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PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 4:47 am
by Kim

I have been a postdoc for 2 years. And I have been looking for a job in the last six months. I have already had a few interviews.

However, one interview coming up is from a agribiotech company which is a spin-off from a major US chemical company. Although the job fits my education (protein chemistry), I am uneasy about agri-biotech. I have heard some negative opinions about agri-biotech.

I know right now my worry is premature without the actual job offer. But I want to know the opinions about doing science in agribiotech sector. Is the skills and experiences gained in agribiotech viewed favorable or at least neutral by other biotech sectors? Or will I be typecasted into agribiotech people forever?


PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 8:29 am
by John_Mastro
As a plant/biochemist/physiologist/molecular biologist who has for many years applied to biotech I would suggest that if you go agrobiotech you will pigeonholed by the other biotech folk as a agrobiotech...
Negative things about agrobiotech? what do you mean?
D. Jensen has inferred that ag biotech has less potential for career success. The problem with ag biotech has in part to do with the publics' rejection of genetically modified organisms, especially in Europe. This has essentially killed the growth of ag biotech, many companies have gotten out of it. Sure genetically modified plants are being developed but slowly. I would suggest that if you have a choise in your career path you look very hard at this and stick to animal and human drug development related fields if at all possible.


PostPosted: Sun Jan 16, 2005 10:28 pm
by Dave Jensen
I'd agree with John. It's so easy to be "typecast" in the biotechnology industry. Working with plant systems is a great way to learn many fundamental and advanced techniques in biology/molecular biology, but as soon as you start the job search, people see that experience and decide to hire someone else with a "more appropriate background." In the perfect world, plant biologists would be respected because they have worked with some very unusual and difficult systems -- and they are often very bright people. Unfortunately, the world of employment is far from perfect, and you will find that the label of ag-tech is something that means lower pay and much, much more difficult job searches.

Dave Jensen, Moderator


PostPosted: Mon Jan 17, 2005 7:56 pm
by John_Masto
I did a google search using the words biotechnology and evil .. I found the following link. It is an example of the the hate some have for biotechnology. Possibly it has more to do with the legal and usage concentration of this germplasm in the hands of a few corporations. I do not agree or condone the criticism of the use of biotechnology in agriculture, I merely offer this as of interest as an example of why my career as a plant biotechnologist has been hampered. Anti GMOs do not have logical or rationale arguements against GMO use in my very humble opinion.


PostPosted: Wed Jan 19, 2005 5:16 pm
by MikeT
Although an AgBiotech career in industry might not be very promising, it seems to me that the field of "AgBiotech" in academia is quite healthy. In the U.S., recent support by USDA and NSF for agricultural genomics has been strong, and there is still great optimism in the field for making an impact on public breeding efforts in the U.S. and internationally. If a grad student had a passion for this topic, I would hope that all of the negativism toward the field on this forum wouldn't turn them away.

As far as the GMO debate goes, I would add that as people see more public research efforts in this field with benefits to consumers and resource-poor farmers in less-developed countries, (instead of a global conspiracy by the multinational companies) opinions towards AgBiotech may improve.


PostPosted: Wed Jan 19, 2005 5:32 pm
by Dave Jensen
Hi MikeT

I rarely get accused of negativism. But yes . . . Upon reading my post, I see that I did INDEED blast the ag-tech career prospects.

Of course, I was speaking for the bio-industry, where I have spent over 20 years of my life. During that period of time, I've seen many people crash and burn on the ag-tech ladder. They seem to offer lower salaries in that field, and career advancement seems to be very difficult. Of course, as you state, this in NO WAY applies to academic careers, where -- as always -- the funding mechanisms work quite differently than in industry!

There's something about a person with passion for their work that often means they can overcome these problems. I have a friend who works as a senior director at Pioneer Hy-Bred. He's actually had a wonderful career in ag-tech. He's known all over the world, and he would likely be a great role-model for young scientists with an interest in this field.

Let me write him this afternoon and see if I can get him to participate here, in order to balance the perceived negativism of this thread. My apologies, Mike! I'll do my best to get this topic sorted out in a "fair and balanced" approach,

Dave Jensen, Moderator


PostPosted: Wed Jan 19, 2005 5:45 pm
by Kim
Does GMO (genetically modified organism) include only food in AgBiotech? I have to agree that in the current climate, genetically modified food is not the hot business. Will GMO development be limited to third world developing countries in the future?

