March 26, 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.
Columbus State University
University of Illinois
Saint Peter's University
University of Pittsburgh
Christopher Newport University
The Pennsylvania State University
North Carolina State University
Montana State University - Bozeman
Columbus State University
Dr. Monica Frazier: I would hope that it would not be enduring. However, I do realize there may be immediate impacts. Students who did not start their research until maybe the second semester of their junior year are impacted by not getting any time to participate in hands on research experiences. Not having that experience means they miss out on an opportunity to learn laboratory skills needed for certain jobs. In addition, this also impacts student one-on-one interactions with faculty which prevents faculty from really getting to know the student in a way that will inhibit the faculty from providing the employer with a more comprehensive review of the student's ability, work ethic, etc.
Dr. Monica Frazier: Depends on the job.
Dr. Monica Frazier: Unfortunately, there are not a lot of certifications available in this area on the undergraduate side. So for those people, I would say they need to get hands-on research experience, to attend and present their research at conferences and, if possible, get a publication. Having these experiences out of college will help a student increase their earning potential.
University of Illinois
Department of Evolution, Ecology & Behavior
Ken Paige: There are looming opportunities for hiring post-pandemic in the field of conservation biology/ecology, broadly defined. The Biden administration is proposing to conserve at least 30 percent (we currently conserve about 15 percent) of lands and oceans by 2030 and a National Biodiversity Strategy which would include establishing climate corridors for species, establishing regular monitoring, reporting, research and development and adequate funding for conservation efforts and employment opportunities.
He also calls for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative. This program would put American graduates to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation and carbon sequestration, protecting biodiversity and improving access to recreation. The order gives the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and other relevant agencies 90 ,days to create a plan to "mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers and maximize the creation of accessible training opportunities and good jobs."
The Great American Outdoors Act enacted by congress will also provide job opportunities in the field of ecology/conservation. The Act fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, at $900 million per year, supporting up to 28,000 jobs. An additional $1.9 billion per year for five years contained in the Great American Outdoors Act would support an added 59,000 jobs in parks development and restoration of public lands nationwide.
Ken Paige: Leadership skills, problem-solving skills, strong work ethic, independence, good interpersonal skills, adaptability
Ken Paige: Salaries have been going up over time with entry level salaries starting at $50k and ranging as high as $80K depending upon level of education.
Saint Peter's University
Dr. Katherine Wydner Ph.D.: COVID-19 has focused worldwide attention on the importance of public health, so jobs that relate to healthcare services and wellness will be on the rise. Even before the pandemic, employment in healthcare occupations was expected to experience greater job growth in the next decade than other occupations. There have been losses in healthcare jobs during the pandemic, but fewer losses than in jobs outside of healthcare. In the short term, many medical specialist practices and dentist offices that offer nonemergency services have taken a hit with losses of jobs and revenue.
Here are some examples of specific careers that should be in demand for the foreseeable future. Epidemiologists are public health scientists who investigate patterns and causes of disease. Mental Health Professionals include clinical and counselling psychologists and therapists. Public Health Educators are professionals who spread health information and counter misinformation. Public Health Policy Makers are people who work in government and make decisions toward healthcare goals in a community.
Jobs related to Food Services are also expected to grow faster compared to many other job sectors. These include Nutritionists and Dieticians as well as those involved in food safety and menu planning. This is part of the growing attention on wellness and preventative medicine.
Healthcare will remain an essential field. Physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and medical laboratory scientists will continue to be very important in our workforce, especially due to the aging population in the US.
Dr. Katherine Wydner Ph.D.: Because of current job shortages caused by the pandemic, many college graduates may find this to be a good time to go back to school for additional certifications, masters, or doctoral degrees. Many advanced degrees in healthcare and medicine at the masters or doctorate levels require courses such as Biochemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, Microbiology, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Psychology. Another useful course can be Nutrition if someone is interested in a career related to Food Services, a job sector that is anticipated to be in growing demand.
Job prospects for Medical Laboratory Scientists are also excellent. Graduates of bachelors of science and certificate programs who go on to earn their license from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP-BOC) typically find employment within weeks of graduation and licensure. This has held true for many years, as demand for these jobs exceeds the supply of qualified persons. Medical Laboratory Scientists are employed by hospitals, commercial and reference labs, and medical and veterinary offices.
