Biotech and pharma are possible jobs paths for chemical engineers

Upon graduation, one main avenue to pursue for a job is one within industry. As a chemical engineer whose research is focused on cancer cell biology and cell mechanics, I’ve found that there at least two major branches of industry that would suit me and others doing similar work. These are biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

Biotechnology companies include Novo Nordisk, Amgen and Genentech and many others. These companies aim to meet healthcare needs by providing medication for disease treatment or novel technology for diagnostics.

industryChemical engineers have the skills to work anywhere from research and development to product quality and production by utilizing skills we have attained from both the classroom and research environment to address the needs of the company. Biotech scientist jobs not only provide exciting research opportunities, but are ranked one the best jobs in America by CNN because of their high job security, future growth, flexibility and pay.

Another sector of industrial opportunities is within the pharmaceutical industry. Major pharma companies include Johnson and Johnson, Eli Lilly, Novartis and Sanofi Aventis. These companies meet healthcare needs through the design and development of medications and drugs for a wide variety of illness and diseases. Although imbued with exciting opportunities, recent jobs cuts have threatened the job security within the pharmaceutical industry, with thousands of jobs cuts in Merck, Novartis and others. This has mostly been due to consolidation and loss of patents.

Still, the pharmaceutical and biotech industry remain among the most desirable aspects of industrial work and are great places for job opportunities for those with engineering and science training.

Ivie Aifuwa is a third year Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biomolecular engineering  in the Denis Wirtz Lab, studying the interplay between cancer and aging.

‘Best’ places to work matter of perspective

I spend a lot of time talking to INBT students about careers and companies. A question that comes up often concerns “is that a good place to work?”.

top employers logoAll employers, (companies, universities, non-profits, even government) contrary to articles in the popular press as a rule want to be “good places to work”. During the recruiting and hiring process they will all emphasize their commitment to their employees. Much of this is self-serving blather and should be taken with a grain of salt, but clearly no organization sets out be a workplace where people are dissatisfied.

In particular, employers do try to be cognizant of the needs of specialized talent such as highly trained scientists and engineers who may be critical to corporate success. None of this, of course, means that factors such as profitability, market conditions, competitive realities and goal achievement don’t matter or occasionally overwhelm other factors. It also doesn’t mean that there are no bosses or co-workers who are jerks, places where expectations are unrealistic or situations where work pressures appear too high. Science–focused companies do, for very logical reasons, recognize the importance of scientists.

There are innumerable “best places to work” surveys: in local papers, chamber of commerce type magazines, the business press and on websites. Knowledge–based industries tend to do well on these. Also, for logical reasons, there is a correlation between profitable, growing enterprises and high rankings in workplace conditions.

Science magazine conducts an annual survey of “best employers”. A link to the 2013 results for the biotech-pharma research industry is below. The top 20 read like a Who’s Who of these companies. The key ingredients appear to be innovation, treating employees with respect, social responsibility, vision and high quality of work. The survey doesn’t mention issues like salary, job security and benefits (probably because it assumes the industry is very competitive on those areas).

Here is my personal view: take it all with a grain of salt, but consider the factors mentioned. Additionally, before making a career decision, if possible get a good sense of what employees say about the company and the specific organization.

Annual Top Employers Survey