Help with career path

I recently graduated from college with my degree in biochemistry, and have been on the job hunt. I had been told that this industry is a hard one to get a foot in the door because companies always want someone with experience. Which is typically what I’m finding (most places want at least 1 year of job experience even for lower positons) from a job market with a wide variety of companies (St. Louis has a nice science sector).

Fast forward to today when I had an interview with a company’s hiring manager . I guess he liked what I had to say, and his assistant calls me a couple hours later wanting to schedule a meeting where they will offer a formal position sometime next week . My problem is that the company is an enviromental risk management firm that doesn’t really work in the R&D field that I always pictured myself in. I’m afraid that if I take the position (which from what I can tell is a really great position with a good company) I will pigeon-hole myself, and won’t be able to later take a position with a company in a laboratory setting. I guess I’m afraid that by taking this position I will be limiting myself later. I have always seen myself as a lab rat, and would hate if I didn’t maximize options.

Would I hurt my future R&D dreams by taking a job in another field?

Do you have a bachelor’s degree (B.S. or B.A.) or a master’s? To get any kind of real R&D job (beyond technician) in biochem you’re going to need an advanced degree.

As for being pigeon-holed in a particular subfield on the basis of your first professional job, don’t worry about it. First jobs are like first dates; they rarely go all that well unless you are very lucky, but you can learn a lot about what you like and don’t like, and it doesn’t commit you for a lifetime. Frankly, nobody expects a tyro to stay in a job for that long, and it gives you employment while making other contacts through work and professional organizations and figuring out what you really want to do with your life…which may not, in fact, be R&D.

As an engineer I’ve worked in nearly every major industry in my discipline (except medical products), and being able to say, “Yeah, I’ve worked in automotive…oh, yeah, software development, too…yeah, I did consumer products for a while,” has opened up more doors in my current job than I ever would have imagined. I end up being the go-to guy for all kinds of special projects, random off-the-wall questions, and other high weirdness instead of doing the (sort of) easy regular work we do, which I find is exactly the way I like it.

Good luck to you, and don’t sweat it; you’ll figure out that even the best job kind of sucks sometimes, and the worst ones aren’t worth keeping for the sleep you’ll lose over them.


In this economy?

Take the job. Money coming in is good. Work experience is good. They may even have some kind of tuition reimbursement program that would let you work on your Masters on the company dime.

I teach at a college and always tell my students that they will rarely find the job of their dreams right off the bat. As long as you can find something in your field, it will be a great learning experience and look fantastic on the resume.

I would suggest taking the job for a couple of years. I know nothing about biochemistry, but I do know that employers always like to hire people with varied backgrounds within their field. This sounds like a master’s class that might lead to some interesting jobs in the future…imagine if you find the ideal R&D job opportunity that requires some basic knowledge of environmental risk!

Let me put it this way: Do you think you will ever be passed over for a future R&D job simply because you have extensive experience in environmental risk? Or do you think this might give you a foot in the door because you have some real-life experience in the field?

Thanks for reply(s)

This was my first thought as well. With just a bachelor’s, your R&D career is pretty much limited to being lab bitch forever. If you want to do anything more, you’ll need a master’s, and if you want to actually run a lab, you’ll need a doctorate.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working for a while and then going back to school. You’ll have the chance to save up some money, and the admissions committees don’t need to worry about whether you’re just applying to grad school to avoid the real world. On the other hand, if the rest of your class is coming straight from undergrad, it can be a little rough to fit in.

Sorry I should have mentioned that I have my masters degree.

If you decide not to go with the non-R&D job, a good way to get some experience is to get a tech position in academics. The lack of experience is often not a problem. In fact most professors that I know consider it a real coup if they find a tech with any experience in the field. If you tech with a good researcher for a year or two, you’ll have great experience to launch into R&D.

By the way, you probably won’t find these tech positions advertised anywhere outside of the school’s website.