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Sizing up job prospects for biology degree

Q. I am working on my associate’s degree in biology. I was going to pursue my bachelor’s, however, I am afraid that I will not find a good job because of all the rumors I’ve heard about this degree. Eventually, I want to pursue a higher degree, but wanted advice as to what to do next. Should I keep going with a bachelor’s degree, or should I major in something else, like nursing or something specific? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

A. It is probably better to rely on facts, rather than rumors, about the job prospects for a biology major.

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According to a May 2009 US Labor Department report, STEM occupations (jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) represented nearly 8 million, or 6 percent of jobs in the United States. STEM occupations were high-paying, with an average annual wage of $77,880, according to the report.

Education matters in these occupations, and you are smart to consider furthering your education beyond an associate’s. Most of these knowledge-rich fields will require a bachelor’s or even master’s degree. In some fields, a doctorate may be preferred or even required.

I believe there is a mix of factors for you to consider, including:

1. What courses do you like? What courses do you dislike?

2. What are your strengths? Are you a strong writer? Do you enjoy building spreadsheets?

3. What areas are expected to grow within the field of biology? Is there a specific area within biology that appeals to you?

4. Try to work in a few different roles through internships, summer jobs, or volunteer roles.

5. Research pay scales for different jobs.

Biology majors have landed jobs in zoos, aquariums, hospitals, labs, environmental organizations, colleges and universities, government agencies, research organizations, and museums.

Registered nurses are in demand. As we, as a country, grapple with health care, including health care reform, obesity, and longer life expectancies, nurses will continue to be in demand.

Neither path is wrong. You have to find out which one you would enjoy. Many of us spend 40 or more hours per week working at our jobs. Make sure you like most of what you do.

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.
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