Biotechnology lab lore
Students of biological science have a plethora of options for graduation and postgraduation studies. Most believe that the best path to scientific growth and success after a master’s degree is qualifying NET, pursuing PhD, opting for postdoctoral studies and then finding a faculty position in research or educational institutes. But there are only so many faculty positions; therefore, not everyone gets placed. What, then, are the other options?
One option is working in the biotechnology sector. Do not presume that only engineers can bag lucrative offers in this sector, there are myriads of job opportunities for life science students as well.
Hiya Dutta decided to join the sector right after earning a master’s degree in biochemistry from Calcutta University. “The uncertainty of an academic career was not my cup of tea. Seeing my research transform into a useable product thrills me,” she says. If you are not sure about taking up a life science course because you do not want to invest the time required to land a faculty position, you could consider grooming yourself to be industry-ready. Do an internship in the sector while you are still in college to find out whether you are a good fit. Not to forget, this experience can be a happy boost to your CV as well. “Being a fresher was a tough but rewarding experience. Getting exposed to new instruments and proving myself was a challenge,” shares Dutta, who is a research associate at Bharat Biotech International Limited in Hyderabad.
If you plan to work in industry, it might be wiser to opt for an applied field rather than the general lines such as botany, zoology or physiology. Although there might not be any preference per se, students from biotechnology, biochemistry and microbiology may have that extra edge. It would be a tad easier to adapt to the industry setting since you would have prior theoretical and/or practical experience. Therefore, put some thought into choosing the stream you enrol in after Class XII. Also, working in industry does not necessarily mean you have to work only in research and development (R&D). There are various other departments such as analytical, clinical research, quality control, quality assurance and production, where you might enjoy working.
“Getting a job in industry depends largely on your technical skills and training. A more specialised technical-training-based subject may be a prudent option. Students who aspire to improve their prospects of employment may consider joining a finishing school or completing their PhD degree before applying for a job,” advises Koustubh Panda, professor, department of biotechnology & Guha Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Calcutta University, and director, West Bengal Biotech Development Corporation.
Landing a job after a PhD ensures a higher pay scale and interesting projects to design vis-à-vis a person with a master’s degree who has to do more technical work. However, there are far fewer vacancies for a doctoral candidate compared to a postgraduate. It is best to speak to seniors in the field and get some idea of the matter.
“The job one gets or aspires to after MSc is not the same as what one expects after PhD. A doctorate is a requirement if one wishes to have a career path as a scientist, whether in a company or academia, and is desirable along with an MBA for a management position. What matters of course is how knowledgeable a person is and not mere degrees,” says Deepanwita Chattopadhyay, chairman and CEO, IKP Knowledge Park, a premier science park and incubator in Hyderabad and Bangalore.
If you want to work as a researcher — solving problems for the welfare of mankind — then heading a R&D team in the biotech industry might be your true calling. “I spent nearly a decade as a graduate and postdoc student and then joined as a research scientist. I am working on synthesising next generation delivery tools for creating new nucleic acid vaccines with improved efficacy. I get to do more meaningful bench work and get paid well,” says Poulami Talukdar, research scientist, Tiba Biotech, Massachusetts, US.
Those of you who are keen on a government job should keep an eye out for job vacancies advertised in dailies or websites of the agencies. Indrani Saha is working as an assistant biochemist in the Central Drugs Laboratory (CDL) in Calcutta. She got the job after passing an exam for the Staff Selection Commission. “My work is to check the drug samples which are being circulated in the market. Based on our reports, further action is taken by the drug inspector,” says Saha who has completed three years in CDL.
While the industry offers job security, the initial salary for a fresh master’s degree holder is meagre. Also, spending long hours in office, handling work pressure and meeting deadlines is a given. However, with the rise in experience and position, salary too sees a corresponding steep rise, making all that work worthwhile.
“The number of biopharma companies are growing. Large and mid-size pharma are now investing in biosimilars (copy of licensed drugs). I envisage an increase in demand for people trained in data analytics, artificial intelligence, computational biology, synthetic biology, intellectual property, valuation, licensing and so on,” adds Chattopadhyay.
That should make it easier to chose the subject you want to graduate in.