits, and aren't living at your parents' house.

Also, not that GPA's mean all that much outside of academia, but a 3.6 is not "meh"
posted by Think_Long at 2:02 PM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

This may be something you've already looked into, but it's probably worth making an appointment with your school's career services office to see if they have any advice or alumni they can put you in touch with.

Other good places to look for media jobs: JournalismJobs, MediaBistro, NPR's Kroc Fellowship
posted by forkisbetter at 2:13 PM on February 12, 2014

So, you're still in college, right? It's not actually too late to get to know professors well enough to get them to write you a letter of recommendation. Are you in any seminar classes or labs taught by a professor? That would be a good place to start.

This is a super scary part of your life, the transition out of college and into working life. But you can do it! I was a bio major who didn't go to med school and I worked in labs for a while after undergrad, then became a health sciences librarian, and now I'm a software developer. You're going to go all kinds of weird places. You don't need to know exactly what you want to do with your life right now, or even in May.
posted by mskyle at 2:20 PM on February 12, 2014

Trading is a viable option for anyone with a STEM degree.

Do you want to get a lab- or lab-adjacent job? Cuz this:

I don't feel that I'm qualified for biology jobs. A lot of the entry-level biology research jobs I've seen have required two to three letters of recommendation, and I don't even know who I'd ask. I don't have strong relationships with professors. Additionally, while I have lab experience, I don't have research experience. When recruiters have looked at my resume, I have actually seen their faces fall.

is unconvincing of your inability. Ask whoever five you got your best grades in. If you're in a Big School, TAs will also write letters of recommendation. (Sometimes even if they have to work really hard to fill 400 words!) By "lab experience," do you just mean in coursework, or as some student job, or what? Having done the scut work is actually an immensely valuable marker at your stage, generally.

I have heard of/seen "lab tech" jobs that were actually someone who wrote the analysis scripts for the experimentalists, FWIW.

Other frequently overlooked STEM options: tech sales rep, "business analyst," industry scientist.
posted by PMdixon at 4:15 PM on February 12, 2014

I work in public radio. Everyone here has a completely different background (from PhD's in physics to no college whatsoever.) NPR (where I work) takes a lot of interns and we pay our interns. There are also internships at member stations. A background in Python would be really useful for a lot of departments. (I'm learning it right now to help my dept.) If you're interested in that route, go for it!
posted by melodykramer at 5:09 PM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your skills suggest science writer or journalist covering a science/medical beat to me, but those can be very hard jobs to break into.

You could get a teaching certificate and become a high school biology teacher, then be the faculty advisor for the high school level versions of the clubs and activities you've enjoyed most in college.

Is there a reason you don't want to go to grad school in biology? My impression from my professional biologist friends is that graduate programs is where you'd actually get the type of hands-on research training and experience that would qualify you to work in a lab.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:10 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

How would you feel about teaching? High school science teachers are in high demand.
posted by jorlyfish at 6:22 PM on February 12, 2014

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