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Good Career Niches for Scientists

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Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Jul 02, 2015 4:08 pm

Post in my thread if you have a recommendation of a job type that is a good fit for those headed into life sciences career choices.

My first suggestion is the PLANT BREEDER. With a shortage coming up in this category, I think there will be some serious need in 2-3 years. There is a big need right now for that matter. Here's something from the University of IL about Plant Breeding as a career choice:

WHY PLANT BREEDING?

- Your opportunity to directly impact the economic and social quality of life for people around the world
- Engages both your brain power and your creativity, mixing a wide range of disciplines—genetics, biology, agronomy, statistics, bioinformatics, and business administration—to build on your unique strengths
- A severe shortage of qualified plant breeders nationwide means broad career choices for talented graduates

MORE ABOUT PLANT BREEDING

Plant breeding is the science of applying genetic principles to improve plants for human use. Plant breeding impacts the life of every individual in the U.S. because it involves the creation and manipulation of economically important traits in plants used for food, animal feed, fuel, fiber for clothing and wood products, and landscape aesthetics. Whether aimed at increased yield, disease resistance, nutritional qualities, industrial uses, or home beautification, plant breeding is basic to our quality of life in both rural and urban communities. Maintaining an adequate and nutritious food supply is foundational to our societal well-being and national security.

Plant breeding has been practiced since prehistoric times when crop plants were domesticated through selection for harvest attributes and increased productivity. Plant breeding has been enormously successful and beneficial to society. One example is the development and subsequent improvement of hybrid corn, which has taken average corn yields from 30 bushels per acre in the U.S. in the 1920’s to more than 150 bushels per acre in 2007, with projections of 300 bushels per acre by 2030.

However, further advancements in and through plant breeding are threatened by a dwindling supply of well-educated plant breeders to meet the needs of industry, academia, and government. It is estimated that there are approximately 2200 plant breeders in the U.S. Assuming that half of them will retire in the next 10-15 years and also assuming a 15% rate of job growth in the seed industry, 1,430 new graduates holding a Ph.D. and/or M.S. in Plant Breeding may be needed by 2020, an average of 110 per year. Less than 66 percent of the estimated 110 new entry level Ph.D./M.S. plant breeders needed per year to fill U.S. job vacancies are being produced by the eight primary U.S. institutions contributing to this pool.

The world NEEDS plant breeders. Are you ready?
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby P.C. » Thu Jul 02, 2015 4:22 pm

Plant breeding was my first calling in the late 70s, but there was no real need for more plant breeders as far as I could tell. I got twisted into plant physiology, secondarily.
You are quoting, as far as I can tell, would be the equivalent the infamous call for more life scientists that happened in the 80s. In my estimation 2200 plant breeders is a surplus. The events that have not really happened are a shortage of plant breeding jobs opened up, based on projections of people retiring. I am speculating that most of those employed and retiring as plant breeders will be associated with land grant institutions. Those jobs will be eliminated largely because they are funded by government. I would say that there is no need for more than 500 plant breeders at the PhD level. The rest are government surplus.
The whole quote looks like propaganda to me, the same propaganda about the need for more scientists in the 80s.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Jul 02, 2015 8:09 pm

P.C. wrote:Plant breeding was my first calling in the late 70s, but there was no real need for more plant breeders as far as I could tell. I got twisted into plant physiology, secondarily.
You are quoting, as far as I can tell, would be the equivalent the infamous call for more life scientists that happened in the 80s. In my estimation 2200 plant breeders is a surplus. The events that have not really happened are a shortage of plant breeding jobs opened up, based on projections of people retiring. I am speculating that most of those employed and retiring as plant breeders will be associated with land grant institutions. Those jobs will be eliminated largely because they are funded by government. I would say that there is no need for more than 500 plant breeders at the PhD level. The rest are government surplus.
The whole quote looks like propaganda to me, the same propaganda about the need for more scientists in the 80s.


Yes, it's difficult to suggest anything nowadays as a possibility for the future, because all of us old-timers remember being burned in the past. Richard Atkinson, I recall, Chancellor of the UC San Diego I believe, was the guy who started drumming up the "We need more scientists thing" and it's still an active call in some quarters. So, I can't see your point where you feel "I won't be burned again."

On the other hand, I have personal experience with this. It's such a tough area to recruit in because there just aren't enough plant breeders. Considering that the world is going to start having severe food shortages just 15-20 years from now, I'd say this is a call to arms.

Choosing a PhD is a gamble. You can so easily get drawn into something that someone else thinks is hot. It deserves a lot of study, a lot of real good strategic career envisioning. You can't just wing it. I welcome your negativity on this one, PC, because it's going to be needed to balance the equation on plant breeding . . . that's an area that almost universally is seen as a big need for the future,

Dave
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Nate W. » Fri Jul 03, 2015 1:09 pm

Dave,

After my BS degree in 1991, I worked two years in a plant physiology lab and wrote two publications on lignin biosynthesis. Two years later, through a family connection, I spoke with a senior executive at Cargil about a R&D job. She told me that Cargil will only hire candidates with a food science graduate degree, not a life science degree. She added that many food companies and paper consumer products companies, like Kimberly Clark and Georgia Pacific, strongly prefer engineering and food science degrees over the typical life science degree.

