The life science industry in Minnesota accounts for about 22,000 jobs, three-quarters of which are in medical device companies. Common careers for biology BAs include clinical research (i.e., human trials), laboratory technician, quality assurance technician, project management and research assistant, although the bulk of product development is performed by PhDs. Entry-level pay for a biology BA in industry is $15/hr plus benefits, topping out at about $45k for a laboratory technician and $60-80k for clinical research. Three of the biggest employers of biology BAs in Minnesota are Beckman-Coulter, Diasorin and R&D Systems. These companies are looking for students who have a good work ethic that can be demonstrated by prior work history and employer recommendations, strong communication skills (e.g., the applicant can effectively explain during an interview why they are a good fit for the particular position) and an agreeable personality. Students considering jobs in industry are strongly encouraged to practice interviewing, as this is the primary means for assessing the suitability of an entry-level job candidate, as much of business involves presenting ideas and communicating with people around you.
While those skills that become evident during the interview (e.g., communicating effectively and getting along well with others) are the most critical to landing a job, other attributes on the resume will help the student land an interview. Most openings for biology BAs in the medical device, pharmaceutical and food science industry require at least one course in microbiology; while taking some courses in business will not likely help the applicant land an entry-level position, it will help very much as the employee’s career progresses (e.g., managing budgets and people). [It should be noted that there are certificate programs emerging at local technical colleges (such as MCTC, Anoka-Ramsey and St. Cloud) in areas such as GMPs and clinical research that may make a biology BA more competitive for entry-level positions and subsequent promotion.] Some type of independent research experience (outside of class) is vital, and the applicant should be able to clearly explain what questions were being asked, how these questions were addressed, what methodologies and instrumentation were used, and what was learned. Specific laboratory skills are important, especially the ability to keep a detail-oriented laboratory notebook. Precision in documenting work and attention to detail are of paramount importance in dealing with FDA regulations and intellectual property litigation; finding the job too detail-oriented is a common complaint among BA students who enter industry, and applicants who do not see themselves as detail-oriented personalities should reconsider industry. Resumes should reflect careful attention to detail (proof read and spell check thoroughly)!
Unlike a chemistry BA, who graduates ready-to-work with a relatively uniform set of skills and knowledge, the biology BA is more broadly and variably trained, and companies expect to provide such applicants with some on-the-job training. However, there are some in-demand laboratory skills that are required for certain entry-level job openings, including: ELISAs, PCR, asceptic technique and animal handling (e.g., veterinary technician experience, animal research, experience working on a farm, rodent colony maintenance, etc.). Other considerations concerning the resume include the GPA (few companies ask for it, those that do want a 3.3 or better) and double-majors/concentrations (which can appear impressive but sometimes risk apparent over-qualification). A masters degree can help someone with experience in (or currently employed by) industry to advance to higher levels of responsibility and pay. However, obtaining a masters straight out of undergrad (without experience in industry) typically will not make a candidate more competitive for an entry-level industry job, and can be a disadvantage because potential employers may view such a candidate as over-qualified and/or requiring a higher salary than candidates with only a BA.
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