The Benefit of an Entry-Level Education in Life Science

The Benefit of an Entry-Level Education in Life Science

By Harvey Yau

Are you currently enrolled in a life science certificate program or pursuing an associate degree in biotechnology?

If you are, then you stand a good chance of finding employment after graduation—even with an entry-level degree. Here’s why: According to research by BioSpace, starting positions in life science—those requiring up to two years of experience—made up almost a quarter of all job listings in 2016.

In the past, companies usually hired life science talent with four-year degrees for starting positions. However, once these employees have gained sufficient experience, they often leave for higher-level positions. This is frustrating for employers that have invested considerable time and resources in training them—and it’s prompting them to redirect their recruitment efforts towards a different kind of candidate: those with entry-level degrees.

At approximately 100 community colleges across the country, students can earn either a certificate or an associate degree in biotechnology. These programs last between 18 months and two years, so they’re relatively quick to complete. A biotechnology certificate program is a general introduction into the field. A typical curriculum will teach students basic knowledge of biotechnology, biological computation, and manufacturing practices, as well as drug design and targeting. Associate programs provide more in-depth training in competencies such as good manufacturing practice (GMP) documentation, environmental monitoring, and microscoping.

What’s so important to understand is that in recent years, many community colleges have started to focus their efforts on making their life science courses more practical so their graduates are more employable.

Every year, these schools approach employers and industry specialists to find out what their current needs are in terms of skills and equipment training. For example, I’m on an advisory board with other life science industry leaders that advises the life science department at my local community college on curriculum development. Based on our insights and recommendations, the school creates practical programs that provide hands-on training in the skills and equipment currently needed in the industry.

If you invest in your career and enroll at one of these community colleges, you’ll graduate with current, marketable skills that employers are looking for. It’s a faster way to become productive and earn a salary. It also allows you to put your degree to work without incurring anywhere near the amount of debt you would for a four-year degree.

At the same time, if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field but you’re interested in making the move to life sciences, then you can gain practical skills by enrolling in an 18-month certificate program.

After experiencing the high turnover of candidates with four-year degrees, many employers appreciate the maturity of candidates from community colleges. And since employers are looking to retain employees for the long term, they’re more than willing to invest in additional training that will help both their employees and their companies advance.