A lot of biology students have no idea what they want to do – and this is okay! "Career planning" isn't about committing to one particular job in one particular field. It’s about learning the skills to land and keep a job – whatever that job is. It's also not as fixed as some people think. It's quite common for people to change careers, and to me that's not scary, that's exciting! It shows that there's really no limit to the kind of work you can do. So I'm here to help you make that transition from school to the workforce (aka, "Real Life") as well as possible. Here's a quick preview of the exciting things we have lined up this year:
- Interviews with profs: Insider information on how the biology industry really works!
- Q&A with 4th years, to help you decide whether a thesis or seminar is right for you.
- Careers Night: hear from people working in a wide range of fields
- There's more to biology than med school or research!
- Career Spotlights
- And news about other career related events.
The Summer Work Experience Program is a fantastic way to get research experience AND get paid! This is a program organized by Queen’s where researchers offer positions with the lab during the summer break. You might work with the prof, or one of their graduate students. The pay rate is $14/hr, which is fantastic, and the contract is usually 35 hours per week for 16 weeks.
How to apply? SWEP jobs will be posted to Queen’s MyCareer website by December 19th. Once made available, you will be able to check out the criteria and what the employer would like you to submit with your application package. The deadline is Feb 12th, 2015.
This really long acronym stands for Natural Science and Engineering Research Council Undergraduate Student Research Award. This is a nationally recognized award offered by NSERC, and looks awesome on a grad school application. USRAs are only open to students currently in 2nd year or above with a B- or B cumulative average, and pays $5,740 for the summer.
How to apply? Check out http://www.queensu.ca/biology/undergrad/Awards/StudentAwards/SummerNSERCProgram.html for more information and an Internal Application form, which is the first form to complete and is due to the Department in early February. If successful, you will then have to apply to NSERC as well.
Not staying in Kingston for the summer? Check out professors at local universities. Even if you can’t find a formal program like SWEP, sometimes sending a professor a polite email can help you find job opportunities. Hospitals are also great medical research hotspots!
Last week, I attended a Career Services
workshop on LinkedIn, which was fantastic and I highly recommend. Our
instructor really tailored what she was saying to our needs, and I learned that
LinkedIn could do things I had never learned about – even though I have a
The first trick she taught us is that under Privacy, you can become “Anonymous” when you view people’s profiles, letting you browse and get an idea of what your profile should look like without those people seeing you’ve viewed your profile.
When setting up your profile, pick a picture that looks professional and is not just cropped out of a different picture. LinkedIn is really about telling stories in a way that you can’t on resumes, due to the space restrictions. When you’re writing, talk about your skills rather than where you’d like to go. If you’re a little more open-ended, then chances are what you say works well for a wider variety of employers. That doesn’t mean be vague about your skills and accomplishments – just don’t limit yourself in terms of how people interpret those skills.
You can also choose a custom URL, like on Facebook, to give it a more professional feel.
Treat the summary like a cover letter, and tailor your experience to what is relevant to your goals. The best way to write these is in paragraph form, not bulleted, and go beyond just what you were tasked with. Talk about what you DID.
For your skills, choose ones that you are currently using and also those that you want to continue to develop.
Those are just the basics of building up your profile, but what makes LinkedIn truly useful is the ability to receive tailored news stories, see what others in your field have done, and talk to people who are either in your field or have similar education. It helps you target your job search and sound more knowledgeable when talking to industry insiders. Queen’s has even set up a page called “Queen’s Connects” for the purposes of connecting students and alumni, and is a great place to start. LinkedIn has a page at students.linkedin.com where they explain all the tips, tricks, and tools they have for students.
But the best way to get a knock-out LinkedIn profile is to get personal help from Queen’s Career Services. They offer two LinkedIn workshops, one for beginners and one that is more advanced. The next workshop is on Tuesday. To check out their workshop offerings, go to careers.sso.queensu.ca/home.htm
Want to literally save the world (or Earth)? Consider a career in Environmental Law!
How: You’ll need to complete an LL.B. or B.C.L degree, and most programs require a minimum of an undergraduate degree or in some cases two to three years of undergraduate study. Admission to law school is competitive, so you’ll need some top-notch grades as well as a good LSAT score. Once you graduate with a law degree, you’ll need to article and then pass a bar exam. While you can apply to law school from any degree, biology and environmental science is very beneficial for environmental lawyers. You may also want to consider courses in philosophy or business (ArtScis can take a few Commerce courses!)
