October 5, 2021
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.
Arizona Christian University
William & Mary
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Kansas State University
University of Florida
Brigham Young University-Idaho
St. Norbert College
Martin Methodist College
University of California
Iowa State University
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Coastal Carolina University
College of Arts and Sciences
Stacy Donovan Ph.D.: Any skills acquired in upper-level chemistry courses or coding courses. This demonstrates a growth mindset and eagerness to learn
Stacy Donovan Ph.D.: -Ability to work independently
-Ability to work collaboratively
-Ability to communicate effectively to a wide variety of stakeholders
-Ability to ask questions
Stacy Donovan Ph.D.: This depends on the job market in the region - in the St. Louis area, I have seen
-tissue culture - cells and plants
-molecular biology skills - cloning, PCR, gene expression (qPCR)
-histology - tissue sectioning and immunostaining
-micro pipetting and making solutions
Stacy Donovan Ph.D.: When examining job ads for an entry-level position, as I often see that pay is dependent upon experience. I encourage students to apply for internships to obtain skills outside of research and university laboratory courses. If an internship is not possible, then I encourage students to take as many courses with laboratories as they can to increase their skill level and marketability. Students should look for upper-level biology and chemistry laboratory courses that have tangible skills like biochemistry, quantitative analysis, molecular biology, microbiology, or instrumental analysis. Coding courses are also beneficial for students wanting to apply for jobs involving genomic analysis.
Department Of Mathematics Sciences & Technology
Srinivas Sonne Ph.D.: Fundamentals of Biology, Principles, Mechanisms, Understanding of Biological Chemistry, and Evolution.
Srinivas Sonne Ph.D.: Flexibility, Communication, Leadership, Team work, thorough understanding of underlying concepts for biological principles, etc., are required for Biology students.
Srinivas Sonne Ph.D.: I would say knowledge of Biological Techniques, about following the protocols for the ease of use, Experimental plan and design, Research Protocols, Analytical methods, etc.
Srinivas Sonne Ph.D.: Both Hard and Soft skills explained above would earn the most.
Arizona Christian University
Department of Science
Joseph Kezele: Electrophoresis, PCR, Chromatography
Joseph Kezele: The ability to think and reason logically. Too many young people cannot do so because they were spoon-fed and then expected to regurgitate that back.
Joseph Kezele: Microscope work
William & Mary
Department of Biology
S. Laurie Sanderson Ph.D.: The pandemic has highlighted the value of scientific training and a strong background in biology. Many businesses/industries and federal/state agencies need employees to understand science and technology, and that need will continue after the pandemic.
S. Laurie Sanderson Ph.D.: Young graduates will benefit from problem-solving skills, interpersonal and teamwork skills, quantitative skills, and strong writing abilities.
S. Laurie Sanderson Ph.D.: Employers are very interested in relevant hands-on experience, including internships, research, and volunteer positions.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
Scott Cooper Ph.D.: Students will need traditional lab skills, good record keeping, and the ability to do calculations in the lab and clinical settings. All jobs are using more technology, so facility with programs and databases is essential.
Scott Cooper Ph.D.: Most large university towns have some research park that hires a lot of students. Some biotech centers in the country are the research triangle park in North Carolina, Bethesda Maryland, Cambridge Massachusetts, San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
Scott Cooper Ph.D.: Technology has a significant impact on this field in managing and sharing large data sets. This could be genomic and proteomic experiments, as well as medical records. Collaborations are also increasingly digital, so learning how to manage a team online is an important skill.
Dr. Elizabeth Capaldi Ph.D.: We know that employers value critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and high communication skills. Our majors have those skill sets: but entry-level jobs are hard to come by - there aren't many openings at this point. I believe that landing the few available jobs right now will also require creativity and flexibility.
Dr. Elizabeth Capaldi Ph.D.: Information technology applications and data analytic skills are likely to be very important for new graduates from neuroscience.
Christopher Herren Ph.D.: Undergraduate research and summer internships with companies/hospitals.
Christopher Herren Ph.D.: For a gap year, get a job related to your major.
Christopher Herren Ph.D.: It doesn't matter. Companies have and will always want people with core competencies like agreeability, problem-solving, adapting to new projects, data collection, and data analysis. From those, they'll train anyone for a new piece of equipment.
