Biotech & Life Sciences

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Roles and Work Environment

Biotechnology and the LIfe Sciences cover a broad range of functions and industries.  Professionals who choose to work in this arena most often find themselves primarily conducting research and working in development.

Generally, those working in the biology field do one of four types of work: basic research, applied research, testing, or support. Basic research seeks knowledge for its own sake, uncovering fundamental truths and transforming the unknown into the known. Often done at universities, basic research includes all areas of biology. Applied research deals with translating basic knowledge into practical, useful products and processes for use in areas such as medicine or agriculture. (Vault Guide to Biology and Life Science Jobs).

The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry produces drugs and other products that help people and animals live healthier lives, recover from injuries, and fight illnesses. Pharma/biotech companies produce three types of products: prescription therapeutics and prophylactics (drugs that treat or cure medical conditions or diseases and vaccines that prevent diseases), diagnostics (devices and tests used to diagnose disease), and over-the-counter consumer products, such as drugs and vitamins. Some experts also place medical technology (medtech) manufacturing under the umbrella of the pharma/biotech industry. (Vault Guide to Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology)

Below is a sample of Job titles that you might find:

  • Bioinformatics Specialist
  • Clinical Research Coordinator/Associate
  • Toxicologist
  • Research Assistant
  • Laboratory Technician
  • Genetic Counselor
  • Quality Control Associate

The outlook for careers in biological sciences is excellent. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts steady growth for the biology and life science industry through 2022. (bls.gov). Below you’ll find a sample of organizations that typically hire for these kinds of roles. Use the buttons at the top of the page to search for opportunities within Handshake.


Skills and Training

Much of the specialized skills and training utilized in these industries occur after completion of a degree. However, as an undergraduate, experience conducting research in a lab can be invaluable.  Furthermore, while there are entry level roles available at the coordinator or assistant level, often times advancement is contingent upon further specialization and education via a Master’s Degree or PhD.  

The following combination of education and skills will be helpful for you as you explore opportunities in this field, but may not be necessary for every role. Be sure to familiarize yourself with requirements for specific positions.

Relevant Courses:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Computer Science (Esp. for BioInformatics)
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

Opportunities to Develop Skills and Network with Professionals

  • Charlottesville Open Bio Labs - Learn basic lab skills and entry level biotech and life science lab competencies.
  • Virginia iGEM - A small team of UVA engineers, biologist and chemists collaborating on research and projects in synthetic biology in order to compete in the  International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition
  • Virginia Bio - Based in Richmond, hosts a series of events, workshops, and networking opportunities.  Also lists internships and job opportunities in the central Virginia region.
  • CADRE - The CADRE website provides a comprehensive list of the software, services, training opportunities, storage solutions, and computational hardware available to UVA scholars. Learn useful technical skilils like R and Python
  • Cville BioHub - The CvilleBioHub was created to inform and connect the biotech and life sciences community, to provide pathways for growth and to promote the area as a center for this dynamic industry.
  • National Institutes of Health - Training programs for undergrad and grad students
  • Lynda at the UVA Libraries - Online repository of various skill building courses
  • US Food and Drug Administration Learning Portal

Industry Timeline

Depending on the type of employer and the role, the timelines can vary for jobs in this industry.  Large manufacturers tend to recruit more heavily in the Fall. Be aware of events that focus specifically on recruiting in this area such as the Engineering Science and Technology Fair in September, and Biolink in November.  Opportunities to connect do exist beyond those Fall dates, but they tend to be for more unique opportunities at smaller companies.


Find Opportunities

One of the best ways to gain experience in this industry is through research and lab work, and by engaging with professionals, and current innovations in the field. Independent study and research can also be very helpful in staying current on trends and building skills, so be sure to look at exploring potential grant and scholarship opportunities. This guide from the Chemistry department can help you get started on connecting to research opportunities on Grounds.

On-Grounds

Off-Grounds


Applying and Interviewing

Resumes and Cover Letters

Your resume will often be the first impression for a potential employer.  You want to make sure that your resume is succinct, direct, active and specific.  It's also a good idea to ensure that your resume is tailored for the position and for the industry.  For more technical positions this may mean moving your skills section up, or creating a section on your resume specifically to highlight your research experience.  Because many positions will also be looking for you to have some content mastery, highlighting relevant coursework can demonstrate your fit for a particular position.

Resume vs CV

You may be asked to submit a CV or a Curriculum Vitae in place of a resume.  What is the difference and when do you know which to use?  Typically a resume is used for positions in business and industry. It is a short (one page) summary of your skills and experiences and is tailored toward the position at hand.  In contrast, a Curriculum Vitae is typically used for applications to graduate school, and for submissions to positions in academia or research intensive positions.  The Curriculum Vitae is much more comprehensive and detailed than what we typically see in a resume, and may span many pages.  In addition to the standard sections you would find on a Resume (Name and Contact Info, Education, Experience, Skills) a CV may have the following categories:

  • Coursework
  • Teaching Experience
  • Research Experience
  • Project Management
  • Conference Presentations
  • Publications
  • Professional Association Membership
  • Programs and Workshops
  • Special Training
  • Certifications
  • Leadership Experience

If you are unsure which version to use, you can always contact someone in the organization to double check which version of your experience to send. Be aware that some organizations will use the word interchangeably, but a good rule of thumb is to use the resume for industry and the CV for academics.  Be sure to look at the resume section of our website for more tips and examples of how to write a resume.

Cover Letters

A cover letter introduces you to a potential employer. Use the position description to make explicit connections between your skills and experience to what they are looking for in a potential candidate. A cover letter could also serve as your introduction to an organization, even if they do not have a position posted. These letters of inquiry are a great way to network yourself into an interview or job. The cover letter should be concise and well-written—if a potential employer reads your cover letter and is intrigued, they will then read your resume. So your cover letter should not repeat your resume verbatim, but enhance it. Together the cover letter and resume can help land you an interview.

Interviewing

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Additional Industry Resources

Blogs and Industry Research

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Professional Associations

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More to Explore

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