November 17, 2020
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
University at Buffalo
University of Alabama in Huntsville
University of Florida
The University of Alabama in Huntsville
West Virginia State University
Murray State University
Houston Baptist University
Kansas State University
Gwynedd Mercy University
University of Southern California
Praveen Arany Ph.D.: Enthusiasm. Also, hands-on skills, problem-solving, and independence in planning and execution of projects.
Praveen Arany Ph.D.: As outlined above. A (broad) alignment with future career skills is well appreciated.
Praveen Arany Ph.D.: AI, machine learning, digital, autonomous systems, 'smart' materials, biotechnologies
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Department of Biological Sciences
Dr. Paul Wolf Ph.D.: a. Computer programming b. Statistical modeling and analysis. c. English writing skills d. Foreign language.
Dr. Paul Wolf Ph.D.: So many excellent online courses are available now. Opportunities have never been more significant for self-directed learning.
Dr. Paul Wolf Ph.D.: Within Biology, very hard to say. Gene editing will likely have a significant effect. Technology related to computational biology.
Kati W Migliaccio Ph.D.: This depends on each person. The company that would be good for one person might not be good for another. Everyone should find the 'right fit' for their skills and interests. The atmosphere of a company is also important - some may prefer smaller companies, while others prefer large corporations.
Kati W Migliaccio Ph.D.: There will be an increase in demand for graduates with biological engineering expertise as our agriculture and food systems shift toward greater use of technology and innovation to meet growing natural resource limitations and food demands. Intentional connection with our biological systems (network of networks) where we integrate greater circularity, and less linearity, will be prevalent in all industries including ag/food, energy, and water/natural resource management due to the increasing population, climate change, water scarcity, etc. and, thus, the need to better manage resources.
Kati W Migliaccio Ph.D.: I do not think there is one place where jobs in this field are more prevalent than another. People can work from anywhere, given technology today.
James Dooley Ph.D.: We work closely with our students to think and plan for career development throughout their time here at Muskingum. There's a great deal of variation, like the guidance we provide due to our students' vast array of career interests. In general, we try to emphasize the importance of continually re-examining one's values and appeals to identify career steps in which an employer's expectations and an individual's aspirations align to the greatest extent possible.
James Dooley Ph.D.: As a department, we are focused on preparing students to work with information sharing tools. Right now, we are emphasizing training with the ever-expanding array of tools in Microsoft 365 as well as networking platforms such as Handshake and LinkedIn.
James Dooley Ph.D.: Many of our students go on to professional schools (medical, veterinary, PT, PA, etc.), so they are not drawing salaries immediately after graduation. We don't know for those who do head straight into the working world because we don't ask our students to share that information.
Dr. Joseph Ng Ph.D.: In the discipline of biotechnology (as well as in other fields), do what you are passionate about (see below under question 3) and what puts meaning in your life. If you can do this, everything positive will follow. Aside from that, I urge graduates to be collaborative. Today, in all fields of science, no one works alone. In particular, biotechnology (as in any other science discipline) requires a multidisciplinary approach, combining different expertise to solve a problem or complete a project.
Dr. Joseph Ng Ph.D.: I think computational biology is, and will remain, important for the next few decades. Any students who have informatic skills will not starve. First, biological problems concerning the processing and interpretation of big data will require skilled informaticians to examine the details of entire genomes, gene transcripts, and protein products. Secondly, machine learning and artificial intelligence will be essential to predict and learn from biology data. This will be particularly important in understanding climate change, pandemics, drug discovery, human health, and many others.
Dr. Joseph Ng Ph.D.: Salary will range tremendously on whether you will be working in academia, industry, government, or self-employed. I think those who are involved in education hold one of the most critical positions. I say this, not because I happen to be an educator, but because knowing truth, facts, and thinking, and being creative have never been so critical as today. Unfortunately, the average salary of those in teaching is still in the low end. But I must say, that being a leader in technology will be short-lived without good instructors at any educational level. Biotechnology is no exception. I urge graduates to pursue a field that they are passionate about and render a positive long-term impact, instead of salary numbers. Job satisfaction and having meaning in what you do will rate your starting salaries.
Dr. Umesh Reddy Ph.D.: Use of NGS methodologies in data generation to address any biological problem and validation methods.
Dr. Umesh Reddy Ph.D.: During the gap, they can learn data science and analytical software.
Dr. Umesh Reddy Ph.D.: Machine learning, use of drones for precision agriculture, genome sequencing for precision medicine.
