Continuing off of where I left off in my last post, what the hell am I supposed to do with my bachelor’s degree in biology? Again, I consulted Google with a search for ” what can I do with a bachelor’s in biology?” The results came back with the usual junk: alternative jobs with a biology degree, hot jobs in biotech, and forensics. None of these really address what most of us are thinking… What jobs can a recent grad I get in the industry sector of biotech? This is the question I think will be at the crux of every recent and soon-to-be graduate.
Picture this, you’re two months away from graduating and you’ve found yourself on Indeed, LinkedIn, or Simply Hired. You’re thinking about what to enter in the search bar that would maximize getting the most relevant results. Do you search for entry level biology job, biology job for recent graduate, or even better, easy hire biology job? NO! You search for research associate.
In the industry sector, the research associate (RA) position is considered the entry level position for candidates that possess a bachelor’s degree in biology. The absolute first criteria required by every biotech company for a RA is a bachelor’s degree… DING DING DING, that’s you and me. What biotech companies look for in a RA is a candidate that has a strong foundation in biology and adequate analytical skills. This means you should at least be able to be comfortable with explaining mechanisms, pathways, and hypotheses in a semi-scientific delivery. You don’t necessarily have to know mechanisms off the top of your head, but given a chance to read about some, you should be able to summarize it in a way that shows that you didn’t snooze through every 8am class. No company is expecting a recent graduate to be an absolute home run, but they’re not looking for a dud either. This is where having previous work experience helps you.
A RA can be expected to do anything and everything that an entry level position should demand. This goes from running assays, collecting and analyzing data, maintaining cell cultures, reading literature, and being a good employee. To be frank, you’re basically a lab technician with a glorified title. Generally, when you see the term associate in a biotech job title, it’ll mean that a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for you to be considered. In my own company, there are research associates, associate scientists, and associate fellows. Each of those positions are filled by people holding a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. If you noticed, I didn’t mention anything about designing experiments. Companies will tend to delegate that responsibility to more senior employees, typically with multiple years of experience on their resumes. The reason is, a RA will lack the experience needed to design an experiment that is robust and cost-saving. With time, your manager may delegate that responsibility to you as you show mastery over your work. On the flipside, since you are responsible for running/helping run experiments, you are exposed to a lot of new techniques, concepts, and ways of thinking. Being a RA is almost like an extension to being a student, except you get paid!
Overall, you can expect to be a RA if you’re looking for a chance to break into the industry or looking to get experience in a relevant field before returning to school for graduate work. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand that being a RA is really about getting your bearings in adult life and the work force. You learn to juggle life as an adult along with real work expectations. For many, the pay will be great and the hours just fine. For others, the work will be underwhelming along with the hours too constraining. Regardless, this is only one option you can seek with your bachelor’s degree. I suggest trying this if you’re looking to leverage your degree for a salary and work in an environment that will expect you to apply your brain in every way. I wish the best of luck to everyone that is seeking a job in the industry. Reach out to me if you have questions, and thank you for finding your way to this post.