There’s a time every fall semester when students walk into my office on an almost daily basis to say that “they say I won’t be able to get a job” with a BS in Biology. I’m always taken aback by this. I’ve starting asking aloud who “they” is, as an entry to some critical thinking about how we perceive and receive information about topics that might be worrying to us. So, to my students with this worry, here are some thoughts.
I’ll begin by positing that you might be asking the wrong question. Biology is a huge field, and a BS-BIO is a broad degree, unless you have tailored it in some way.
So, first let’s assess what kind of biology you like. Why did you choose the major to begin with? Has your own understanding of biology evolved? It’s a vast topic that by definition touches on every aspect of life, so list the subfields and subjects you’ve enjoyed so far, and why. List those you want to learn more about, and why. Decide what you like about biology and go learn that. Learn it well. And along the way you’ll find five more things you love and want to learn as well.
Second, where do you see yourself in 4 years? Do you want to play with huge datasets and pull out really interesting or critical results from those data that could impact—for instance—the health of cities, ecosystems, or humans? Do you want to interact with people all day, visiting offices or placing phone calls with a myriad of clients? Do you want to be at the bench or in the field carrying out a research project that your boss as delineated and funded? Do you want to design new projects based on questions you think are interesting? Do you…fill in the blank. What do you want your day to day work experience to be?
Interlude: You chose college, not a professional/technical/trade school. That means you opted to focus on critical thinking, problem solving, leadership and team dynamics, and of course science content knowledge and practice, coupled with the interconnectedness of all things. As a Biology major, you are practicing the process of science and learning a vast amount of information that scientists have assembled using that same scientific process. These results give us our current hypothesis for how life works, and as an undergraduate you are required to learn it to some level of resolution. But you could dig deeper. Every nugget of biology content that you learn is from some scientific study conducted and published at some point in the past. Learning to read and write in the style of those studies, especially those published more recently, builds important technical communication skills. Acknowledge that you are building an important skill set that employers seek out (see the bold elements if you are puzzled about what those some of those skills are). Also, take advantage of the opportunity to learn skills that are available to college students—statistics, quantitative thinking, coding—and practice thinking and working in these quantitative ways of thinking. Always going for the easy A in may not actually be the strategy that will train you the job you want in a challenging field.
Third, augment the traditional classroom-focused curriculum. Conduct research, join a Vertically Integrated Project, do an internship, meet alumni in fields that might be interesting. Say yes to opportunities that come before you.
Develop your resume, using the information and expertise of the Center for Career Discovery and Development. Set up a linked in profile. Do a job hunt every few months, exploring indeed.com, zintellect.com, usajobs.gov, and other sites you discover along the way. Look on the HR site of a place you think you might want to work. This exercise will tell you where the biology jobs are right now and where they might be headed (hint, think data science).