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Starting a Career in Life Sciences? Here is What to Expect and How to Prepare

Closeup of microscope lens and stage

The life sciences industry is about as dynamic as a business category can get. It’s an industry rife with emerging opportunities for young professionals in the traditional areas of pharma and medical device manufacturers, as well as in emerging fields like biotech, biomed, life systems and nutraceuticals. As part of our ongoing “listening” to the social buzz online around jobs that matter to our contractors, we explored the online conversation around careers in life sciences. As usual, what we found is both surprising and insightful.

A wealth of opportunities

With a diverse and broad mix of companies in the category, the number and types of job opportunities seems to expand each year. We find professionals considering careers from cancer research and epigenetics to immunology and computational biology — and many other diverse disciplines in between.

In a jobs market with such a wealth of career options — jobs that barely existed a half generation ago — we were curious to learn more about what the aspiring life scientist does when it comes to career planning and advice.

Career management in the age of social

Social networks have transformed many aspects of our lives, including where and how we get career advice. Never before was it possible to easily crowdsource advice for managing our careers. Unsurprisingly, the technically adept people in life sciences turn to online forums, discussion groups and subreddits for tips and guidance in all things career management.

We found one recent life sciences grad looking to reddit for advice following the uncertain time following graduation in a post titled, “Recent college grad unsure how to move forward”.

Savvy advice came from eager-to-help users, like this excerpt:

“Are you intending on being a bench scientist forever, or do you want to head in a different direction? I ended up in clinical research. I did a pre-med track (B.S., physiology and then several years in a doctor's office). If your university offers a degree like a Clinical Research Advisor, CRA (usually MSc), you can get paid some really good money. Generally, they're a logical track from that to managerial role after several years. Frankly, having an MBA without work experience doesn't mean anything.”

Another user offered:

“Biomedical Engineering... all the way if you can program or learn how... moola, moola, moola. Or you can try to mix it with Health Systems (Health information technology) or Health Informatics. MBA Health Track... you can transfer business management to anything, lots of cash in this one too... just don’t do a masters without knowing what you really want out of it, or where you can go with it.”

Both professionals offered practical advice for attaining a career in two different areas of science, but both touched on the influence that continued education played in their own careers and whether or not it is right for the new grad seeking advice.

Lab rats unite!

We were intrigued to discover a thriving online reddit community called r/labrats, where one very active thread was sparked by this post:

“I'm a 22 y/o biochemistry graduate with lots of different types of lab experience in molecular biology, organic chemistry, and general lab stuff. For the past 5 months I haven't heard back from all but one position for an interview and they chose someone with more experience than me. I am in the NYC/Metro area and seriously need some help...”

Suggestions from the supportive crowd of “lab rats” included this gracious poster:

“I'm a postdoc who has gone through multiple rounds of hiring techs/RAs. If you want, feel free to PM me your CV and cover letter and I can take a look to see if there are any red flags. For what it's worth my first job out of college was an RA position in Boston and I was a part of the hiring process to replace me.”

More practical tips were offered, like this from another poster:

“Highlight the skills that are important to the job you're applying for. Like, I assume you're applying for research tech — type positions — they probably don't really care about clinical work if it's a bench lab, and vice versa. Be specific about techniques that you're already comfortable with if they're applicable to the job you're applying for.”

Crowdsourcing career help

As we’ve discovered in almost every job category, professionals are increasingly turning to each other for help and advice when it comes to career choice, tips for landing their first job and career advancement ideas.

Aerotek’s recruiters working in life sciences are well versed in industry requirements and interview best practices. We have broad networks and partnerships with scientific professional organizations across the US. If you’re thinking about a career in the life sciences, or have already started your career and desire a change, we’d love to hear from you. Create or update your free Aerotek career account, or take a look at our current job opportunities.