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Non-Academic career for Molecular Biology PhD?

  1. Aug 2, 2014 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I will be entering my third year of university majoring in applied math and biology. I am currently looking for graduate school opportunities. My interest leans slightly towards the biology side but I am terribly worried about not getting a decent job after graduation if I do my PhD work in molecular biology. Ideally I could go for academic positions but this is what everyone else is going for so I think I need a plan B.

    I was originally a physics major and I did not have to worry about getting a job because I heard physics majors can get land on a job in finance for their mathematical and analytical skills. But what about molecular biology? Surely there must be more bio-tech companies than physics-tech companies (to avoid confusion, I mean physics-related companies that hire physics PhD, unlike the majority of tech companies which only hire engineering majors due to regulation), but specifically what kind of jobs can they go for and how good is the job prospects comparing to physics or applied math phds?

    Or is it a better idea to go for phd in applied math focusing on applications in biology?

    Thank you for reading this post
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2014 #2
    I'm sorry you are not generating any responses at the moment. Is there any additional information you can share with us? Any new findings?
  4. Aug 13, 2014 #3
    if you wanna do biology, try doing something that can be related to finance or data analysis, such as systems biology. I'm no expert in this field though.
  5. Aug 14, 2014 #4
    I find higher education in physics is only helpful for academic jobs and I'm afraid you'll not earn a lot of respects working in areas you've not been well-certified for. Or you might not even get hired :frown:. If I was you, I would look into other such related areas as bioengineering, biomedical engineering, nursing, pharmacy etc. The first two sound more plausible for you to earn a job easier both in academics and industry. You can also take another exam entrance to a medical school and stay 6-8 years more to be certified as a doctor.
  6. Nov 20, 2014 #5
    I will be focusing on bioinformatics and computational biology (i.e. a lot of programming in Python and I am fairly proficient in C++) where most universities offer as a collaborative degree. But I will be around 30 when I graduate, I am not sure if software companies want to hire a 30-year-old with no industry experience, unless I apply for bioinformatics developer positions, which are frustratingly rare.
  7. Nov 21, 2014 #6


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    Is it not possible for you to apply for internships in industry while you are pursuing your graduate studies? I know many people who are pursuing their PhD studies in applied math who pursued internships to companies like Google, Bell Labs, Microsoft, IBM, etc. during the summer months.
  8. Nov 21, 2014 #7
    Certainly, IF I study computer science/applied math/statistics. But technically I will be studying under the department of biology, so I am not sure if companies will like this. Lots of postings on websites exclusively looking for CS majors :/
  9. Nov 21, 2014 #8


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    Then perhaps it may be a good idea to consider pursuing graduate school in either applied math, computer science or statistics -- there are plenty of people in all three of these departments who are pursuing research in bioinformatics or computational biology, and graduate degrees in applied math/computer science/statistics are generally far more employable than those in molecular biology.
  10. Nov 24, 2014 #9
    I am kind of in a similar position. Doing a broad subject bachelor that's interdisciplinary in nature. Lot's of focus on physical chemistry and applications in life sciences. I can go into molecular biology and that subject interests me a lot. But I don't feel like I want an academic career.

    There are no pure molecular biology jobs in traditional business, it seems. At least not in my country.
    Also, the cross-over from techniques used in molbio to business seems way smaller than from biochem to business. There are jobs that ask for HPLC but things like FRET or other advanced microscopy techniques, I see rarely.

    There is virology and immunochemistry. I can also go into biomedical, but I feel that even if I specialize in that my last year, pure biomedical people will out-compete me. And there is this strange trend where they like to hire MDs who are bad at research rather than pure biomed researchers just because they have clinical experience. Same for going into biophysics; won't I get out-competed by a physics graduate who does applied physics in biology?

    Also, doing physics or CS jobs as a biologist; don't physicists already have difficulty getting their normal jobs and the CS jobs?
    I see stronger opportunities in bioengineering. I don't see how giving up on biology entirely, when you spend so many years acquiring skills there, will help you. I feel it is more about finding skill-sets and synergy that work well for the business jobs you may be applying for.

    Personally I would recommend pure biologists to look at genetics&bioinformatics for business.
    I don't really see how systems biology can land you a job in finance. Where does that idea even start?
    Since you aren't an ecologist or behavioral biologist, you can apply to any bio or med lab job. So that helps, at least.

    I haven't found the answer myself yet. It seems getting a PhD will only help me land those PhD business jobs that ask for a PhD and 10 years of MSc level job experience in business. I really want to get a PhD for personal reasons. I don't see why I should do it for a non-academic career. I worry I will be forced to take temp postdocs job all over the place, getting dragged along like so many others. Since I am older than my fellow students, I don't feel like I will have the time to do that before settling down.

    I will keep looking at what skills and techniques are asked for in business and see if I can get a PhD position where when I apply for a job they ask for what I have been doing for the last 4 years; be it biophysics, immunology, synthetic biology or biochemistry.
    Hopefully I can get at least some lab hours in as a part-time job along the way.

    Thinking about doing my minor in applied physics, even so. But not really sure how that will help since all the important stuff for biophysics, like biophotonics, quantum mechanics, and NMR, I will already do in my biophysics master. Not sure what applied math I can do that will help my business career in life sciences.
  11. Nov 24, 2014 #10
    Graduates in molecular biophysics from my institution, which isn't a prestigious institution, have gotten jobs in finance, biotech, engineering, and administration (one fellow works for APS on policy). Computational biophysics/bioinformatics is certainly an option that is open to you.
  12. Nov 25, 2014 #11
    Ever look into consulting? It's extremely competitive, but is very well paying. There are many scientific consulting firms that have subunits dedicated to all sorts of molecular biology/drug discovery etc. or you could simply go to a more business oriented consulting firm (we've had 2 undergrads who worked in my lab land consulting gigs and started at $82k and $93k with their BS). It is not unheard at all for someone to start at $90k with just an ungrad degree that gets into consulting. We've sent many PhDs into consulting, and one of my friends landed a job paying $145k right out of grad school with 0 experience and no post-doc. She actually transferred to McKinsey after 1.5 years at her old consulting firm, and I wouldn't doubt if she pulls in $200k in no time if she stick with her job at McKinsey.

    Again, consulting is extremely competitive, but if you like problem solving maybe you can look into it and I'd definitely take 2 or 3 months to do case studies, solve riddles, and logic problems.

    Example of interview question at an I-bank or consulting firm:

    You have 10 bags filled with coins. 1 bag contains all fake coins that weigh 1.1 grams each. Real coins weigh 1 gram. You are given a scale and can only weigh exactly once (mass by difference counts as multiple weigh readings). How can you figure out which bag contains the fake coins?

    How would you solve that problem in less than 10 minutes without using Google?
  13. Feb 17, 2015 #12
    I'm still curious. What is (the) answer to this question?
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