Higher Ed: Medical Cannabis Courses Are Now Available at US Universities

Posted in Articles, BioEducation, Uncategorized

Back in the day when I was going to graduate school in Madison, WI,  there was no such thing as medical Cannabis (although there was plenty of weed to go around).  But, as the line in that old Dylan song goes “the times they are a changin”

Late last month, the University of California-Davis announced that it would be joining Humboldt State University in offering undergraduate students a course entitled Physiology of Cannabis.  FYI, Humboldt State has been offering courses in medical Cannabis since 2012 (not surprising since the school is located in prime Cannabis cultivation territory).

According to UC-Davis officials the semester-long, three credit course will be aimed at biology students and will cover the endocannabinoid system, the effects of cannabinoids on the human body and the therapeutic value of Cannabis.

Likewise, Sonoma State University announced that it will be offering a one day symposium on March 11, 2017  to members of the healthcare industry in the Bay area. The symposium is entitled Medical Cannabis: A Clinical and it is intended as a workforce development course.  Nurses, physicians and pharmacists can get continuing education credit for the course. Topics that will be covered include the history of cannabis, an introduction to cannabinoids and terpenes, dosing and administration of cannabinoids, legal implication and other medical-related issues. The university is also planning a three day course on Cannabis regulatory issues later in the month.

While these courses are available, there is currently no undergraduate degree program in Cannabis science/medicine offered by any US university or college. That said, don’t be surprised if this major becomes a reality in States where medical and recreational Cannabis are legal.

Until next time…

Good Luck, Good Job Hunting and Happy Trails

Is A PhD Degree Worth It?

Posted in BioEducation

There is no longer any question that it is becoming increasingly difficult for PhD life scientists to find jobs. Further, there is no longer any doubt that the academic system responsible for the current glut of PhD life scientists on the market is broken and needs to be fixed. However, it is important to point out that the decision the get a PhD degree is a very personal one and, in most cases, is not based on the prospect of future long term employment.  In fact, most graduate students and postdoctoral scientists that I have talked to over the past 10 years, don’t think about the need to find a job until they learn that their funding is running out.  The point  is, that just because you have a PhD degree it does not entitle you to a job. Further, looking for a job takes commitment, time and a lot of work and unfortunately some PhD scientists mistakenly  think that the “jobs will/should come to them.”  Put simply, if you aren’t willing to put in the work to find a job, which may mean additional training or a possible career change, then you have nobody to blame but yourself.

In 1974, shortly after I was admitted to the graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I received a congratulatory letter from my soon-to-be PhD adviser. In the letter he made a comment about “the blood, sweat and tears” that are required to earn a PhD degree.  At the time, I was a youthful, ambitious 21 year-old, who thought he could do anything and I had no idea what he was talking about!  Seven painful and often tearful years later, I finally understood what he meant by those words; because I had lived them!  I  have no doubt that many who are reading this post have had similar experiences. However, earning your  PhD degree is only the very beginning of your journey. And, like it or not,  the only thing that a PhD guarantees is that others will call you “doctor”and that you can add the letters “PhD” after your name!

For the past several months I have been following a question on a LinkedIn group that asked: “If you had to do it all over again, would you have still chosen to get your PhD degree”. For me, the answer is an unequivocal YES!  And, like the first time, that decision would not have been based on the notion that there would or should be a job waiting for me at the end of my training.  My decision was a personal one based on my “love of microbiology” not the guarantee of future employment.

So,  to those of you who feel like the system has let you down and that you have been abused, I feel your pain but offer the following. If you wanted a guaranteed job at the end of your training than you ought to have considered a career in medicine, nursing, law, engineering, physical therapy, carpentry, plumbing or any other profession where a license is required to practice. These professionals offer a “service” to people and, in exchange for services rendered, they get paid for their efforts.  Like it or not, laboratory research is a not a service or fee-based industry and consequently has minimal short term personal value to people. And, not surprisingly, the demand for PhD life scientists, well trained or not, is not high.

