Career opportunities

Michael Stillman stillman at
Thu Jan 23 15:54:32 EST 1997

JRANCK at wrote:
> I am a high school senior who is very interested in biology.  I have
> taken and done very well in the Honors Biology and Advanced Placement
> Biology courses at my school.  I am currently looking for a college and
> plan to major in either biology or biochemistry.
> I was wondering about what various careers are available for biology
> majors, and what kind of planning I have to do for the future.  If
> anyone would respond, that would be great.  Thanks.
> Mike

To somewhat echo Prof. Bezerin's comments in another reply...

If biology is really what you enjoy doing, then by all means, do it.  As
they say in the investment commercials, "Past performance is no

However, a disturbing trend has continued for about the past 6 years or
so.  Science in general, and biology in particular, is a very difficult
career.  Prof. Bezerin already mentioned the postdoctoral fellow (PDF)
situation.  Due in part to a glutted workforce and ever-decreasing
funding, many people find themselves stuck as "virtual PDFs" for much
longer than was originally intended.  Typically, a PDF last 2-3 years,
after which time, the scientist makes the transition from graduate
student into the "real world" and lands a job in industy or academia. 
The problem is that there are many good scientists working on their 3rd
or 4th postdoc with no end to this cycle in sight!

Salary is also generally not commensurate with the training a scientist
undergoes: a PDF is lucky to get anything above mid 20s.

Of course, you might not be looking at a doctoral program (and I can't
say I'd recommend one right now).  There are some decent jobs at the
master's degree level, but be prepared to relocate a few times, as
biotech/pharmaceutical companies are not the stable, recession-proof
institutes they had once been.

Based primarily on some of the above concerns, I'm no longer a
scientist.  Many of us who were trained to become professors or
industrial scientists have switched careers into communications,
finance, or computers.  In fact, a physicist colleague of mine with a
Ph.D. in laser physics was unable to find a suitable position after an
exhaustive search.  He took a 10-week programming course and found a job
as a software engineer a few weeks after completing the course.  It's
sad that a lot of the training that today's scientists have is no longer
valued in the current job market.

I certainly hope things get better, but I'm afraid not.  I know of more
than one Boston-area bioscience professor advising their students to
"learn a trade" rather than become a biologist.

However, if it's really what you love doing, and you can't see doing
anything else, then go do it.  You might also, however, try to pick up
some computer skills for your off hours, just in case.

I may practice what I preach and learn some programming this year.  Luck
to us both!


Michael J. Stillman, Ph.D.
DendWrite Communications
"Medical Writing, Editing, and Website Development Services"
33 Dinsmore Avenue, Suite 602
Framingham, MA  01702
Tel/Fax: 508.875.7782

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