Dr. Katherine Wydner Ph.D.: My direct field is science education, since I am a university professor. I would say that salaries in this field have been rising over time, but not by much, because of cost-saving measures that are in place, especially at small private colleges and universities.
Sarah Hainer Ph.D.: So as an undergrad, working in a research lab, is helpful. Or doing computational work that is related. But that would only be for if one wants to go into biological research.
Tawnya Cary Ph.D.: Yes, I think there will be an enduring impact of the coronavirus on biology graduates. The impact will likely be multifaceted, but two things come to mind: 1) I think the demand for more professionals in public health and epidemiology will increase and graduate interest to fill that demand will follow, and 2) graduates have been given a 'pause button' for the past year while hiring has decreased, programs have been cancelled, etc. This time to reflect on what they want and need for their careers moving forward will hopefully help them re-evaluate the plans they have for themselves in a positive way.
Tawnya Cary Ph.D.: Regardless of the position's title, a 'good' job is one that helps a graduate learn skills that they can apply to their future career. The job might be a short-term internship or technician position that gives them hands-on field or laboratory experience, or it might be something that helps them learn how to interact effectively with the public. I don't think there is one job title that meets this goal; rather graduates should learn how to transfer skills from all of their experiences such that they can apply them moving forward.
Tawnya Cary Ph.D.: The ability to work collaboratively and communicate effectively are important skills to develop. These have always been true for most any employer, but in light of the pandemic, they are even more vital. Technically, this means that you need to be able to manage video conferencing platforms, and be able to effectively share information whether via a digital database or presentation. Specifically in biology, employers need scientists that are diligent, detail-oriented, and inquisitive, whether they are collecting data in the lab or the field.
Christopher Newport University
Organismal and Environmental Biology
Janet Steven Ph.D.: Clearly the pandemic will create a demand for biology graduates working in human health and health care. Not just as care providers like doctors and nurses, but also in epidemiology, public health policy, emergency planning, medical ethics, and many other allied fields.
Janet Steven Ph.D.: Some careers in biology do require specific certifications, but there are many fields where experience outside the classroom has the biggest impact on job prospects. Spending a summer or two working in the field you are interested in building both your resume and your network. Courses that apply subject matter to hands-on experiences and real-world decisions are also valuable.
Janet Steven Ph.D.: A good job out of college is one that pays you enough to avoid additional debt and gives you experience that will help you get your next job. That can look very different for different people. Your first job out of college doesn't have to be the job you have 10 years later, it just needs to set you on an interesting path.
Flor E. Acevedo Ph.D.: This question is too broad. The COVID pandemic has affected us all in many ways, and it has affected people in particular ways. Some people have been more affected than others.
Flor E. Acevedo Ph.D.: Flexibility, teamwork, resilience. They need to be good at what they do.
Flor E. Acevedo Ph.D.: It depends on the position. Usually, people need to be good at what they do, and the resume should show it. The ability to work with other people is also very important in any job.
College of Arts and Sciences
Han Chuan Ong Ph.D., APR: With most college graduates lacking the requisite practical skills due to a lost year and summer due to COVID in 2020, I anticipate seeing new employees being placed in training camps for a sizeable duration to acquire practical skills. Because this is a pandemic, almost everyone is on a level playing field, so there is no worry of being surpassed in experiences by your fellow applicants. I am also seeing more applications among my students to graduate programs directly after their collegiate graduation; in fearing the greater unknown brought about by the pandemic, many have chosen to further equip themselves academically. Not as many are considering a "gap year" or working for pay for a year or two to earn back the monetary deficit they suffered from paying for school before they continue on to pursue a graduate degree.
Han Chuan Ong Ph.D., APR: Gap year experiences should be challenging, not idle day-at-the-beach sort of experiences. Gone are the days where gap years include traveling extensively abroad or taking on hourly jobs at relaxing and beautiful locales. Many of my students who intend to go to medical school are taking gap years to work at hospitals, doing jobs like prepping rooms, cleaning linens, registering patients, or running the counter at pharmacies as a technician. We also have chemical and pharmaceutical companies that hire our graduates in basic research and operations. These experiences are critical to demonstrate to future selection and hiring committees that students are not simply throwing away gap years to relax and rewind from a hectic four years of college.