I don't see the demand here. This track seems to be overly specialized and esoteric in nature, leading potentially to periods of discontinuous employment. Many in the life sciences struggle with unemployment and underemployment due to the lack of academic positions and the specific nature of their training. Suppose a student completes his doctoral degree in Plant Breeding and gets a job at Monsanto, where is he going to get a job in St Louis if he has already bought a house and was laid-off? It seems to be a large investment of time (i.e. 5-6 yrs) and expense for a degree with such a small niche in the job market. It would seem preferable to have a degree with a broader appeal.

Right now, I am making a huge transition to broaden my expertise on the business and legal aspects of the life sciences. My thought has been to the avoid specialization trap by focusing on skills that directly contribute to the bottom line of an organization and will have a broader appeal to other industries. If I was advising undergraduates, I would tell them to focus on the following areas:

1) Clinical degrees (i.e. PharmD, PA, MD, DVM, NP, or DMD).
2) Engineering degrees and bioinformatics (i.e. EE, Chem E, Computer engineering).
3) MBA, finance, and patent training plus a life science or EE background.
4) Sales

There are many more job opportunities in these broad areas that will lead to more stable and continuous employment. Yes, I realize there might be more competition in these areas versus a very specialized niche like Plant Breeding; however, if there are positions available then there is going to be more turnover (i.e. more opportunity). Thus, getting an advanced degree in Plant Breeding is too much of a gamble with limited prospects given the specialized nature of the degree.

PS: I'll probably spend about 100K in education to make this transition. I would rather see my colleagues avoid this trap by having a well thought career plan and not having to spend so much money to get out of the specialization dilemma created by a graduate education in the life sciences.
Last edited by Nate W. on Tue Jul 07, 2015 10:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby P.C. » Fri Jul 03, 2015 2:50 pm

If there is such a dearth of plant breeders I suggest that Bayer, Monsanto , Syngenta and all the big players go to the best 3 land grant institutions and underwrite a new Undergraduate Plant Breeders program.
I am going to suppose that there is really very little need for PhD level Plant Breeders, but more engineer-style Plant Breeders. Industry does not need that many breeders trained to be academics (PhDs), but people to do the jobs of breeding. A rigorous 4 year technically oriented program could fill most of industries needs. Let the big corps speak with dollars.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Dave Walker » Mon Jul 06, 2015 7:20 am

A career niche I see in demand often is Bioinformatics. Though not in the "let's sequence every scoop of water in the ocean" heyday of a decade ago, falling costs of sequencing and computing power have developed a long-term need for technical-oriented people in the life sciences. The growth I see is that in a few years' time it will touch basically every field, if not every experiment.

I think one would do well to get as comfortable with running analysis software and data visualization, even while pursuing a more general degree in biological sciences. I believe that being able to code gives you a serious leg up on your competition, even if it's not your full time job.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby RSD » Mon Jul 06, 2015 2:32 pm

Dave Walker wrote:A career niche I see in demand often is Bioinformatics. Though not in the "let's sequence every scoop of water in the ocean" heyday of a decade ago, falling costs of sequencing and computing power have developed a long-term need for technical-oriented people in the life sciences. The growth I see is that in a few years' time it will touch basically every field, if not every experiment.

I think one would do well to get as comfortable with running analysis software and data visualization, even while pursuing a more general degree in biological sciences. I believe that being able to code gives you a serious leg up on your competition, even if it's not your full time job.


I agree with this 100%. Any biomedical PhD student would be well served to get as much exposure as possible to statistics, coding, and analyzing big data sets.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby BMK » Mon Jul 06, 2015 2:59 pm

RSD wrote:
Dave Walker wrote:A career niche I see in demand often is Bioinformatics. Though not in the "let's sequence every scoop of water in the ocean" heyday of a decade ago, falling costs of sequencing and computing power have developed a long-term need for technical-oriented people in the life sciences. The growth I see is that in a few years' time it will touch basically every field, if not every experiment.

I think one would do well to get as comfortable with running analysis software and data visualization, even while pursuing a more general degree in biological sciences. I believe that being able to code gives you a serious leg up on your competition, even if it's not your full time job.


I agree with this 100%. Any biomedical PhD student would be well served to get as much exposure as possible to statistics, coding, and analyzing big data sets.


I may be an N of 1; but I whole-heartedly believe that this exact statement has been my saving grace in the academy and why I feel like I am doing well now on my current trajectory. Even better if you can use that skill-set to work at the interface of two (or more) fields.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Yandorio » Tue Jul 07, 2015 3:57 pm

"A career niche I see in demand often is Bioinformatics. Though not in the "let's sequence every scoop of water in the ocean" heyday of a decade ago, falling costs of sequencing and computing power have developed a long-term need for technical-oriented people in the life sciences."

I thought I would find jobs in Bioinformatics and found nothing.
Weird, the job advertisement always sounded the same:
"Wanted, Bioinformatician for next generation sequencing and sequencing analysis. Must know PERL, C++, Python and 5 other languages
The successful candidate must be self-motivated and able to work both independently and as part of a small team." I always wondered what
biological questions were specifically being addressed. They rarely said. My friend said it best: "I think they are getting more into Informatics than Bio these days."

I think Translational Science (bench to bedside) is where the
jobs are. Also, you're not going to struggle for funding if you
have more medical relevance.
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Re: Good Career Niches for Scientists

Postby Parker » Tue Jul 07, 2015 10:42 pm

I see a lot of postings in regulatory affairs...
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