In closing, nobody said getting a PhD degree was going to be easy. And, as somebody once said to me, “if getting a PhD degree was easy, then everybody would have one!”  That said, be proud that you earned your degree; but the hard work has only just begun!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

Statistics and Job-Related Facts You Should Know About Careers in the Life Sciences

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Fewer and fewer American college students are choosing to major in Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). This has been an ongoing trend in the US for the past two decades. However, within the STEM majors, the life sciences are faring the best. While I believe that the US needs more life sciences majors to remain competitive with the rest of the world, there are a few things you ought to know before you take the life sciences plunge.

  1. More than 86,000 American biology majors graduate each year
  2. About 58% of all bachelors’, masters and doctorates in the life sciences are awarded to women (who continue to earn substantially less than their male counterparts)
  3. Entry level salaries for biology majors range from $40,000 to $50,000 per year (computer and engineering students start at salaries of $55,000 to $65,000 per year)
  4. PhD degrees in the life sciences take on average six years to complete
  5. Postdoc starting salaries range from $37,000 to $40,000 per year
  6. More than a third of biologists are still working as postdocs or in other non-tenure track jobs six years after receiving their PhD degrees
  7. Only 14% of PhD-trained biologists win tenure track positions within six years of receiving their degrees
  8. Because of tighter funding for government jobs and the loss of 300,000 pharmaceutical jobs in the past decade, many newly-minted PhDs are forced to become serial postdocs (supported by soft money) or help senior scientists set up and run their laboratories waiting to see if they can win permanent academic employment
  9. Fewer tenured life sciences professors are retiring because of the financial downturn

If you still want to be biology major after reading this post, then I think that you know what career path you ought to pursue! Just sayin’……

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

 

Demand for Patent Agents and Attorneys Continues to Grow

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Times are tough for many in the legal profession these days. However, the demand for patent experts including attorneys and patent agents is skyrocketing. According to an article in today’s NY Times, openings for patent attorneys account for more than 15 percent of law firm job openings while only 3 percent of lawyers in the US specialize in this area. The bottom line: it is a great time to be a patent attorney or agent in today’s tough economy.

Not surprisingly, many patent attorneys (and agents) usually have a background in science or engineering. And, because of the scarcity of qualified applicants many law firms are doubling their recruiting spending to meet the growing demand for specialists in intellectual property (IP) and patents.

One of the reasons for the growing demand is passage of the America Invents Act, the largest overhaul in the US patent system in the past 60 years. The legislation which changes how patents are reviewed and process is spurring competition between firms to higher IP specialist to ease the transition pain. At present, there are over 230 IP openings among more than 1400 lawyer positions nationwide. Many of the openings have been unfilled for over 90 days and more are added daily.

Currently, there are about 40,000 patent attorneys and agents registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In order to register with the USPTO agents and lawyers are required to pass the patent bar examination. While registered patent agents have taken and passed the exam, they are not lawyers who are required to pass state bar examinations to become licensed attorneys. For those of you who may not know, you don’t have to go to law school to take the patent bar exam nor is a law degree required to take individual state bar exams (however, person who are not law school graduate are likely not to pass the state tests). Patent agents can prepare patents and prosecute cases with the USPTO but cannot litigate in court or draw up contracts. There are roughly 1.2 million licensed patent attorneys in the US according to the American bar association.

The greatest demand for IP attorneys and agents is in information and computing technology and the life sciences. Persons with PhD degrees in the life sciences can sometimes find work at IP and patent law firms. Also, you may be able to find work at a patent examiner with the USPTO! PhD degree holders who have passed the patent bar are even more desirable. However a law degree plus a PhD degree will almost certainly guarantee you employment at most IP firms. That said, before you decide to go to law school, I high recommend that you talk with IP professionals or read a few dozen patent applications (they can all be found at www.uspto.org) in your spare time. If you find the reading interesting or manage to stay awake after reading the fifth application than patent law may be a good choice for you. If not, I suggest that you consider other alternate career options.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

 

How Online Courses Can Help You Secure a Job

Posted in Career Advice

The job market is rough, and many in the field of science, whether they are a chemist or a biologist, are having difficulty obtaining a position. Unless you want a low-paying tech or lab position there isn’t much currently available, especially if you don’t have an advanced degree. However, many recent college graduates are beginning to find that taking a few online courses can greatly increase their odds of being hired.