University of Florida
Department of Biology
Charles Baer Ph.D.: It's hard to imagine there wouldn't be. I expect that once the social isolation eases, that people will be more appreciative of human contact. I bet people will be quicker to marry. At the same time, I think there will be a residual "keep your distance, man!" response that will last longer than we think.
Charles Baer Ph.D.: Areas in the vicinity of major research universities are a good place to look. The big players are in California and Boston, although I think California's shine is a bit scuffed. Places like Houston, Madison, WI; Columbus OH, Atlanta. Dc. Oh, and Alachua County, FL.
Charles Baer Ph.D.: AI is on an upward trajectory and will become increasingly useful. Cheaper, more accurate long-read sequencing technology will also be important, as will single-cell manipulation. Put the three together, and a serious understanding of "the" microbiome comes within reach.
Dr. Steven Christenson Ph.D.: The only concern I have about out 2020 graduates is the truncation and/or adaptation of some of their course and extracurricular laboratory experiences due to the turmoil caused by COVID 19. In the fall semester, we have tried to put a special emphasis on having our lab courses meet face-to-face on campus where they could perform techniques, but our winter and spring semesters got experientially short-changed. There has been some difficulty for some students adapting to learning in an online format, but at least in our department, I believe the overall quality of instruction and learning has remained high. Overall I think the long-term impact of the pandemic on these graduates will be low.
Dr. Steven Christenson Ph.D.: I think one thing the pandemic has done has shed light on the need for rapid and accurate laboratory testing. It is not unlikely that COVID alone will increase demand for laboratory testing and thus require the hiring of more Medical Lab Scientists. This increase will likely be present across the country. So I think that everywhere will be a good place to find work opportunities. This field already enjoyed high worker demand and double-digit job growth outlook even before the pandemic. I suspect it will only be stronger now.
Dr. Steven Christenson Ph.D.: The increased development of automated testing will play a role in this field. Technology might not impact job availability as much as you might think, because the field is already highly automated and human personnel is still needed to run the various pieces of equipment. In fact, automation is generally a positive move because it removes some of the monotony and repetitive nature of the job.
Adam Brandt Ph.D.: I think so, at the very least, graduates missed out on all of the classic senior year events. A lot of traditions are missed. Ultimately a very unceremonious end to all of their hard work. Then there is starting their job search when we're facing record levels of unemployment during a pandemic. Interviews will be relying on Zoom and Skype far more than they had in the past. Telecommuting is going to be more prominent. So in some ways, that may increase job prospects, but at the same time, it means more competition from candidates over a wider area if the job can be done remotely.
Adam Brandt Ph.D.: I don't get the impression that the locations of jobs have changed much-for example, biotech jobs are going to be concentrated around major urban areas like Madison, WI or Chicago, IL. Field jobs like with the DNR are going to be in more rural areas. NGOs are often concentrated around Washington DC and the East Coast. However, some jobs might be more flexible in needing employees to relocate, so again depending on the job, recent graduates might not be as geographically restricted. If remote work isn't an option, I often find that students not willing to relocate have the hardest time finding jobs. If you try to look for jobs only around your home town, then you're really limiting yourself. The job might be there, but you're banking on one or two positions being open at exactly the time you are on the job hunt.
Adam Brandt Ph.D.: I think we're already seeing employers being more comfortable with remote work, and I think employees are going to start demanding that flexibility. The downside to that is a blending of home and work life that can be detrimental to mental health; that is, it'll be harder to disconnect. We already see that in people who answer emails while on vacation. You may find yourself on call for work 24-7, and that isn't good.
Department of Biology
Sean Beckmann: Current and recent graduates are entering an economy that is severely depressed as a result of the pandemic. For biology and chemistry graduates, there is an interesting compounding factor to this. There are certain jobs being created in the sciences, as a result of COVID-19, in research and testing. The issue is that these positions are, by and large, temporary positions. This combination is likely to lead, at least for a period of time, to a situation where the number of applicants will certainly exceed the number of available jobs. This may result in some students pursuing positions outside of their degree field, or in many cases, students pursuing a graduate degree to make themselves more marketable and delay paying back student loans.
The positive side is that students interested in disease ecology, epidemiology, and biotechnology are likely to see an increase in demand as this pandemic will likely result in increased funding and focus in these areas.
