How are industry prospects for PhD Microbiologists?

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How are industry prospects for PhD Microbiologists?

Postby FGB » Tue May 26, 2015 7:25 pm

After almost 2 years working as a QC Analyst a midsize biotech company (doing microbiological testing of drug products, raw materials, product contact surfaces, etc.), I got promoted to QC Analyst II. However, I've been certain for a while that I don't want to spend the rest of my career doing microbiological testing; I took this job to get a toe-hold in the biopharmaceutical industry with the hopes of one day doing R&D (or at the very least, doing QC using advanced molecular techniques).

The next position above me is QC Analyst III and after that, QC Manager. However, at my company, and other companies I've researched, QC Manager is more of an office job; whatever I do, I want to work in a lab.

I've researched what it takes to get into an R&D department in the biopharmaceutical industry by looking up Research Associate and Scientist I positions at my and other companies; most of these jobs require at least a Masters and a PhD, in conjunction with a few years of industry experience; I'm not sure if these means general industry experience or specifically in R&D.

Either way, I definitely would need to go back to school to qualify for the vast majority of R&D positions I've found (even for support functions). Since the majority of the work I've done since I finished undergrad has been microbiological testing, I've been wondering if I should pursue a PhD. in Microbiology.

However, nearly all of the Research Associate and Scientist I positions I've found in all the biopharm companies I've looked at require skills like mammalian cell culture, FACS, multiplex assaying, DNA microarrays, etc; I assume these are for researching drugs for cancer, metabolic and genetic diseases. I haven't seen anywhere near as many jobs related to Microbiology.

Does anyone know what prospects are like for PhD Microbiologists in the biopharmaceutical industry today? To get into R&D, might it be more advantageous to pursue a PhD in things like Cell Biology or Biochemistry instead?
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Re: How are industry prospects for PhD Microbiologists?

Postby Katherine Lee » Wed May 27, 2015 8:20 am

I cannot directly address your main question as I have NO industry experience, but I do want to point out something else.

I am 6 months away from finishing a PhD in Microbiology and I have experience with a couple of things on your mini skill list. I have extensive experience with primary cell culture, and established cell lines. Additionally, I have even more experience with multi-color flow cytometry (FACS) since it's literally 70% of what I've done in my PhD studies. Others in my laboratory are currently doing multiplex assays. And at least four different DNA microarrays have been done in my laboratory during my 5 years here (although honestly, they're not that difficult - data analysis is the difficult part from those). However, with that said, some of my Microbiology classmates are hardcore bacterial physiologists, and have no experience with either cell culture or flow cytometry, but they definitely can beat me any day on generating knockout strains of bacteria. But even some of these students have learned how to do a little flow cytometry as their experiments warrant it.

So I have cell culture skills and impressive flow cytometry skills - and I'm a Microbiology PhD. Does my laboratory study cancer, metabolic or genetics diseases? Nope. We study the generation and maintenance of immune responses against infectious organisms.

The skills you get from a PhD, regardless of the sub-discipline of biology, are going to depend on what your laboratory does. If you decide to get a PhD - when you join a lab study their publications and figure out if they are a one-trick pony, or if the lab does many types of assays to construct a research story.

You're taking a good step and researching your options. I think you should continue to do this. I can name a few of my classmates that have defaulted to academic post-docs after graduating despite wanting to get industry positions. Even three first-author papers in Journal of Bacteriology doesn't guarantee an industry position, so don't discredit other posts on this forum about networking.

Best wishes!
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Re: How are industry prospects for PhD Microbiologists?

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed May 27, 2015 10:44 am

Hello FGB:

I love microbiology -- that's my favorite scientific discipline. But, you're right about microbiology and today's pharma R&D. It's more focused on Cell Biology or Biochemistry. But, this doesn't mean that there are no prospects for PhD microbiologists! If you are headed into research, consider other options such as the bio-based products industry (fuels, chemicals, ingredients - all based on biological processes such as fermentation). Or, if you are dead set on Pharma, there will be jobs in the quality area and other sides of pharma.

One organization that has always been important to me personally and that I believe will be important to you is the SIMB (Society of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology). It's a great, mid-sized scientific society, one that sponsors some great conferences and it certainly has an impact on the career of the PhD microbiologist. Forget the ASM. That's all academic, or at least it has little to no effect on careers for people in industry.

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