switching careers

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switching careers

Postby Lori » Thu Oct 14, 2004 6:17 pm

After 15+ years in the legal field as a litigation paralegal (plus 6 yrs as a volunteer EMT, and various other side jobs such as personal trainer etc.) I want to transition into a science/medical research career. One problem - I can't grasp chemistry or math in the classroom - yet I can do it in the lab! Not being able to grasp it in the clas means not passing which eqates to not being able to attain a science related grad degree. Yet, I have my heart set on being a researcher becasue I know I can do the work. I got thru Genetic and cell Bio more than "just fine" and I hve volunteered in a microbio lab and done a bit of work - I just need to be given the chance. I have a BA in Sociology (cum laude) from '87 - and I have added some science courses that past year to my CV with the hopes of getting into a grad program somewhere that will give me the chance to prove myself. Does anyone out there know of anyone or any school I could talk to, or do you know of a particular career path I could follow and still work in the field I love so much? (I have my eyes of organ regeneration or medicinal botany - but I live in the Boston area so I feel that my chances of finding a company and /or grad school are fairly good....

Thanks in advance for your input!


switching careers

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Oct 15, 2004 12:26 pm


As a forum moderator, I sometimes get very queasy when I see a post like yours. That's because I never want to "burst someone's balloon" and yet, it is my job to make certain that you get accurate information. Therefore, please understand that while a bit negative in response, my message is also that if you truly love this idea, than pursuing it with passion could still mean eventual success. It is just that you are headed out on a very rocky road.

To "become a researcher" in the life sciences, after fifteen years in another field, is very difficult. That's because companies and research institutions are so darn fussy about what they are looking for, and anyone who doesn't have the "traditional" background generally has a very difficult time in their job search.

To start, you'd need an undergraduate degree in the life sciences. I have no idea what credits you have that would work in your favor, but already we're talking 2-3 years at least. And then, you'd have an undergrad degree, which wouldn't get you an independent research position ANYWHERE.

So, then you'd need to add additional education. A MS or PhD? Big decision, and you'd have to remember how much older you would be than anyone else who comes out of the same program. Many times the MS graduate ends up frustrated that they don't get the independent research work that they thought they would get . . . So, you may be looking at a PhD. And what a big decision that is, because generally a Postdoc is required afterwards. Seriously, Lori, it pays to do the analytical thinking right now about this idea and see whether your passion holds up with the realities of the market.

If you'd like a shorter road to a biotechnology job, but one that is only entry-level and from which you'd have only limited opportunities to move up, consider going to one of the excellent technical community colleges in the Boston area who offer biotechnology certificates. These schools, such as Minuteman Vocational in MA, and New Hampshire Community Technical College, are tapped into the biotech community and in a short time you can go directly to a job in the biotech industry. It may be in manufacturing or quality control, as opposed to organ transplantation, but you'd be in the industrial life sciences. You be the judge if this has merit. I have known even PhD's who have been "retrained" at these schools, or who have learned about issues such as GMP Compliance, which separates them from the rest of the job-hunting pack.

Glad to have your participation on our new forum, Lori. Please keep in touch.

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switching careers

Postby Jim Austin » Fri Oct 15, 2004 12:27 pm


If you can do math and chemistry in the lab, that's what really matters. But you have to be able to prove it somehow. How are you going to do that? Education plays two important roles. One--the obvious one--is training. The other (less obvious) is screening. Passing a math class lets potential employers know that you did it. How else are you going to demonstrate that ability sufficiently that they'll be willing to take a chance on you? I don't know...the best way would probably be to get over it, take some classes, and do well.

I'd say your best bet is to try to get a job in an analytical lab, perhaps at a hospital. Once you're on the job you'll be able to demonstrate your hands-on skills; good lab technicians are a great asset in the research lab; you'll need to demonstrate those skills in a more regimented environment before you'll be able to hook up with a real research lab.

Without the scientific training--advanced degrees in science--you're unlikely to ever become a front-line scientific researcher, unless you're exceptionally gifted; if you are, then you don't need my advice--you'll find a way. A proper scientific education would take you at least ten years.

Yet technicians in a research lab play a very important role in science. It can be a very satisfying job.

How hard will it be to get that first lab job? I don't know. Your EMT work might help.

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switching careers f/u

Postby Lori Schneider » Fri Oct 15, 2004 6:32 pm

Thanks to both of you for your valuable input - and thinking points. I had a good discussion with the grad school advisor at UMASS today. My experience with computers, organizational skills, project management experience and independent medical knowledge will all help me break into the field in some capacity it seems - I don't necessarily have to be in the lab hunched over a scope...although I am doing volunteer work in a microbiology lab now at the university to gain lab experience. I just want to contribute to this field in some valuable way. I will continue with my courses, take the GRE next Spring and hope for the best. I occasionally see some jobs looking for folks with minimal experience or internships at labs doing plating or making gels. I know that I do not want to go the full PhD route - I will end up with my doctorate and my AARP card at the same time - not my idea of fun!!

Thanks once again!!

Lori Schneider

switching careers f/u

Postby twiggy » Fri Oct 29, 2004 1:24 pm

I did work with someone once who had a BS in Psychology. He had worked in that field for a while, decided it wasn't for him, and started taking undergraduate classes in biology. While he had not earned his degree in that field, the course work was enough to get him a job as a reaseach assistant. The moral of the story is that there are some places that will hire at the entry level in research with only the coursework. Good Luck!

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