How much: A newbie will likely make $60,000-$75,000 annually, while an experienced lawyer can make over $150,000.
Where: Environmental lawyers can work in lots of places! There’s the obvious, such as governments, private law firms, and consulting firms, but they can also work for companies in other industries such as oil, mining, and manufacturing, and also not-for-profits and NGOs. You’ll probably spend most of your time in the office or in court, but at least you won’t have to deal with bugs when collecting samples and you get more time in the spotlight!
Why: Sometimes companies don’t always follow the rules where the environment is concerned, especially if profit is involved. But the environment is what sustains life on Earth and pollution often has direct health impacts. You could even make it into a movie – Erin Brockovich is based on the story of Erin Brockovich, an environmental lawyer, who discovered that a company had been polluting the water supply of a Californian town for 30 years, and forced the company to settle over $300 million dollars in damages.
Want more resources? Check out https://www.eco.ca/career-profiles/environmental-lawyer/
Career Q&A with a Queen's Alumni
What was your major? (Was it just bio?) When did you graduate?
I graduated from Queen’s Biology in the fall of 2012 with a concentration in Ecology and Evolution. I actually ended up postponing my graduation from the spring to the fall, because I opted to take my last biology credit as a field course. It was a bit of a last minute decision. I hadn’t planned to take a field course, but as I came into my last semester a credit short it seemed like a good way to make up the deficit. I signed up for a two-week long, intensive, herpetology course at QUBS. Two years later, it’s hard to overstate the impact of those two weeks. That time at QUBS re-framed and refocused the study of ecology for me. I know that might sound like an exaggeration, but it really was revolutionary to study ecology in the field!
What do you like about bio and/or what got you interested in bio? Any favorite courses?
When I look back, I think chose to study biology instinctively. Coming to Queen’s out of high school I really had no idea what I wanted to study and I remember wrestling with the decision after first year. As long as I could remember I had spent my free time outside. I absolutely loved spending time in the forest that backed onto my family’s property. I guess I was immersed in ecology before I even knew what ecology meant, so maybe it was a bit inevitable that I was drawn to those topics with strong ecological-themes. Who knows?
Some favourite courses would include Evolutionary Genetics, Freshwater Ecology, and the fourth-year thesis!
What are you doing now? What path did you take to get there? What would you like to do?
I’m currently at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island (For those readers who haven’t heard of it, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US. When I say small…I mean really, really, small! It only takes about 30 min to drive across the entire state). At Brown I’m currently working towards a Master’s degree in Innovation Management. The degree is a little like an MBA, except with more focus on the research and development side of things. My plan is to compliment my biology background with a suite of management skills so that I can lead research and development projects in the biomedical/biotech sector. The biotech world is experiencing explosive growth right now and it’s an exciting time to be involved.
Studying ecology, with its focus on understanding and modeling interconnection and interdependence in the natural world, has proved surprisingly applicable to the business world. No company, be it a start-up or an established multi-national firm, operates in a vacuum. Interdependency and interconnection are almost a prerequisite for success nowadays- especially in biotech where multi-firm collaborations are ubiquitous. It’s here that I’ve seen the direct, somewhat surprising relevance, of my interest and training in ecology. Who would have guessed?
My path since graduating from Queen’s has been anything but linear- more circuitous really. After graduating, I worked for a number of short stints (mostly outdoor retail positions and research assistantships). I moved around Ontario, travelled out West, and generally took a while to find a program that closely matched what I hoped to do for a career.
In what ways did you feel prepared for work/grad school/whatever else? Were there any things you felt unprepared for?
I think, in general, I’ve felt very well prepared moving into a Master’s degree. The undergrad biology program at Queen’s incorporated enough independent work that the less structured Master’s degree wasn't too much of a change. Although I’ve found that it does take a little while to get back into the swing of studying!
What do you wish you knew in undergrad? Any advice for students at Queens?
For me, hands-on experience with biological research made all the difference. My advice would be to seek out opportunities that allow you to get your hands dirty. Go out into the field, do lab work, try different things. Beg to do side-projects. Expose yourself to the diversity of sub-disciplines within biology, talk to different people, and don’t forget to look for opportunities at the intersections of research fields. I’ve found that interdisciplinary research is becoming more and more the norm and less the exception.
