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Better job prospects for PhD in Biology, Biochem, or Chemistry?


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Hi all,

I'm a 3rd-year undergrad still in the process of sorting out what types of programs I'd want to apply for in grad school. I started out undergrad as a molecular bio major but switched to a biochem major as I found I liked chemistry more and more. At this point, I'm pretty much leaning on the chem side of the biology-chemistry spectrum. However, I don't mind biology either, and if biology is the more practical choice in terms of landing a job, I would do biology/biochemistry. I also worry that my background is too heavy on biology for me to apply to straight chemistry PhD programs. (I would be applying for organic chemistry.)

So I'm curious, which field has better job prospects in general? Is there no appreciable difference? Is one disproportionately easier to have a career in for a specific field, e.g. academia, industry, government, education? I was under the impression that there is a large surplus of molecular bio majors, and thus more competition for those kinds of jobs. In industry, do bio and chem majors generally get funneled into the same kinds of jobs? I was also under the impression that (synthetic) organic chemists are more needed in the pharmaceutical industry, that lab tech jobs were more plentiful for mol. bio-type majors, and that biotech-type companies strongly favored engineers over pure science majors. Of course, I know very little about the job market or future career possibilities for these fields, so feel free to correct any misconceptions I have. Thanks in advance.

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From the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, I found some fun (or not so fun, depending) facts.


Jobs for chemists are expected to grow by 2% by 2018, which is classified as "slower than average" growth.

Biochemist and biophysicist positions are expected to grow by 37% by 2018, which is classified as "much faster than average" growth.

note that the site lumps together all education levels for each group for the industry growth figures. Also, they do not differentiate between organic and inorganic chemists. Much more detailed stats are available at the website. I hope this helps? Should we trust 'the man?'

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Job prospects are pretty bad in any of the life/physical sciences. On the bright side, at least bio/chem/biochem-whatever has industry opportunities for Ph.D. holders. Sounds like you're into industry, not academia, so you'll have more leeway, probably, if you end up going to a school with industry connections. Just a word of caution, though: big pharma jobs aren't very stable nowadays; Pfizer laid off ~10,000 employees last(?) year--that's more people than Amgen even employs!

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Thanks for the responses. That website does throw out some interesting figures. On the whole, though, it seems chemist jobs (granted, all branches of chem lumped together) would still be much more plentiful than biochemist jobs in 2018 in terms of absolute numbers, though I also wonder how good their predictive power is. I was sort of impressed that the website name-dropped biofuels and combi. chem as developing areas of research, though I guess I shouldn't have been since the government decides where to allocate funds, after all. Don't know right now what it is I want to do in the future - I've never had an industry internship, so I'll probably figure all that out in grad school. Thanks again for the responses, hopefully the outlook won't be so bleak in 2018.

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