Not Research. Now what? – Alternative career paths outside a lab for people with a background in life science

You have finished your degree in an area of life science. Perhaps lab research does not look like a good career option for you, or you just simply want to try something different. You ask, “ Not research. But now what? ”

There are many answers to that question. You do not have to spend the rest of your life in a lab like you did in your last year of undergraduate study or through your graduate school. There are lots of opportunities outside laboratories for you to choose from. Here are some options.

1. Journalism and writing

If you have good writing skill and communication skill, you could consider becoming a science journalist for newspaper science/technology/medicine section, popular science magazines such as Scientific American, or for online science websites. A career in journalism will expose you to the lasted development in biotech and the latest discoveries in life science. It is a stimulating job.

2. Education

This option includes teaching at different levels. If you enjoy teaching high school biology, attend teacher’s college and obtain a bachelor’s degree in education. If university is what you prefer, you could become a lecturer. Also, there are online education programs that need scientists. Consider teaching an online course or getting involved in the making of educational software. Additionally, you could teach for private companies. For example, become an MCAT biology instructor for companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review.

3. Software engineering

If you are good at programming or math, why not work in biocomputing or bioinformatices. You do not have to join a research lab and analyze data for other biologists. You could design computational tools or biologists. Either Write and patent your own software independently, or join a software company, for example, the MathWorks, and help engineers develop software.

4. Art

Artists are needed for illustrations in scientific papers, textbooks, magazines and educational software. Try to combine your life science background and your artistic talent to help out scientists illustrate their ideas in research papers or help educate the public with your drawings.

5. Public policy

Scientists can get involved in policy making at the federal level in various areas, for example, drug approval, natural health product regulation, public health risk assessment, environment conservation, etc. Such a job will usually involve a large amount of literature research.

6. Law

This path requires you to attend law school. Your background in science gives you an edge to practice medical laws and patent laws. You are not limited to working for a law firm. You could work as a lawyer for a biotech or pharmaceutical company as well.

7. Patenting

A patent agent is a person that represents patent applicants and helps them get their innovations patented. You do not need a law degree. To peruse this path, you need a year of on-the-job training as a patent trainee at a law firm, and then pass the qualifying exam. A technical background and good writing skill are necessary for success in this area.

8. Healthcare

Another option is to become a health care professional by attending professional schools such as medical school, dental school, pharmacy school and optometry school. Admission is competitive and the training is long. However you science background definitely helps. The job stability and good salary are attractive to many people. Let’s not forget about pursuing a graduate degree in the allied health sciences, for a career as a Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist, Dietitian, Speech Language Pathologist or Physician Assistant, just to name a few.

9. Marketing and Sales

The easiest way to go into sales is to work for a biotech or pharmaceutical company. A sales representative is usually well compensated. Since it is performance-based, your commission can potentially exceed your base salary. To succeed in sales, you need good people skill. As a sales representative once told me, “ it is all about networking.” Also be prepared for frequent travelling.

10. Investment banking

Investment banking is very hard to enter. There are only 20,000 positions worldwide every year. A six-figure base salary is guaranteed. A performance-based bonus can reach up to million dollars. Get an M.B.A. or another degree in Finance first, and then get into investment banking. There is an increasing need for scientists in this area, as healthcare banking is becoming more and more important. Training in science can usually help an investment banker to predict if a drug or medical device business would succeed or not.

11. Technology transfer

Help evaluate a research innovation and turn it into a business. A lot of new technologies in life science can be turned into business and change our daily life. You could specialize in areas such as biomedical science, biomedical engineering, agricultural innovation, etc. To enter technology transfer, you need some business background. You might want to consider getting an M.B.A.

12. Philosophy/Bioethics

If you have a passion for philosophy, you could combine it with your science training and become a bioethicist. There are not many job openings in this area. You are most likely to become a university professor or book authors.

Laboratory is not the only place for a life science graduate. Remember your training in life science is just a start. You can combine it with almost anything you are interested in! Go for something you are passionate about because it is your passion that will lead you to your success.

By Candyce Sun


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