Author: Ryan Rampersaud
Years of hard work in school have finally paid off. You’ve gotten your degree in the biological sciences, but now what? After great consideration, you’ve decided that medicine isn’t for you and graduate school just doesn’t fit with your plans. So, all your years of hard work have been for nothing, right? Wrong! There are many options available to you, although it may seem that medical school or graduate school are your only options.
If you’re looking for a career that is exciting, stimulating, and interesting, perhaps a job as a lab technician/research assistant may be for you. This profession allows you to work in private industry, government, or even in a university. As a technician, you will do a range of jobs. In addition to working on projects deemed important by the principal investigator of lab, you will also probably act as “office manager,” in charge of ordering any supplies, media, and reagents.
As a research assistant, you have many options. Perhaps you have a deep interest in cancer, or maybe infectious diseases and bacterial pathogenesis are what excite you. If you have a strong background in science (which your undergraduate career has provided) you can go almost anywhere your interests take you. Research is a learning experience and while on the job you will continually learn. Armed with a strong foundation in biology, you can choose between basic and applied research laboratories. Some of us are driven by our own curiosity and a desire to understand the world around us. For these people, basic research laboratories may be a good choice, but for many, applied research, where research is geared toward curing an epidemic or solving some practical problem would be even better. The choice is yours and you are only limited by your own interests.
Research assistants in the biological sciences generally work a normal work week (8 hours a day-5 days a week) and their work environment usually doesn’t involve any dangerous conditions, but as with any lab-related job, safety training/certification is a must (it is tedious but required by law). However, being a research assistant can allow you to go to different places (for conferences) and expose you to the large body or research being conducted. As a research assistant, you should be able to work well in groups. After all, science is not an independent event.
You may be disappointed to find out that you won’t be making six figures as a research technician. Generally, if you are fresh out of college with little to no experience, your starting salary will probably be something like 24,000 per year (and this is at the high end). But don’t be discouraged, because as you gain more experience, your salary will increase.
If you have a passion for learning and are a generally inquisitive person, this may be the career for you. Being a research assistant may fit well with your plans if you don’t feel graduate school or medical school is right for you. You can still get experience with research and make a significant contribution to science without going through further schooling. Yet don’t be fooled, science is a constant learning experience and a career as a research assistant requires hard work and dedication, but the benefits are numerous!
For more information:
Bureau of Labor Statistics
American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Society of Microbiology