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Is my degree a scam? : the bioscience job market needs a change!

The “value” of the degree has changed over the years as the ways to make money increase, and career paths become less linear. In a society where impact or success is measured by monetary value, the changing world makes it even harder for life science graduates whose pathways have never been linear to to feel a real sense of value.

The formation of the STEM industry has created a false sense of job security that isn’t translated across all disciplines. In a recent report by the Nuffield Foundation, of STEM graduates only 46% of were employed in highly skilled STEM positions. Even without the report ,this statistic is validated by the online postings of recent graduates who can’t find careers where they can use their degree skills post graduation.

As a biological science (BS) graduate this outcome is even worse with the report stating only 32% of BS graduates were working in STEM roles. Having graduated and creating a blog to tackle issues dealing with careers and pathways of life science graduates, I want to discuss the potential reasons in this post :

  1. The miscommunication between graduates, universities and employers

  2. The awareness of potential career paths

  3. The immediate skills gap and the number of places available

  4. Navigating the ever changing world

The miscommunication between graduates, universities and employers

University is a bubble where the support you get is highly dependent on the expertise of your careers service team. While many do a great job at showing the main options available to students, such as : internships, year in industry and graduate schemes. When the student pathway goes off this road, it can become difficult for students to know what to do next. Universities project a false sense of job security and calm onto students leaving them feeling lost post graduation when this doesn’t happen.

Having faced the job market, entry level positions ask for a range of things that aren’t easily identifiable from your degree. Not having metric based work is sometimes not valued by employers that want someone essentially “ready to go”with little training. As the number of university degrees increases, what is taught at different institutions can vary greatly and the recruitment process then becomes highly flawed. The famous phrase “ they only take two minutes to look at your CV” will continue to cause chaos and widen that gap of potentially great graduates into roles.

As shown by the career profiles there are many routes for life science grads but staying the course or even gaining training of relevant skills seems to happen by chance rather than by design.

The awareness of potential career paths

TCIM was created almost 5 years ago due to my personal lack of understanding of potential life science careers and options. This is still a problem and even though there seem to be more opportunities available to learn about different pathways, could there be an information overload where students aren't getting balanced opinions to make decisions?

As someone that has had multiple interests, finding relevant jobs has been difficult as even searching for one role can lead to job postings that seem so far out of reach. In the simple sense just knowing the appropriate job title to search for can be a game changer for many students.

Did you know: A “technician” can be : A research technician, science technician, research associate and scientific officer . For each of these technician roles the job descriptions and responsibilities may slightly differ but where one description at one job posting may be too much for a recent graduate the same title at another institution can be a perfect fit.

Universities further that false sense of security with surveys that all graduates gain “employment” after graduation - even though when you look at the data and having interviewed many people for TCIM the steps to finding the “right role” post graduation can take as long as the degree !

"Keep on learning and at first it may seem like it doesn’t lead anywhere but after a few years there will be a massive difference propelling you to further success. It took me about 3 years after leaving university before I realised what career path was best for me. This was mainly due to being a Lab Scientist during those early years and still learning new techniques, but once I figured that out, I was then able to explore how to build on the foundations laid and accelerate my career. "

The immediate skills gap and the number of places

In the job market, there seems to be a form of miscommunication between the graduates and employers and a skills gap that isn't being filled by the content being taught.

Universities promote transferable skills but identifying employers that understand the value of them is quite difficult. The infantilization of graduates that seem to “know nothing” even having completed degree based training is also a major problem. Employers and universities aren’t communicating enough to address that skills gap. In pathways where there are skill logs such as biomedical sciences, the number of trainee positions available are far below the number of graduates that need them !

In a recent policy lates event by the Royal Society of Biology (RSB) : bioskills of the future were discussed,and the current skills gap needed to maintain and grow the bioscience industry in the UK.

The event highlighted the change in workforce demands which is also supported by the Future skills for life science report. The types of skills and needs are changing, we are categorising less and working together more as an industry to have the desired impact. Entrepreneurship through the growth and creation of biotech companies alongside data skills to deal with the large amount of data being processed were fields mentioned.

The field of data science, entrepreneurship and bioinformatics is massive. Even with a focus on these new skills the older skills need to be maintained in order to keep robust science and discovery. While computational skills are here to stay, the identification of markers of disease and analysing big data all comes from the generation of quality data that only happens as a direct result of a highly trained and skilled workforce.

Some of the event went on to further talk about how we categorise skills and people at an early age not allowing for individual growth based on genuine interest but rather based on university requirements. TCIM profiles have been able to show through the range of A levels done that you don’t have to fully box yourself into the “STEM” world to be successful in the life science field.

Being skilled in multiple things and industry opening up to people switching careers and allowing that crossover to bring in new perspectives is currently working really well to lead new discoveries and can only grow in the future.

Navigating the changing world

“the Cinderella moment where all fields merge and then truly begin to create magic”. - Professor Neri Oxman, Netflix Abstract art of design S2

Where lines become more blurred and fields continue to overlap and exchange technology, the science industry becomes more creative.

The outcomes of graduates are only partially dependent on the degree and skills acquired but more dependent on a stable job market and economy. In an ideal world, everyone will have a job that is both fulfilling and financially rewarding to them. In the UK , it couldn’t be clearer with the wave of strikes on pay and workers conditions across industries that things aren’t based on what seems fair but instead a grander scale of things out of the control of a new graduate.


To finally answer the question of: is a bioscience degree a scam? : In simple words no, as the degree provides a foundation of knowledge which is what it should. Expanding on that, the job sector needs to change as the current retention rates are not acceptable. Universities need to play a bigger part in ensuring graduates are being taught and provided with experiences valued by employers. With such a vast range of outcomes, I couldn’t tell you what a neuroscientist needs to be successful or an epidemiologist,imaging scientist, AI specialist or more. The opportunities are endless and your degree is what you make of it !

Subscribe to the TCIM newsletter for monthly summaries on life science careers and more here.



Read the Nuffield Foundation's Report (2018) on career trajectories for STEM graduates

Read our Future Skills for the Life Sciences conference report (2019)

RSB Policy lates event page and youtube


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