For years, online colleges carried poor reputations, but that stigma is rapidly fading. As current professionals are having to obtain additional education on limited schedules, and the internet as a source of knowledge is becoming more trusted, a degree obtained from an accredited online college is now viewed by much of the population as being just as viable as one received from a traditional university.

Employers no longer scowl at online degrees either. In fact, many are beginning to believe that those who obtain degrees online, or those who simply add to their education by taking a few courses, may actually be more valuable than traditionally educated individuals. Seeking additional education online may actually make you more enticing as a job applicant because managing your own education says multiple things about your character.

The Educational Benefit

The main reason why anyone seeks out additional education is to obtain the skill set they need to succeed. By taking online courses you will gain more knowledge of your industry which will make you a more appealing candidate for employers. You will have a more well-rounded understanding of your field, and by taking the classes may secure the additional education needed to look better than another deserving candidate.

The Personal Benefit

Struggling to find a job is no easy task, and at times it can be really rough on your self esteem. By pursuing additional education, you are able to achieve personal goals, and gain greater confidence in your knowledge and abilities. Having both of these attributes will make employers more likely to hire you. Plus, taking the additional courses will keep your mind fresh and will also keep your occupied and focus during your down time.

The Professional Benefit

From an employer’s perspective, those who are willing to manage their education on their own are self-starters. They are motivated individuals who now how to set goals and obtain them. Online classes aren’t like typical on-campus classes, and require students to remain focused on the tasks at hand. There is no one there to remind them of due dates and constant assignments. Employers know this, and know that anyone capable of getting good grades or a degree from an online university is a driven and organized person, which is what many employers are looking for.

The job market it tough, but your college degree isn’t to blame for your lack of employment. Thousands of people have lost their jobs or are struggling to find position all over the United States, and the poor economy isn’t helping. The fact of the matter is that the lacking economy has made it hard for anyone to find a job whether they are a biologist like you or a math teacher.

However, all hope is not lost. There are still plenty of well paying positions in the biological field, and you can still find one in one of the various public and private firms that are still hiring. Just keep in mind that there are hundreds of others seeking the same position you are. To get ahead you simply have to be more competitive and make yourself more enticing to employers, and increasing your knowledge by taking online college courses may be the first step in the right direction. 

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!

On Getting a PhD Degree in the Life Sciences

Posted in BioEducation

Over the past several weeks, I have participated in various online conversations and discussions about the wisdom of getting a PhD degree in the life sciences.  While the conversations have been wide reaching and, at times quite emotional, a common theme is beginning to emerge and I think that the time has come for me to weigh in on it.  To wit, getting a PhD degree is not the best decision a person can make if he/she wants a guarantee of employment upon completion of his/her training.

There is no longer any question that it is becoming increasingly difficult for PhD life scientists to find jobs. Further, there is no longer any doubt that the academic system responsible for the current glut of PhD life scientists on the market is broken and needs to be fixed. However, it is important to point out that the decision the get a PhD degree is a very personal one and, in most cases, is not based on the prospect of future long term employment.  In fact, most graduate students and postdoctoral scientists that I have talked to over the past 10 years, don’t think about the need to find a job until they learn that their funding is running out.  The point  is, that just because you have a PhD degree it does not entitle you to a job. Further, looking for a job takes commitment, time and a lot of work and unfortunately some PhD scientists mistakenly  think that the "jobs will/should come to them."  Put simply, if you aren’t willing to put in the work to find a job, which may mean additional training or a possible career change, then you have nobody to blame but yourself.