Also, I wish I’d recorded some thoughts and descriptions of the different courses, labs, and extra-curricular experiences I’d had while at Queen’s. As I was preparing resumes, applications, and cover letters I remember struggling for details. I kicked myself for not keeping a record - it definitely would have made the whole application process easier.
Lastly, learn to code! It doesn’t even matter what language. I can guarantee that the ability to code will be a huge asset in your chosen career! I’m only starting now and I wish that I’d had a few years head start!
It’s a competitive field, but being able to save someone’s life is the ultimate reward.
Education: You’ll first need to complete a Bachelor’s, and then be accepted to a medical school program. MD programs typically take 4 years, after which you’ll need to write a licensing exam. Once completed, you’ll specialize by completing a minimum two year residency, sometimes more for other specializations.
Job: A day in the life of a physician can be so different between specializations and even between days. There’s always something going on, and always new challenges. Depending on the specialization, you could have very regular hours, or, if you work in a hospital, you could have shift work. Doctors are also found in research and health organizations. The average salary for a Canadian physician on average is about $300,000, but this doesn’t take into account the overhead costs that many doctors have. A more accurate number is $150,000. Number one advice I’ve read: Do it for the patients, not for the pay check!
Want to learn more? Justin Wang, Meds '17, will
be at QSAA’s Gaels of the Last Decade Panel on Saturday to talk about his
experience and answer questions! There will also be a CompSci, Life Sci, and
PheKin at the event! Best of all – it’s free! Register here: https://advevents.queensu.ca/cgi/page.cgi?_id=3&action=viewdetail&event_id=1622
Grad School Spotlight!
U of T Mississauga Master of Biotechnology
How long? 2 years
What do I need? A BScH in biology or chemistry with a B average in the last two years
Why? This degree combines biotechnology with business – which is huge! It includes 8-12 months of paid internships at the biggest medical device and pharmaceutical companies, and boasts a 97% employment rate after 6 months, with 80% accepting full time positions before graduation. This combo is clearly very successful in the job market, and gives you hands-on experience. 42 people were accepted last year.
McGill Master of Bioresource Engineering
How long? However long it takes you to do the thesis (plus 16 other credits)
What do I need? 3.0/4.0 GPA or 3.2/4.0 in last two years
Why? “Artificial Intelligence” is listed as a possible field – how cool is that?! This degree would be very applicable to solving the world’s water and agricultural issues and McGill is ranked as one of the top 25 universities in the world. So if you want to be a hero (and would look good in spandex), pick this degree that combines environmental knowledge with applied tehcniques.
UBC Master of Zoology
How long? 2 years (but there is the possibility of switching to Ph.D. after 12-18 months)
What do I need? 76% average with 80% in field of study.
Why? Imagine studying marine biology in the most beautiful costal environment. Seriously, the views are stunning and Vancouver is the most livable city in Canada! Whales are abundant near the coast and populations are on the rise, along with lots of other marine animals. UBC is a highly respect university with fantastic facilities and faculty.
Resumes. It can be daunting! If you asked someone off the street what makes a good resume, chances are many wouldn’t know. How much/how little do you include? How do you format it? Do you need certain headings? What’s the difference between a resume and a CV? These are the questions we’re going to tackle.
off, let me just say there are no “one size fits all” resumes. Aside from
describing your skills and accomplishments, it should also express your
personality. However, there are some rules to follow.
The biggest piece of advice I’ve seen is to make your resume ACTION ORIENTED. Instead of using lackluster language like, “job duties include…,” show them how you benefitted your last employer by saying things like, “Reached above average sales for….” or “Improved work flow by…” Stop and think about how you can express the good you’ve done in previous positions. Remember to say what you’ve done, not what happened to you. You can apply this to extracurriculars as well. Personally, my resume hugely benefitted from this advice.
But this doesn’t mean write down everything you’ve ever done. When I hired for a different club I’m involved in, almost all the resumes I received were several pages long. The fact that you baby sat when you were 12 is probably no longer relevant. Pick the highlights and points that are most relevant to the position you are applying for, and stick to a page. 20% or less of your resume should be about your personality, the rest should be about education, employment, and relevant skills/knowledge.
Lastly, a good format is crucial to having the best first impression possible. Keep it clean, crisp, and modern. Word has several attractive templates, but there are a few duds as well. A little bit of colour can be a nice touch, but don’t overdo it. Choose one that reflects your personality and is easy to follow and read. Save it as a PDF if you are sending it electronically, as these are easy to open by anyone and have a small file size. The published PDF should pop up, and double check it to make sure everything looks right. It’s not a bad idea to have someone proofread it!