Dr. Howard Whiteman: Persevere. It might be challenging to find the job you want right away, but while you are looking for that, take ones that always get you closer to your goal by providing experience, new skills, or a step closer to the company or agency you are targeting.
Dr. Howard Whiteman: I cannot speak for epidemiology, which is outside of my skill set. For ecology, population biology, and wildlife biology, I would say that GIS technology has become critical--perhaps not being an expert but understanding how to use it effectively and how valuable landscape-scale evaluations have become. Drone technology is also vital and will continue to be so for years. E-DNA has blossomed and is getting better and better, allowing the detection of rare and threatened species.
Dr. Howard Whiteman: Poor. Right now, people in these fields are not in it for the money; they do it because they have a passion for conservation, or science, or both. I do not see that changing shortly, but hope springs eternal.
Houston Baptist University
Meredith O'Hara Ph.D.: Regardless of principal or career interest, computer literacy is undoubtedly an imperative skill in today's workforce, and likely this won't change, even after Zoom and other virtual platforms are no longer a necessity for our safety. Even biologists need to be computer savvy to search online databases for protocols and previous research articles, analyze experimental data, and present data in a concise, accurate, and visually-pleasing ways. Another skill biologists will always need is the ability to think independently and collaboratively. This may sound contradictory, but as much as scientists and doctors work independently, their ability and willingness to collaborate is just as important. This becomes even more crucial during times like this when we are facing so many unknowns.
Meredith O'Hara Ph.D.: Houston, TX, is a fantastic place for graduates with a biology degree because of the expansive Texas Medical Center. World-renowned scientific researchers and top-notch doctors seek out the Medical Center as a workplace because of its resources and ability to collaborate with others. Graduates with a biology degree can work as lab technicians, research assistants, or even in sales for one of the many biotechs, pharmaceutical, or medical device companies located in Houston.
Meredith O'Hara Ph.D.: The field of biology is continually evolving (no pun intended). While the core concepts remain the same, as we continue to learn about biological concepts, the knowledge base continues to grow. Students graduating this year probably have significantly more knowledge than those that graduated five years ago. The same will likely hold for those who graduate five years from now - not because they worked harder or were taught differently, but rather because the scientific community knows more as a whole because of advances in technology that help us do scientific and medical research.
Department of Biological Sciences
Lili Yamasaki: Relevant work or internship experience obtained outside the classroom, which applies to the sought position, is the most important feature on resumes.
Lili Yamasaki: During this pandemic, especially, graduates may need to take a gap year for personal reasons. However, there are more opportunities available to expand training, technical expertise, and networking. And almost all of these can be accomplished remotely and intermittently.
Lili Yamasaki: Any innovative technology that promotes public health for infectious disease will see a big boost due to the ongoing pandemic, including those for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of pathogen-based disease, well beyond COVID-19.
Kansas State University
Division of Biology
Michi Tobler: Having a professional track-record beyond your classroom experiences is very important. If you want to continue working in the life sciences, seeking out research experiences is crucial. You can do this by contacting professors at your university, and many of them will have paid positions available for you to get hands-on experience in a science lab. Over the summer, there are also Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) programs sponsored all over the country (see here https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.jsp ScienceLab ). These opportunities provide you with a chance to learn technical skills that stand out on your resume. Besides that, volunteering for a cause you care about is an excellent way to boost your resume and learn additional skills.
Michi Tobler: In terms of technical skills, that depends a lot on what sector of the life sciences you may want to enter. If you are interested in molecular biology, working in a lab to master the necessary skills is excellent. If you are more interested in natural resources and conservation, it may be more advisable to work on a field crew and hone your skills collecting data in the wild. Check with your academic advisor to come up with an appropriate plan. Either way, gap years are an excellent opportunity to learn how to work effectively in a team and figure out what you like and what you don't.
Last but not least, I think it is essential to have fun during a gap year. College is challenging and stressful. Whether as a graduate student or in the industry, you are entering the professional world - it is challenging and stressful. Using the gap year to broaden your horizon and recharge your batteries simultaneously is essential.
Michi Tobler: Having necessary computational skills has been, and will continue to be, important in the life sciences, whether you work on biomedical applications or study the evolution of some obscure organisms in obscure places. I know for many biology majors, learning how to code seems daunting, but understanding how to use a computer beyond Microsoft Office is essential these days. Seek out opportunities where you can learn R, Python, or BASH. Once you get the hang of one, learning other computer languages becomes much more comfortable.