Han Chuan Ong Ph.D., APR: A general advice is to listen and observe workplace dynamics, politics, and procedural maneuverings. Often a classroom or lab is a bad simulation of what it is like to work with others or in teams at a professional workplace. These experiences can only be gained by humbling oneself to keenly observe how seasoned workers navigate the workplace dynamics. Also, diligence and common courtesy goes a long way to get one noticed by colleagues in a positive light.
Slavko Komarnytsky: The time of a great disruption is also the time of a great opportunity. Two major short-term trends in biological sciences are offsite work and redundancy, as both industry and academia are using the pandemic to review and realign their research and educational programs. Data analytics, visualization, and statistics skills are becoming increasingly important as these jobs can be performed remotely and do not depend on the local socioeconomic challenges. Plant biology, agronomy, and horticultural sciences are in increased demand as we rethink food production and processing due to emergence of vertical farming and a current trend towards growing high value agricultural crops that deliver nutrition and health benefits rather than calories. The 2018 Farm Bill also provided a new path forward for industrial hemp as it applies to seed (nutrition), fiber (textiles and composites), and therapeutic (full spectrum hemp oils and CBS isolates) markets.
Technology skills in biomanufacturing and aseptic processing remain critical as more and more of modern therapeutic and vaccination approaches move into the area of protein and RNA-based biologicals. Personalized diagnostics, testing, and nutrition applications including high-throughput genomic, proteomic, and metabolic technologies emerge to become high value technological skills as we rethink health care towards a continuous and functional maintenance and promotion of health. Within the next five years, this trend will be further supported by emergence of low-cost robotic and artificial intelligence-driven applications that will advance creativity, emotional intelligence, and ability to handle psychological pressure. Share your professional expertise with a range of organizations rather than a single employer. Jobs with more people working in routine, repetitive applications will fare worse.
Slavko Komarnytsky: I don't believe in gap years unless they are driven by economic reasons. If you need a paycheck to support you and your future educational goals, by all means do it. If not, use the pandemic as an opportunity to stand out. We are currently experiencing a major shift in how educational, networking, and collaborative relationships are formed and sustained, and when the dust settles (let's say we have the effective vaccines in place), we are not going back to the old ways - so complaining about studying and networking online or taking a gap year to avoid it - is useless.
Instead, take initiative, and show your value. Look up and reach out to professors in your department who work in your area of interest with a single question, "Would it be possible for me to develop a review manuscript on (topic) with you as my mentor?" If accepted, you immediately gain access to your professor's professional network, in-depth knowledge in your area of research, writing skills, teamwork, and visibility once the manuscript is submitted and published. Hey, email me, and I will work with you to make it happen. Also, pay attention to local clubs and student organizations that are active in the areas of your interest - by participating in their activities, you gain access to the group of the brightest and most active students in your program. You will be surprised how much you can accomplish with Zoom meetings, proper distancing, and masks. Check NCSU Student Food Science Club led by David Mohebpour or UNC Chapel Hill Student Alternative Proteins Project led by Sophia Retchin as examples.
Slavko Komarnytsky: Stay current on research developments and industry trends. Strongly consider a relevant master's degree or at least a certificate program in the area of your interest to stand out and gain in-depth knowledge, networks, and technical skills. Seek writing and speaking opportunities to establish visibility and credibility to your name. For many recent graduates, it takes six months in the current economic climate to secure a career opportunity, so plan for it accordingly. Hire a headhunter even if it costs you a few months of your future salary, as the first job placement is often the most difficult one. Apply early to graduate Ph.D. programs if you intend to continue your career in academia, but do not view a Ph.D. program as a placeholder to overwinter the pandemic and economic meltdown. The Ph.D. is a lot of original independent work that will make you overqualified to many technical jobs, especially in the recession.
Mike Giroux Ph.D.: Hands-on job basic and applied experience in the student's field of study. Ability to manage a project, supervisory experience, and data analysis.
Mike Giroux Ph.D.: More experience is needed in data analysis techniques and the ability to accomplish work remotely.
Mike Giroux Ph.D.: The job market in plant science-related fields remains strong, so hopefully only short-term impacts.