What can I do with a BS in biology?
November 27, 2007 4:17 PM   Subscribe

What can I do with a BS in biology?

I'm within spitting distance of completing a biology (cell/molecular) degree, and I have no idea what to do after I graduate. I'm not interested in working in a lab, teaching, or in any kind of advanced degree. I'm doing well at a state school you've probably never heard of; there's no biotech industry to speak of in the area. It's nice to have the end in sight, but I'm afraid I'll go back to my $8/hour job at the local food co-op and never pay back my (substantial) credit card debt/student loans.

What can I do? Bonus if it's pleasant, pays well enough to service my debt, or both.
posted by pullayup to Work & Money (29 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
VagueAnswerFilter: Can you jump the river into a more organism-based biology after you graduate, and do field work somewhere? You'd get to go to some really neat places and build up a solid resume, I bet, even if it was slow going with the debts. Are you "locked in" to being a mol/cell biologist?
posted by not_on_display at 4:26 PM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: My wife has a BS in microbiology and is currently enjoying employment as a sex educator for Planned Parenthood.
posted by jlowen at 4:31 PM on November 27, 2007

I had a friend that went to culinary school.

Are you a good writer? Ever considered science journalism?
posted by chrisamiller at 4:31 PM on November 27, 2007

Maybe take the PTO exam and become a patent agent? Your B.S. qualifies you to sit for the exam, and agents with hot areas of expertise are always in demand. Those who would hire a patent agent do like to see advanced degrees, but that doesn't mean it's hopeless to find employment without one. Here's a link to a patent bar review that paints a rosy picture.
posted by Brian James at 4:31 PM on November 27, 2007

Would you consider moving to an area where there IS a biotech industry?
posted by pombe at 4:37 PM on November 27, 2007

If the jobs in the area suck, then move. Firms based on science and engineering might be happy to have people with science degrees even in in a non-R&D, non-production capacity.

What do you want to do? I mean not the overall career, but what sort of job would you like? One where you work with people? Make the world a better place? Have lots of competition and excitement?

Doesn't your university have a careers office?
posted by grouse at 4:38 PM on November 27, 2007

I have long regretted that I didn't do one of my majors in either biology or anthropology so that I could have perhaps pursued some sort of forensic science (and I thought this long before CSI/Forensic Files/etc. came along!). Maybe some of these subdivisions might tickle your fancy?
posted by scody at 4:42 PM on November 27, 2007

It would help to know why your $8hour job at the food co-op seems preferable to working as a lab tech.

If you just don't want to deal with the research environment you could see what it would take to be some sort of medical tech.
posted by Good Brain at 4:42 PM on November 27, 2007

(And I should point out that there are jobs in those fields -- e.g., crime scene technicians -- that don't necessarily requre advanced degrees.)
posted by scody at 4:44 PM on November 27, 2007

Environmental consulting firms are often looking for people with biology degrees. I don't know anything about your area, but anywhere that there is significant resource extraction going on, there will be environmental consulting fees that need biologists. The pay isn't usually great, but it is much better than $8/hr. The job might be enjoyable, depending how you feel about being outside often for work. I'm don't think your specialization would be a big impediment.
posted by ssg at 4:46 PM on November 27, 2007

Having a BS opens a lot of doors. Find a jobs site (craigslist, etc) and start applying for things that look interesting.
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:48 PM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: I'm a pathologist and I always tell people to get training as a pathologist assistant. It's a great job, with no liability and great pay. I really can't say enough good things about them. They are very respected by the pathologists who employ them. My practice couldn't function without ours. If I hadn't gone to medical school I would have seriously considered it (I had a BA in biology - but I just wouldn't have known about pathology assistants).

The only catch is... it's a two years for a masters and there is only a small number of places that train them.

Here's a couple of threads about it over at the SDN forums. 1, 2
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:01 PM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

i guess a relevant question would be: do you want a job that is somewhat related to biology? then maybe you'd want to consider things in the healthcare field (as opposed to science research), like a doctor's assistant, health technician like was previously suggested, dietician/nutritionist, etc.

if you have strengths in other areas, maybe think about those strengths and tailor your search to that. if you're good with numbers and statistics, you might want to look at management consulting (lots of these also specialize in consulting for the drug industry, and i know several people with bachelor's in biology who ended up doing this). as was previously mentioned, if you're a good writer, maybe try writing. i don't think the degree in biology limits your options - it's pretty flexible.
posted by be11e at 5:01 PM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: Respiratory Therapist. I know lots of BS grads who became RRTs. Or, accelerated nursing school (special course for university grads)- 18 months full time and if you're lucky, a hospital may pay you a salary while you're in school in exchange for a work commitment.

Great job portability with both and with 12 hour shifts, work 3 days and have 4 days off.
posted by TorontoSandy at 5:03 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's nothing that states you have to do something related to biology with your degree. Off the top of my head, I have friends from my classes who now work in finance, accounting, law, engineering, computer programming, and game design.

I graduated with a neurobiology degree and wasn't interested in doing research or attending medicine/pharmacy/dental/grad school. I applied for business internships and now work for a consulting firm that handles pharmaceutical and biotech clients. The last time I used anything I learned from a biology textbook was never.