In 1974, shortly after I was admitted to the graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I received a congratulatory letter from my soon-to-be PhD adviser. In the letter he made a comment about "the blood, sweat and tears" that are required to earn a PhD degree.  At the time, I was a youthful, ambitious 21 year-old, who thought he could do anything and I had no idea what he was talking about!  Seven painful and often tearful years later, I finally understood what he meant by those words; because I had lived them!  I  have no doubt that many who are reading this post have had similar experiences. However, earning your  PhD degree is only the very beginning of your journey. And, like it or not,  the only thing that a PhD guarantees is that others will call you "doctor"and that you can add the letters "PhD" after your name!

For the past several months I have been following a question on a LinkedIn group that asked: "If you had to do it all over again, would you have still chosen to get your PhD degree". For me, the answer is an unequivocal YES!  And, like the first time, that decision would not have been based on the notion that there would or should be a job waiting for me at the end of my training.  My decision was a personal one based on my "love of microbiology" not the guarantee of future employment.

So,  to those of you who feel like the system has let you down and that you have been abused, I feel your pain but offer the following. If you wanted a guaranteed job at the end of your training than you ought to have considered a career in medicine, nursing, law, engineering, physical therapy, carpentry, plumbing or any other profession where a license is required to practice. These professionals offer a "service" to people and, in exchange for services rendered, they get paid for their efforts.  Like it or not, laboratory research is a not a service or fee-based industry and consequently has minimal short term personal value to people. And, not surprisingly, the demand for PhD life scientists, well trained or not, is not high.

In closing, nobody said getting a PhD degree was going to be easy. And, as somebody once said to me, "if getting a PhD degree was easy, then everybody would have one!"  That said, be proud that you earned your degree; but the hard work has only just begun!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

 

Is There a Glut of Life Sciences PhDs? A Commentary

Posted in BioEducation

Last week’s special issue of Nature Magazine “The Future of PhDs” contains no fewer than six independently written articles assessing the value, importance worth etc of a PhD degree in the life sciences. All of the articles are extremely well written and insightful. The opinions of the authors range from maintaining the status quo to questioning whether a PhD degree is important for life scientists to completely revamping the requirements to obtain the degree. While I think that Nature’s decision to devote an entire special issue to problems facing PhD students and postdoctoral fellows is courageous and laudable, I can not help but ask “What took you so long?” That said, there is no questions that the proverbial “cat is out of the bag”—there was an article in last Friday’s USA Today

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which means that the American public (maybe) is now aware of the “problem.” Rather than immediately react to the plethora of posts, LinkedIn discussions and comments from bloggers and recruiters, I decided to take some time to organize my thoughts and offer some of my own insights and ideas about the issue.

For the past seven years, I, along with a few fellow career development experts, have been outspoken about the diminishing career and job prospects for PhD-trained life scientists. Like the authors of the recent Nature papers, we had determined in the early 2000s that career opportunities and job prospects for life sciences PhDs and postdoctoral fellows were rapidly declining in both academia and industry. And, more important, that there was an emerging “glut” of life sciences PhDs (mainly basic researchers) on the job market. Not surprisingly, many of the hundreds of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists—who we counseled during career development sessions at various national scientific meetings—were finding it increasingly difficult or nearly impossible to find jobs in their chosen fields of endeavors. While we were able to advise them on how to write a better resume/CV or provide them with alternate career options, we all knew that their prospects for gainful employment were severely limited. I cannot tell you how difficult and emotionally-wrenching it is to tell extremely talented graduate students and postdoctoral scientists that their prospects for gainful employment are bleak.

Yet, despite a rapidly deteriorating job market and our best efforts to alert those “in charge,” graduate training programs recklessly continue to annually “mint” as many new PhDs as possible. While the reasons for this are obvious—graduate students and postdoctoral scientists are sources of “cheap and reliable labor”— the conscious decision to continue to produce as many PhDs as possible flies in the face of basic supply and demand economics. While I can go on and on with finger pointing and assessing blame, it is not productive or helpful; nor will it help to solve the bleak employment prospects facing many PhD-trained life scientists. However, there are a few strategies that, if appropriately implemented, can help to improve the job prospects for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists.