But what about other cash crops? I remember I read somewhere that Netherlands is trying to use biotech in their lucrative flower industry. Japan also has been spending money in flower industry. For example, both of them are trying hard to develop a truly blue flower, not tinted with any other colors. For example, a blue flower tinted with red would appear purple, which is no good.

Will there be less resistance if GMO is not going into people's stomach?


PostPosted: Wed Jan 19, 2005 5:59 pm
by Teresa

I am glad to hear that AgBiotech is doing better in acedemia as that was not the case when I obtained my PhD (I post-doc in cancer research now). I watched my advisor struggle to obtain any funding at all and after I graduated he moved into AgriBiotech for a company that soon went out of business. Now he is mostly out of plants and quite successful.

I agree that the posting trend on this topic has been negative, and what I said above aside, my experience in that field was met by strong _public_ negativity. I cheerfully made it my mission to explain to friends and family the good of GM crops (feed the world!) and the benefits of the directed approach versus waiting for nature or random mutagenesis, etc..., but I feel I have convinced very few people to be positive about what plant scientists do. Honestly, I found many people more receptive to the idea of human cloning than to "messing with their food". Perhaps I was not convincing or the general publics' science background is not good enough, but I did and still do find it frustrating. Obviously this is not a debate for this forum, but I don't think being aware of the negativity out there is completely unrealistic in thinking of AgBiotech as a career choice. I certainly hope you are correct about the postive future of public opinion.

Anyhow, graduate students are a stubborn bunch and if they find the work interesting as I did at the time they will still go for PhDs in the plant sciences.


PostPosted: Thu Jan 20, 2005 8:11 am
by Court

I'm the old guy Dave was talking about. I too have been at this (Ag Bio) for over 20yrs. Thought I might offer another perspective to this discussion. The concerns expressed are legitimate, it's easy to get type-cast as an "Aggie". It certainly happened to me,even though my grad training was not in plants. I don't think however,that it's any worse than in Pharma or for that matter, academics (ever try to apply for a grant in an entirely new area without a substantial amount of data in hand?)

It's also true that the public perception is that the field is dominated by a few chemical giants DuPont/Pioneer. Monsanto,Syngenta. There is a good reason for this. To deliver your new traits you need a germplasm base, and that's not easy to come by. In the same way,a Pharma start-up needs to find a larger patron that has manufacturing, sales, regulatory, etc. Remember Flavor-Saver tomatos? That was a classic failure to have plant breeding support.

I know also that there is a real problem with public acceptance of biotech crops. The Star-Link mess was a real black eye for the industry. I think we learned from this and won't let it happen again. The numbers however tell a different story. This year 85% of U.S. soybeans and 45% of the corn were GMO. Take a look at the labels at the grocery store and try to find something without corn starch,high fructose corn syrup,or soybean oil. That said, people are reluctant to take any risks with food. I was working on BST at Monsanto and my parents were buying "Non-BST" milk! I think this will change as consumers see more products with a benefit to them, beyond cheaper food. These things are in the pipeline.

I saw also mention of pay scale differences. While this may be true, remember two things:

We have to compete for the same pool of talent

You can buy a really nice house in Des Moines for$150K. Try that in San Fransisco.

The Pioneer mission statement is simply "Feed the World" Perhaps not as glamorous as "Cure Breast Cancer" but a worthwhile thing to spend a career on.

Good luck to all. Keep us in mind (the Iowa state motto is "Not as bad as you think")



PostPosted: Thu Jan 20, 2005 6:25 pm
by Cristin
Hi everyone,
This is my first time posting. I'm working on a PhD in yeast genetics and metabolism. I'm finishing up in about a year and have been thinking a lot about my future. I'm fairly certain I want to leave academia...okay, make that 100% positive. As a result, I've been considering a postdoc in industry. I know the problems with industry postdocs, such as not being able to return to academia easily and moving forward after the postdoc, but I feel like everything I have heard centers around the pharm industry. I have found that I am much more interested in the work being done in ag than pharm, and I was wondering about the possibility of an ag postdoc. As there are only a few companies and companies often don't hire their postdocs, does this make it especially risky to do a postdoc in ag rather than pharm? Are there other pros/cons I'm not thinking of? I really appreciate any input. Thanks!