If you did well, you should have picked up skills that apply well to technical careers: how to do research, read and digest large piles of material, think critically, spit out what you've read into papers, understand and perform higher math functions and statistics, absorb new information and skills quickly, and work with other people in teams. These are skills that apply to any serious office job.

You need to discover fields you might be interested in and learn to spin what you learned while getting your degree that makes you a good candidate for a job in that field. Science degrees are actually very attractive in many fields normally associated with liberal arts degrees because the real world places high value on skills that are usually lacking in typical applicants. Focus on the skills and if you're not applying for a biology-related job, downplay what you studied.
posted by junesix at 5:16 PM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: My first real job after graduating with a degree in biology was in a sewage plant: of all the jobs I had, that one is still my favorite. It involved a minimum of bench work, but with a variety of tests so it was not boring. The part I liked best was playing detective in trying to figure out what manufacturer was dumping what awful stuff down their drains and trying to nail them red-handed. We did a study on currents of the Chesapeake Bay to see how long it took treated water to disperse and a lot of other fun stuff.
posted by francesca too at 5:17 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm afraid I am kind of 'locked in' to cell/molecular biology--the ecology/environmental/population biology-type degrees are actually a different department around here (there was a schism a few years back). I'm not opposed to lab jobs, but, around here, it seems like they're all low-paying/no chance for advancement/working at the plasma harvester-type jobs.
posted by pullayup at 5:19 PM on November 27, 2007

Potential employers are not very likely to know or care that your school happens to have separate departments for molecular biology versus other biology. Just because you have a degree in molecular biology, doesn't mean you have to work in molecular biology (or even that you have to work in biology at all). It isn't going to hurt you to apply for environmental jobs.
posted by ssg at 5:25 PM on November 27, 2007

Environmental engineering and remediation folks would probably like to talk to you.

And ... ahem ... don't forget the oil companies.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:34 PM on November 27, 2007

Best answer: Food Science is an option. Don't know how you feel about working in a food production plant. Biology is applicable to most food production.

Any thoughts to fermentation science, along those lines? Distilleries, wineries or breweries? They need microbiologists.
posted by beachhead2 at 6:46 PM on November 27, 2007

If you are outgoing you could go to work as a sales rep for one of the lab supply companies. You get to travel all over and meet lots of people in labs over a pretty big area, as well as go to meetings all around the country. It seems to pay pretty well too.
posted by overhauser at 8:50 PM on November 27, 2007

I have a science degree and I work as an editor for an elementary-level textbook company (in the science department). Science degrees are very valuable throughout, though. In fact, a close friend of mine has a BS in biology and just started law school, where her "different" background gives her a definite advantage.

What is it you actually *want* to do?
posted by eldiem at 8:54 PM on November 27, 2007

I'm afraid I am kind of 'locked in' to cell/molecular biology--the ecology/environmental/population biology-type degrees are actually a different department around here

What ssg said. No employer cares about the political structure of your school. They're going to have to train you no matter what degree you have.
posted by grouse at 11:56 PM on November 27, 2007

I wound up with at degree in biology and was interviewing with the hr director of the grocery company that I was working for during college. He was talking up the management program for the company and I pointed out my major to him. He said that they didn't care what my degree was in, it only proved to the company that I was trainable.
posted by busboy789 at 2:56 AM on November 28, 2007

I was in the same exact position as you, only with a biochem degree. Hated lab bench work. I now love my work as a school's IT admin and am back in school for further IT training. As others have mentioned, sometimes the point of a degree isn't so much that you have one in a specific field, but rather shows an employer you are teachable.
posted by jmd82 at 5:53 AM on November 28, 2007

There are a lot of biologists who work in environmental consulting. Environmental service companies run from small sole-proprietor shops to large multinationals (Golder Associates, Stantex, etc...). Work can be as technical or less as you prefer: some of it, like preparing EAs, is pure paperwork, some of it is field or lab work. There are lots of opportunities to move into a managerial career, if that's what you want to do.

The skills you'll do well to have include: a good knowledge of your field; attention to detail (a lot of the work is legal); and the usual business people skills (networking, communication, etc...). Understanding the environmental regulations in your area also helps a great deal. If it's not too late, consider hooking up an environmental legal elective.

Firms are always looking for new people, particularly for things like EA writing. It's usually not that difficult to find work, though if you're in a small center, you might find you have to move.
posted by bonehead at 6:57 AM on November 28, 2007

Ever consider becoming a pharmacist? It's my dream job, but unfortunately I waited too long (ten years) after getting my biochem degree to get into a program. Even though I know far more now after a decade of research experience at pharmaceutical companies than I did as a recent grad, I was told that my classes at UCSD were taken too long ago to satisfy prerequisites. It's not too late for you!
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:45 AM on November 28, 2007

Along the lines of what bonehead said, do you have any skills in CS, math, or statistics? I'm in grad school for bioinformatics, and I haven't touched a pipette since undergrad. This makes me very happy.

A grad degree isn't necessary at all - lots of biotech companies are looking for people like you, and there's a Biotech boom just starting around personal genomics. It's a good time to get in the door.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:43 PM on November 28, 2007

I have a BA in biology with a concentration in botany. I'll be finishing up at the police academy next week. Just another anecdote about working in an unrelated field.
posted by ericales at 1:20 AM on November 29, 2007

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