First, graduate and postdoctoral programs could create career development programs and experiences for their students and postdocs. These programs could include seminars on alternate career options, job counseling, resume writing and interviewing clinics, internship opportunities and even annual career fairs at attended by local or national prospective employers. While many PIs will complain that this will take graduate students and postdocs out of the laboratory and impede their progress, I submit that career development activities will reduce stress and anxiety and allow persons to develop a career plan or roadmap. This, in turn, will allow them to establish goals better budget/manage their time and be more productive in the lab. Moreover, it will likely shorten the time to earn a PhD degree which will provide PIs with more employee turnover and allow them to take larger numbers of new students into their labs.

Second, training programs ought to develop and formalize alternate career tracks for their graduate students and postdocs. For example, if a student is interested in medical writing rather than a traditional academic research career he/she ought to be encouraged to take some medical writing courses or be allowed to do a medical writing internship as part of their training. If a student is interested in business, then it may make sense for the student to be able to take business courses or enroll in an online biotechnology training programs. In fact, several institutions now offer a joint PhD/MBA degree option. The bottom line here is that providing students and postdocs with alternate exit strategies will incentivize them to be more productive so that they can “get on with their careers.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, graduate training programs need to limit the number of PhDs that they train and produce. This means, admitting fewer graduate students each year until the demand for PhDs begins to rise again. While this is the easiest and most cost effective solution to the problem, I suspect that it is the one that will meet with most resistance and objections. After all, fewer graduate students means fewer postdoctoral scientists which translates into fewer bodies to do the research necessary to win grants and publish peer-reviewed papers. However, it is important to note that the increasingly competitive and challenging job market for life scientists has already taken a toll on US preparedness in science and engineering. To that end, fewer American undergraduate students are majoring in the life sciences than ever before. In fact, the most popular undergraduate major in the US today is business. Further, over the past 20 years or so, fewer American students have entered graduate school in the life sciences. A quick perusal of the rosters of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists at almost any major US research institution will reveal that a majority are foreign born nationals! New research reveals that many US-trained foreign nationals are going back to their home countries to work and in many instances, compete with American life sciences companies.

There is no longer any question that “something” must be done to improve the career and employment prospects for American life scientists. Regardless of the solution, it will likely be painful. However, this is no longer a problem that can easily be “swept under the rug” or consciously ignored by the “powers at be.” Failure to adequately and seriously address the issue may not only have serious consequences for the current American life sciences training paradigm (don’t be surprised when academic tenure is eliminated) but also may affect the future competitiveness and economic well-being of the US.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

 

Getting a PhD Degree: The Long Slog

Posted in BioEducation

Often times, people ask me why I decided to get a PhD degree. They mostly ask because they find it difficult to fathom why a person would choose to go to school for such a long time to obtain a degree that doesn’t guarantee a job upon completion.  I have long contended that passion, not employment, is the main driver in the decision to get a PhD–but I digress.

Back in ancient times when I started graduate school, the average time it took to attain a PhD degree in my department (Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison) was about 5.5 years (this included a mandatory Masters degree). At the time, many faculty members thought that the average time to a PhD degree was too long. Consequently, they instituted an ambitious plan and mandate to reduce the time to a PhD from 5.5 to 4.0 years.  Interestingly, only one person in our class of 25 was able the complete a PhD degree in 4.0 years (he got very lucky). The time it took for the rest of us (who remained in the PhD degree program) ranged from 5.0 to 10 years. 

With this in mind, the New York Times published an article in its Education Life supplement last weekend that compared the average length of time it takes to attain a PhD in various disciplines; ranging from the life sciences to the humanities.

While it should come as no surprise that it takes longer to obtain a PhD degree in humanities as compared with other disciplines, the average length of time that it takes to get a PhD in the life sciences has ballooned to almost 7 years! 

I am certain that this increase reflects the lack of urgency to finish a PhD in the life sciences because of the growing shortages of jobs in the sector. However, I believe that keeping students in graduate school for inordinately long periods of time doesn’t do them much good with regard to long term career outcomes. This is because —as most card- carrying PhDs will tell you—the real education doesn’t truly begin until your first postdoctoral fellowship or full time job.

