By Sharon Wiatt Jones
What life science majors give you the best return on your investment of tuition, time, and hard work? You have heard the media horror stories of unemployed and underemployed college graduates. They live in their parent’s basement until their late 20’s (or longer), balancing two or three part-time jobs--without benefits--while college loan payments mount. How can you increase your odds for a more promising future?
PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL: TO GO OR NOT TO GO Biology is one of the most popular majors chosen by students, many of whom plan to attend medical school. If you have second thoughts, you are not alone. About 65% of pre-med students change their minds by senior year. (By the way, a GPA less than 3.6 is considered merely "average" for a medical school applicant. MCAT scores and diversity considerations are also important factors.) You will find intense competition for acceptance to medical school. If admitted, you will face lengthy science, internship and residency training and educational debt that averages $161,298. If you are interested in dental and veterinary school, even fewer spaces are available. Although shorter in duration, dental school debt is estimated at $160,000-175,000 and veterinary school $125,000. The opportunity cost of foregone salary during years of professional school would add to your financial sacrifice. The recent change to healthcare funding is projected to decrease the income potential of physicians.
BETTER THAN BIOLOGY: BENEFITS OF OTHER MAJORS After working with college students for 20 years, I have discovered that many biology majors are disappointed with their prospects. They don’t want--or can’t find--a laboratory technician job. Technical sales, customer service, and other positions are not always appealing options. Allied health and science teaching positions require several years of prerequisites and education for a second major or bachelor’s degree. You may decide that it’s time for a pivot, a change in direction. Improve your odds of a good salary, plentiful job openings, and advancement opportunities by developing high demand skills.
EMERGING CAREERS Biotechnology and healthcare will be the source of many emerging occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network (O*Net). Some examples relevant to life sciences are listed below:
Bioinformatics scientist and technician
Clinical data manager and researcher
Molecular and cellular biologist
Regulatory affairs manager and specialist
These occupations are projected to grow the fastest over the next decade: Biomedical engineer (61.7%); Clinical research associate (36.4%); Biochemist/biophysicist (31%).
MEDIAN STARTING PAY PayScale compared 120 college majors for median starting and mid-career salary, with the most lucrative in engineering, computer science, physics and applied math (statistics, actuarial). Here is a list of majors that might interest you: Biomedical engineering ($54,900); Nursing ($54,100); Occupational Safety & Health ($49,600); Medical technology ($49,600); Food Science ($44,000); Biochemistry ($43,200); Biotechnology ($41,400); Molecular Biology ($40,100); Biology ($39,100). Among the majors above, those with the lowest long-term potential salary are biology and nursing. The highest are biomedical engineering ($98,200), biochemistry ($87,500), molecular biology ($84,900), biotechnology (82,800), and food science ($81,100).
EMERGING MAJORS OF THE FUTURE Not available at all colleges, these are some majors of the future: Biology plus a quantitative discipline (e.g. biostatistics, biomathematics, computational biology, or bioinformatics); Genetics; Nanotechnology; Forensic science; Health informatics; Neuroscience.
Part II will provide details about how to enhance your prospects for a bright future related to life science. What careers would you like to learn more about?