Sean Beckmann: Biology encompasses a wide range of fields, ranging from ecology to wildlife biology to medicine. As a result, job location may be driven by a particular area of interest. Wildlife jobs are often found in more rural areas, although that is not a hard and fast rule by any means. Health-related positions are likely to be more readily available in population centers, while research positions are commonly found in areas where large universities and/or corporations are housed. There is no one right geographic area for science jobs, which is often what makes this a marketable field.
Sean Beckmann: Technology has been a driving force in the sciences for the past 30-40 years. It continues to push the field forward as new discoveries, techniques, and technologies continue to create new jobs. The issue is that these jobs often involve techniques that people did not gain experience in while students. As a result, biologists must be adaptable, stay current in the field, and constantly be learning in order to make themselves in demand as new technologies and opportunities emerge.
Kevin Geedey: I would predict that a general economic downturn would negatively impact hiring in environmental fields. In a hard job market, it will be more important than ever to be able to demonstrate mastery of core knowledge and skills, such as the use of GIS, the ability to draw meaning from large datasets, and a fundamental understanding of social and ecological systems. Teamwork across the social and natural sciences is absolutely essential in environmental work.
Kevin Geedey: I would argue that folks seeking entry-level environmental careers need to be flexible about location. It is wonderful to have, for example, working in the pacific northwest as a long-term goal, but in the short term, you may need to build your resume somewhere you are less excited about. One possible byproduct of this is, you might actually end up falling in love with a different part of the country than you imagined. Be open-minded and flexible about where that first job will be.
Kevin Geedey: As is the case in most fields, technology continues to change and develop. As drones and networked cameras become less expensive, I anticipate their use in environmental applications will continue to grow. As automated data collection increases, this will make data management skills more and more important, as we are well into the era of big data in the environmental fields.
Martin Methodist College
Department of Biology
Mark Chee Ph.D.: I believe that there will be a significant impact for a number of years, especially if attempts by public health agencies to rein in the pandemic are unsuccessful.
The impact of the pandemic on research in life sciences has manifest itself in a number of ways. Some examples:
Many labs were forced to suspend operations, at the beginning of the pandemic, and they stayed closed for a few months thereafter. Lab workers now have to work staggered shifts, to minimize crowding in labs and research buildings, and interactions between lab workers have been minimized. This has fundamentally altered the nature of how scientists communicate and collaborate.
Funding opportunities and investment in research related to COVID-19 have been plentiful, but this has come at the expense of research in other areas. Biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology research have become focused on studying the nature of the SARS-CoV2 pathogen and developing research tools, medical diagnostics, potential vaccines, and potential therapeutics, with many new opportunities.
Mark Chee Ph.D.: Cities that have high concentrations of industries, universities, and government agencies that offer employment opportunities in biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology include:
-San Francisco, CA
-San Diego, CA
-New Jersey, NJ
-Research Triangle Park, NC
Smaller cities such as Huntsville, AL, may also offer opportunities, although fewer in number. Those that host large research universities are usually a good bet.
Mark Chee Ph.D.: If you mean information technology, what we are seeing is that life science research increasingly relies on the analysis of large amounts of data and collaboration between research groups, based not only in different parts of the country but also in different countries across the globe. Cloud-based computing analysis tools and data storage are also very common solutions, when working with large datasets.
As the research community recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, they are also relying more on communications and conferencing solutions that take advantage of the Internet to work around social distancing guidelines and restrictions on travel, particularly international travel. Collaboration in science will continue to grow, but a lot of that collaboration will have to take place electronically.
Ingrid Parker: Unfortunately, no one will get a "re-do" of 2020. However, students, as well as universities, are showing remarkable levels of resilience, allowing self-motivated young people to make progress toward their goals. The great thing about Plant Sciences is that we will always need to grow food, and there will always be a need for doing this better and more sustainably. In addition, there is growing recognition of the importance of ecosystem resilience and natural resource management in the face of climate change and increasingly challenging natural disasters.
Ingrid Parker: There are particular research sectors that are growing rapidly right now, for example, in the Cannabis and hemp industries. Climate change adaptation, fire ecology, restoration, and mitigation will all be increasingly important.
Ingrid Parker: Ag-tech is transforming the way that crops are grown across the country and the world. There are exciting things happening at the intersection between plant biology and both engineering and genetic technologies and bioinformatics. Similarly, remote sensing and GIS are transforming our understanding and management of environmental plant biology. It is an exciting time to enter the plant sciences fields.
