SERIOUS HELP with Career choice please !

Damian Bond at
Sat Jun 12 05:24:10 EST 1999

My reply is less negative than Bob Taylors. There are careers to be made in
the biology field - even in the UK.

There are several questions you need to ask yourself. They will be difficult
to answer, because you will not have enough experience of academia or
industry to make an answer, but the exercise is vital.

The most important advice I can give you, is to identify the areas of most
interest to you. I am a great believer that you succeed because you are
passionate about a subject. Everything else follows from that initial

You have already identified that you main interest is in Biology, but not in
chemistry. That is a good start. What parts of biology interest you ? Are
you interested in the large or small scale (i.e. how organisms interact -
which will steer you to ecology or physiology; how cellular mechanics
function, which will steer you to molecular biology, microbiology, virology,

The next question lies in whether you are interested in research or in a
financially rewarding career. Most biologists agree with Bob Taylor, that
you cannot make money in biology and certainly most are paid considerably
less than computer programmers, accountants etc. The positive side is that
our work is much more interesting !!!!

Having said this, I know of more millionaires arising from biological
scientists than I do from accountancy. If you want to make money - target
the Biotechnology sector. The next growth area will come from the linking of
information systems to diagnostics as a method of recording drug efficiency
in a real time situation (therefore choose immunology, linked to molecular
biology, with a biophysics and IT module). This is a little tongue in cheek,
since no University will offer such an Undergraduate module, however it
could be a target for a post graduate focus.

You may wish to stay in academic research. This has the advantage of
considerable freedom in choosing your dy to day work, however it is
constrained by ever increasing pressures to raise funds from either the
research councils or industrial partners. One advantage of these link, is
that it creates considerable opportunity for researchers to enter industry
at a later stage of their career, than previously possible.

If you stay in academia you may need to consider moving to the USA or
Canada, where academics are paid a realistic salary. However, no matter how
much UK academics complain about funding, most choose to remain - so there
are benefits from our system.

There is a huge flaw in the UK industrial system, which underlies the
comments from Bob Taylor. There is a glass ceiling for bench researchers in
the UK. Most research is funded by the large corporations and they have the
misguided view that salary can only increase with responsibility - i.e.
managing people. Most scientists stop what they are best at (i.e. research)
to take up management positions to advance their career. They often end up
dissatisfied. Even worse, the only role most companies can see for
scientists out side of R&D is in the quality or production environment. This
suits some people perfectly, but constrains others.

There are careers to be made. I have done it. However, it is less obvious
and direct than an established profession such as accountancy. My advice is
to do the degree and love it. You can always choose accountancy or law
later, but do what you love. Do not try to plan your career as it will not
work out that way. Rely on enthusiasm and stubborn commitment and the
opportunities will find you. To give an example of how career plans do not
work - mine has gone as follows:

Biotechnology degree. Didn't do PhD, as landed a job at Unilever on
Management Training Scheme (I still regret not doing the PhD).

Started in Technical production - moved to Marketing after 6 months.

Focused on Pregnancy testing, the Doctor's Office testing. Ultimately the
Persona Contraceptions test.

Joined a Diagnostics start up in Drugs of Abuse, Food ELISA tests and DNA
capture and amplification technology.

Joined an Irish company specialising in Hospital and Doctor's office
clinical testing.

Joined a UK microbiology company directing the new business opportunities.

There is a common thread running through this path - but you need hind sight
to see it. I would never have planned this route and whilst it was at times
painful - would not have chosen another.

I cannot comment on salaries as so much depends on which job, which sector
and which country. If you want secure money choose another profession.

Good luck for the future.

Alistair Gates <al.g2 at> wrote in message
news:7jroku$mkb$1 at
> I am from the UK and just about to start the last year of my A-Levels,
> Chemistry,Biology and Maths.
> I have up until now wanted to go into medicine, but I am predicted BCC in
> A-Levels, which is not good enough, and I have been having second
> I ideally want to do a course at a metropolitan university studying a
> biology related topic. But this is where I come to a grinding halt !
> I do not particularly enjoy chemistry, but I really love biology. I want
> some suggestions on courses which lead to careers that have a bit more of
> research at the end-point. What sort of jobs are available, and what are
> salaries like.
> Is there a business angle to biology, and how would I exploit it by doing
> certain course ?
> Being the biologists, hopefully you can help more than the people at my
> college!
> All help appreciated
> Alistair
> al.g2 at

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