The Growing Field of Bioscience

So you think you'd like to work in bioscience. Well, if test tubes, bacteria, biology and chemistry sound appealing, then you're probably on the right track.

But working in bioscience doesn't mean that all you have to look forward to is research and white lab coats. You might be working in the wetlands, in a hospital or in a fancy office for a large corporation.

"Bioscience is a very broad area," says Albert Chudley. He is head of genetics and metabolism at a children's hospital. He adds that students' career choices are just as varied. They can include fields such as research, medicine, genetics, drug development, environmental sciences, agricultural sciences, aquaculture and forestry.

And because the field is so diverse, the type of education needed varies greatly. Bioscience in the environment would require courses in biology and ecology and perhaps botany. However, if it's human clinical trials that interest you, then you'll need human biology courses and quite possibly a medical degree.

Because biotechnology is used in so many different industries, the field of bioscience has grown rapidly worldwide in the last 20 years. As a result, several different types of employees are now in demand.

Edward Jakobovits is president of SciWeb, Inc. He says biotechnology is the next major growth industry after high tech. And the area that has seen the biggest growth is the health-care industry, specifically in genetics and drug development.

"Biotech is a really big business," says Jakobovits. And that doesn't mean just research and development. "There's a lot more to it than just that," he says. He adds that drugs have to be created, tested, passed, marketed and packaged.

Just the developing stage alone can take years. It involves several different steps and several different people before the drug ever makes it to a clinical trial. "Someone first needs to understand the mechanisms of disease in the body," says Hans de Haan. He is the vice-president of career and professional development for the American Academy of Pharmaceutical Physicians.

Medicinal chemists would start the process by studying the structure of the body's chemicals. They would then develop new compounds that they think would resist disease. These would then be tested by biologists or pharmacologists to see if the drug had the desired effects.

Pathologists or toxicologists would then test the drug for safety in animal systems. It would then be tested by pharmacologists to see if the product was safe for human systems. From there, clinical researchers would test the drug to see if it actually worked on humans.

Good career opportunities exist in all of these areas. "There's a shortage of good scientists, and there are opportunities all over the country," says de Haan.

So choosing any profession in bioscience is going to be a good career move. And the best way to get started is with a degree in science.

However, an even better option, says Jakobovits, is earning a master's or PhD. The more education you have, the better your chance of moving up the corporate ladder.

In some cases, companies will offer to pay for an employee's continued education. This option is definitely cheaper for the employee. But the process takes a lot longer. Most employees are expected to work full time while going to school at nights and on weekends.

Companies tend to offer this after an employee has been employed for a specific amount of time. If you're not in a rush, and you consider the cost of earning a PhD, it's not a bad option.

Depending on the type of career you have in mind, a master's degree may be enough. Andrea Shugar is a genetic counselor. She earned her master's degree in genetic counseling.

She says there's not a lot of room for upward movement. But there is a great opportunity to move laterally. That gives you the chance to experience several different areas in genetics.

Genetic counseling is still a relatively new area. But "it has definitely boomed," says Shugar. She adds that there are always lots of jobs available, especially for genetic and molecular lab technologists.

Another area that needs qualified people is environmental science. Ken Passarella owns his own private consulting firm in Florida. He says people with degrees in the natural sciences are in demand.

Because there are several environmental regulations in Florida, a series of steps must be followed before approval is gained to develop land. His firm helps people get through these steps by ensuring the regulatory process goes smoothly.

But employees must also know how to accurately determine soil types, plant types and the effects of water. That's why they need a degree in natural sciences.

But not all careers in bioscience focus entirely on science activities. Take sales and marketing, for example. Salespeople and marketers are needed to sell and promote particular drugs and chemicals. Although a science background helps, it isn't mandatory.

Computer programmers also play an important role in bioscience. They're needed to maintain huge research databases. In fact, trained people are needed in a relatively new career called bioinformatics, which is the use of computer technology to manage biological information.

Administrative people are also required, such as accountants, lawyers, human resource and communications people. Jakobovits adds that workers are desperately needed to work in both regulatory affairs and with patents. Products need to be approved and patented by government bodies before they can be sold.

Although some of these positions don't require science degrees, you can never go wrong having some science in your background. On top of science skills, Jakobovits insists that having good communication skills and being a team player is critical.

But according to Chudley, there's something even more important than all three of those together. "You have to want to make a difference," he says. And that piece of advice will carry through to whichever field you choose.

"You just have to find your niche," says Jakobovits.

It seems there's a growing need for employees in all types of positions. "And right now, we're just at the beginning," says Jakobovits.