For more resume info, check out Career Services’ resume workshops, or check out Jay-Z’s resume – one top career professional says this is the best example of a resume he’s seen. (see link below for photo – from julliengordon.com)
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is famously quoted as having said, “You are what you eat.” Or something like that. Maybe something more smartical. Either way, it’s pretty clear that a good diet is critical to being healthy, and there are all sorts of misleading “fad” diets in the media – have you heard about Ed Sheeran’s new vodka diet? It’s important for people to have a reliable source of information to guide them, particularly when special diets are needed to manage medical conditions or religious/ethical obligations.
When I decided to become vegetarian about 12 years ago, I didn’t know how to create a balanced diet because no one in my family was vegetarian. My parents and I went to see a dietician, and she broke down all the nutrition I needed, and explained how much I need of which nutrient, and what to eat to ensure I still got everything I need. It’s still something I think about every time I go grocery shopping and read a food label, and I know I’m a lot better off for it. People with celiac disorder, diabetes, high cholesterol, intestinal disorders, phenylketonuria (remember that one?), and obesity can all benefit from a dietician’s services, but so can high performance athletes, premature babies, and the elderly to name a few. Hey – we all need to eat! Dieticians can work in hospitals, private practices, nursing facilities, aged care homes, governments, businesses, and research.
There are a couple possible pathways if this interests you. After completing your undergrad, you can apply to a Masters practicum or post-degree internship. Many universities offer a Master’s practicum, including Toronto, Ryerson, Guelph, and Western, and Toronto’s is offered jointly with the Hospital for Sick Children, offering loads of interesting experience. You can also do an integrated Bachelor’s through schools like UBC, Sask, McGill, and Ottawa. This career is experiencing excellent outlooks due to the aging population and very low unemployment. An average income in $50,000.
All in all, you could say that this career really “takes the cake!” It’s a job with regular hours and predetermined appointments that makes an enormous difference on people’s lives. Dieticians in particular are crucial because proper nutrition can prevent problems before they start, resulting in less stress on the healthcare system.
I’m going to kick off this blog with a Career Spotlight that I was having a conversation about recently. I met a doctor from the School of Medicine, and we were chatting about medical school and what he does as a physician (he delivers babies for a living! How cool is that?) When it came up that I was a Biology specialization, inevitably he asked me if I was considering becoming a physician. I politely explained that while I am interested in medicine I don’t really think it’s a path I want to take – I really prefer genetics and molecular biology. “Why not be a genetic counselor?’ he asked. My answer was that it just seemed like a lot of Punnett squares, and I thought that would be a little boring, after a while. He assured me that it wasn’t that at all – he does a lot of work with genetic counsellors, and with recent advances in genetic technology they are able to do lots of things to help couples have healthy families, and help individuals lead healthy lives. Well, that sounded a little more exciting. So I did some digging and this is what I found out about Genetic Counselors (GCs): The first thing that I realized I didn’t know was that GCs do more than work with couples considering the risks of passing disorders onto their children – they work with people of all ages to identify people who have or are at risk of having genetic conditions and cancers. Then they coordinate testing, investigate the problem, and provide information, support, and resources to help manage the condition. GCs work closely with the patient’s physician, and see all sorts of medical disorders. This is a particularly exciting area to work in now that the Human Genome Project has been completed and so many different sequencing tests are available, for less than ever before. GCs can work in a range of settings: from hospitals and clinics, to freelance consulting, to universities (in teaching or research). And if you worry about getting a job straight out of school, you can’t do much better – the outlook is “excellent” with above average job growth. In fact, in the US it’s estimated that there are 2-3 jobs per new graduate. You’ll need to complete a two year Masters of Science in Genetic Counselling at either McGill University or UBC, or at a university abroad - after finishing your degree here of course! McGill requires courses in cell biology, biochemistry, advanced genetics, statistics, and two psychology courses, whereas UBC requires biochemistry and statistics. Some GCs say that their career allows them to have excellent work-life balance and has regular, predictable hours. The median income for GCs is around $56,000, with some earning up to $100,000. This is definitely a career to look in to if you want to be a part of the medical field but don’t want to become a practicing physician!