Michelle McEliece Ph.D.: I think that what stands out on resumes is a hands-on experience. Being able to demonstrate lab skills shows employers the techniques with which you already have some level of familiarity, and it also shows that you know how to navigate in a lab. If a student has conducted a research experience (or more than one), that demonstrates this to an even greater degree, as it implies they could follow a course of investigation instead of merely learning a technique in a laboratory course. I also find that letters of recommendation are highly influential, as well. Graduates should get advice from faculty and supervisors who know them well and provide concrete examples of their abilities related to the job they are applying for.
Michelle McEliece Ph.D.: There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a gap year; sometimes, a gap year happens by chance, and sometimes it happens by choice. Graduates need to balance necessity (needing to find a job) with something that will interest them. It isn't always possible to immediately see that perfect job, but that first job helps build a student's resume with skills and experience. It also allows graduates to determine if that is the particular path for them if they aren't entirely sure. If a graduate is looking to go to graduate school but isn't sure what they want to study, then a gap year is a great idea.
The best thing to do is to try to gain skills working in a lab. There are lots of options for this. They could look to the industry or look to academic labs that might be looking for someone for a year. If a student needs to enhance their resume for acceptance into a program, the gap year can be used to take a graduate course or two to demonstrate they can handle that level of study. Students interested in a professional program where they are either required or recommended to have patient contact (PA programs, medical school) can look for those opportunities during a gap year, as well. The most important thing about a gap year is to do SOMETHING and have that something contribute to aiming for a future goal.
Michelle McEliece Ph.D.: I see several things becoming increasingly crucial in the next 3-5 years: The new technologies surrounding gene manipulation/editing will be a research focus because it is unique in this area. Bioinformatics and the management of large data sets will only increase. Some level of familiarity with technology, computer programs, etc. will benefit, especially for graduates entering the biotech industry. There will also be a stronger push towards environmentally-friendly processes in research, development, and manufacturing in the industry.
Math and Science Department in the college of Health Sciences
Nicole Browning Ph.D.: Biology is a broad field, but the one thing that stands out on a resume, across the board, is research experience. If a graduate has experience in lab-based and field-based research, it will put them ahead of competing peers that haven't had this experience before. The research need not be directly related to the position they are hoping to secure either. Any research involvement will show a potential employer that you have experience with experimental design, sample collection and processing, data analysis, and problem-solving skills; if you can be listed as an author on published research papers, even better!
Nicole Browning Ph.D.: A gap year should be filled with efforts to gain hands-on experience in the specific job field the candidate is hoping to enter. This may include volunteer work, internships, shadowing, or research work. A great place to look for these opportunities is with faculty at your alma mater. Faculty are often looking for cheap (or free) labor from graduates in the form of TAs, research assistants, lab assistants, and so on. This can provide invaluable experience, make you more competitive in the job market, and allow the graduate with real-world experience to ensure this is the position (or not).
Nicole Browning Ph.D.: When talking about biology in general, there are many different subdisciplines and relevant technologies, but one area of enormous growth is within the field of genetics and biotechnology. This includes techniques such as gene editing, recombinant DNA techniques, genome sequencing, and DNA profiling. These techniques and the technology used to accomplish them are used in many different biology areas such as medicine, food science, forensics, and conservation biology, to name just a few. Seek out classes and opportunities to learn about the theory, application, and technology behind these techniques, and you will have many more doors open for you.
Dr. Douglas Capone Ph.D.: In addition to the essential skill set of an oceanographic discipline (biological, chemical, physical or geological fields) - being adaptable, having a breadth of knowledge and ability to cross disciplinary boundaries and communication skills e.g., the ability to talk to regulators, policymakers, and the general public will all help.
Dr. Douglas Capone Ph.D.: We've gone from a field that largely recharged the academic workforce (i.e., professor track) to one far more diversified in job trajectories. Perhaps 20 or 30% will go the academic route, whereas many will enter the ranks of NGOs, governments from the local to Federal level, and Industry.
Dr. Douglas Capone Ph.D.: Ample time with the emergence of Big Data - having skills in statistics and data processing will be invaluable. We're also moving, as a field, to less dependence on shipboard data collection towards remote sensing - so knowing about relevant sensors, be they be deployed on buoys, autonomous vehicles, drones, or satellites, will be an essential skill set.