While graduate school may seem extremely difficult and overwhelming at times, it truly doesn’t compare with the pressures, demands and anxieties pervasive in the working world. To that end, shortening the time PhD students spend in graduate school may afford them the opportunity to begin to experience the “real world” prior to the age of 35 to 40; the current age range of most life sciences PhDs looking for the “their first real jobs.”

Alternatively, if the time it takes to obtain a life sciences PhD degree can not be shortened, then it would behoove graduate programs to begin to integrate specialized instructional programs, e.g. alternate careers, career counseling, resume writing and interviewing workshops, etc, into their  curricula to more adequately prepare students for the working world.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!

 

Online Biotechnology Training

Posted in BioEducation

In case you haven’t heard by now, biotechnology is no longer one of the best kept secrets of the pharmaceutical industry. Because small molecule blockbuster drugs are few and far between, every major pharmaceutical company in the world has announced plans to increase the percentage of protein-based drugs in their development pipeline. 

As strange as this may sound, most people working at pharmaceutical companies have little or no understanding of the science behind the biotechnology industry, its products and the skill sets required to compete in the industry. I learned this while working as a contract writer at a pharmaceutical company that was trying to transition from an emphasis on small molecules to biotechnology drugs. Shortly after management publicly announced its intention, signs began appearing in the building where I worked with messages like “Are you biotech to the core” or “Got biotech.” Not surprisingly, I found myself explaining the different between small molecules and biotechnology products to large numbers of colleagues during group lunches. Their lack of understanding about biotechnology was both surprising and troubling. I mean where have these people been for the past 35 years? 

While I thought that this phenomenon was unique to the company where I was working, it turns out —based on many conversations with employees at other companies—that it is pervasive in the pharmaceutical industry! Put simply, there are large numbers of pharmaceutical employees (and aspiring students for that matter) who know little about biotechnology and must quickly learn about an industry that they are being forced to work in so that they can keep their jobs! This presents time and logistical issues for many full time pharmaceutical employees—they simply don’t have the time or where-with-all to learn about biotechnology via traditional bricks and mortar training opportunities, e.g. undergraduate, graduate or certificate programs.

Recognizing a growing need, several academic institutions now offer online biotechnology courses and degree programs for undergraduate and graduate students. While these programs may not enable participants to work as bench scientists at life sciences companies (this requires hands-on wet laboratory training), they certainly provide students with the fundamental scientific and business underpinnings of the biotechnology industry.

Below you will find descriptions of a couple of online degree biotechnology programs and links to online undergraduate and graduate level biotechnology courses.

Online Biotechnology Degree Programs

The Johns Hopkins University – a prestigious brick-and-mortar research university – offers three online degree programs in advanced biotechnology: the M.S. in Bioinformatics, the M.S. in Bioscience Regulatory Affairs, and the M.S. in Biotechnology. (The M.S. in Biotech may involve a limited amount of on-campus instruction in Baltimore.) Students have up to five years to complete their degrees, but those who enroll for full-time study typically finish in two years.

The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) is among America’s largest providers of distance education. UMUC’s Biotechnology Studies Program has been designated a “Professional Science Master’s Degree Program” by the Council of Graduate Schools. The program’s three specialization areas include: bioinformatics, biotechnology management, and biosecurity/biodefense. A dual online degree option is also available: students can earn an MBA in addition to the Master’s in Biotechnology by completing just a few additional courses.

Online Biotechnology Courses

Purdue University’s Department of Continuing Education frequently features online courses in horticulture and related fields that can help students prepare for careers in biotechnology. New choices are offered every semester.

MiraCosta College, a community college in Southern California, offers a number of online courses in biotechnology. The school’s website includes a five-year projection of course offerings.

While the current list of online biotechnology offerings is short, expect the number of online courses and degree programs to continue to grow in the future. If you are aware of or participate in other online biotechnology courses and degree programs, please feel free contact me about them.

Hat tip and thanks to Chesca and her colleagues at OnlineDegreeReviews.org for research and writing of this post!

Until next time,

Good luck and Good learning!

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