Published: Apr 15, 2014


By Alex Twersky, Marketing Consultant and Career Expert

In recent years, science and information technology have been convergent, resulting in major leaps and advances in healthcare. Health conditions related to prevalent conditions such as obesity and smoking have spawned entire industries, and run up tabs in the hundreds of billions per year. Innovations ranging from healthcare-oriented social networking to digital health products are the first wave of what surely is a revolution in personalized medicine. As a result of these sea changes, and with major advances in fields such as bioinformatics and genomics, a host of new career opportunities in the life sciences are on the rise.

The Future is Bright… With the Right Skills

If you have a solid foundation in engineering, physics, math and biology (if all of the above, then you’re really set), then you are well positioned to contribute to a wave of discovery in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to biomedical devices. As our understanding of the human genome develops, there is a need for scientists to help identify biological markers for disease, a true gateway for a sci-fi-like dream of personalized medicine that may one day soon become a reality. With so much research afoot, information management is also critical, as are diagnostics and bioinformatics. So if your field is biology, these skills should definitely be on your hit list. And with the explosion in implantable devices, from pacemakers to insulin pumps, engineers are extremely sought-after in the biomedical device industry. This is expected to continue to be the case, especially with the advent and growth of nanotechnology.

PhDs Are Not the Only Game in Town

With the volume of jobs in the life sciences both now and on the horizon, there will be openings for plenty of new candidates, even without a PhD. Because many of these new biotech positions have an emphasis on manufacturing over research, a PhD, long the province of research positions, is no longer your only ticket to the party. Here are some of the fastest growing career paths, many open to those with BS and MS degrees:

  1. Bioprocessing: figuring out how to commercialize new product ideas in the biochemical space

  2. Process Biology: tapping microbiologists to grow organisms on a mass scale

  3. Regulatory Affairs: employing scientists and engineers to ensure all regulatory requirements for the development of new products are met

  4. Quality Control/Quality Assurance: always in high demand in mass manufacturing scenarios

  5. Sales and Marketing: if you add some business courses to your science degree, you may be qualified to join these ranks as well

While the rigorous coursework and research associated with a PhD is still very much in demand, we are shifting to a new skills economy. Whatever level of science degree you attain, you have to be sure it’s supported by the vital skills that the new opportunities in life sciences require. Having solid quantitative skills is critical, so a foundation in math and statistics can always be useful. But soft skills, like team leadership and communication, should not be ignored either, especially if you want to rise through the management ranks.

Here is a checklist of skills that you may want to review to see how competitive you will be in this new life sciences economy. For each skill you possess, give yourself a point. If you scored 10 or higher, you’re well on your way to a promising future career in life sciences!

  • Analysis

  • IT

  • Team Leadership

  • Communication

  • Motivation

  • Data Management

  • Process Control

  • Detail-oriented

  • Deadline-oriented

  • Project Management

  • Reporting

  • Biology (i.e. biochemistry, pharmacology)

  • Chemistry

  • Physics

  • Chemical Engineering

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