Dr. Yanhai Yin Ph.D.: Genetics is of fundamental importance to our society. As always, genetic studies will address issues related to human health, agriculture, and environmental sustainability. Genetics will continue guiding many aspects of fundamental biological research. I hope that you will use your knowledge well, and often, in the future, no matter what you will be working on.
Dr. Yanhai Yin Ph.D.: Genome-editing with CRISPR technology will be prevalent for both basic and applied research in genetics.
Dr. Yanhai Yin Ph.D.: The pandemic will have some impact in the next few years, which will gradually turn back to regular as vaccines become available and widely used. A critical question for genetics, related to the pandemic, is why some people have severe symptoms, while others experience minor or are even asymptomatic? Is there a genetic basis for this phenomenon, and if so, what is it?
Dr. Ashley Mattison: Absolutely. With the added focus on the biological fields, there will be more students interested in this field, given the impact of coronavirus on their lives and the world. Also, moving into the future, I believe there will be more demand for students with a biology background to be involved in policymaking decisions in both private and public sectors. Finally, with the push to work from home, many of these positions may not revert to in person. For biology, this means we could see an increase in data analysis positions that would fall under this change.
Dr. Ashley Mattison: Most urban areas have a demand for students with a background in biology. These students provide support for healthcare, agriculture, and general research. Graduates are always needed to research cures for new and enduring diseases and research the next pandemic. Particular industries, such as forestry, are now hiring biology graduates to assess environmental impacts and assist in rehabilitation efforts. More financial decisions are being made with an ecological focus, impacting many fields, especially biological science. Politically, environmental policies are now more seriously considered and will require the input of physical science graduates.
Dr. Ashley Mattison: There is a growing demand for large scale data analysis of biological data with the rapid development of our ability to collect this data. There will be a strong push for individuals in biology to develop computer science skills to fulfill this demand. The use of drones and satellite technology in biology has given us the ability to see biology on a macro scale and observe global impacts in addition to the local environment.
John Turbeville Ph.D.: There is no particular fix, or one size fits all approach to job searching. The ability to successfully network and engage in an ongoing way, in various career-related opportunities, is still the best strategy for success, even in uncertain times like these. Students may have additional opportunities made available to them because of the digital/remote nature of how many organizations are engaging in their recruitment-allowing graduates the ability to experience more, in a shorter period, without limitations of location or travel, that very often enter into considerations surrounding the job search. With that said, however, knowing there is a durable full-time, seasonal nature to early employment opportunities for biology grads, we would expect this to be more prevalent as the economy begins to recover. Demand for graduates in the public health-related fields will likely continue to be high, but graduates will probably need to be even more flexible in starting their careers. Not in the sense that they will need to take positions "out of their field," but instead, that they will need to be more open to relocating for the right opportunities to engage their passions and interests.
John Turbeville Ph.D.: This is harder for me to answer as an individual in an administrative role looking at the broad breadth of career fields within biology. While GIS, I would think, is an easy answer, I can't help but wonder, and hope, if we might not see an advancement of the in-person, field-based work traditionally associated with these career fields, and a blending of opportunities taking advantage of the strides everyone has made in remote/virtual communication tools. The thought of organizations breaking down barriers relative to space and place is an exciting idea, which I hope organizations look to leverage for the future.
John Turbeville Ph.D.: Prior research has shown, during times of economic crisis, degrees of underemployment for graduates entering the workforce, at that time. It has impacted the start of their careers and, for some, their long-term career trajectory. The potential impacts a global pandemic might have on our graduates are hard to predict today. My sincere hope is that it is different in some way, that graduates are met with opportunity and excitement, because everyone has been impacted in one way or another by COVID-19. So, as we return to work, this experience unites organizations and their recruitment of new talent. This is, undoubtedly, how I choose to see the world, with rose-colored glasses, but I guess, however, only time will tell.
Dr. Paul Richardson Ph.D.: Yes. Getting hands-on lab experience will be at a premium because of this pandemic. This will mean those students who have had real lab experience should have a significant advantage when entering the marketplace.
Dr. Paul Richardson Ph.D.: The biotech field seems to have a tremendous amount of growth due to the pandemic-particularly those involved in the chemistry of health (drug design, drug manufacturing). The healthcare field has been expanding for years.
Dr. Paul Richardson Ph.D.: I think we are going to see a significant shift in digital cooperativity in the future. Those people who can be scientists and skilled digital communicators will have a wealth of opportunities in the job place.