An increasing number of biology and biochemistry majors aren’t aspiring doctors or dentists, and while those allied health fields are still a popular path for bio students, many are showing interest in graduate school or immediate employment after they complete their undergraduate education.
There’s just one problem: career guidance generally hasn’t kept pace with the changing climate among students in the sciences.
For the second year in a row, Loyola University Maryland’s biology department partnered with Loyola’s Career Center to bridge that gap with the Biology Career and Graduate Workshop and Fair. Biology faculty led by David Rivers, Ph.D., professor and chair of biology, brought representatives from more than 50 employers, government agencies, graduate and professional schools, and summer and study abroad programs to McGuire Hall for the Oct. 18 event, which was attended by more than 200 students from Loyola and seven other Baltimore-area colleges and universities.
Rivers attributed the impressive turnout of employers and other institutions, both in terms of quality and quantity, to the fair meeting the needs of students across the state of Maryland, not just Loyola.
“Many colleges have very strong pre-health programs, but they’ve been weaker at providing the guidance to get students into graduate programs and meet with employers,” said Rivers. “More needs to be done to help these students complete the loop, from starting their education to finding their life after college, and that’s what the career fair is trying to do.”
Schools that sent representatives included the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, Villanova University, Sacred Heart University, and Penn State University, among others.
One of those reps was Margaret Firth, undergraduate student coordinator for the summer field program at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory division of the University of Southern Mississippi. Firth said the program attracts numerous students from northern states and landlocked states because it offers unique field experience in the coastal sciences.
“A student may be a marine biology major, but they really don’t know what it’s like until they get the fish guts under their fingernails,” Firth said.
Firth called the event invaluable and noted one student had contacted her in advance so they could meet at the fair.
Loyola senior Melina Di Prato, ’14, an interdisciplinary major in biology and psychology from outside of northern Philadelphia, also used the career fair as an opportunity to network. She recently applied to physician assistant programs, and some of those schools had reps attending the fair.
“I want to have that face-to-face contact with them and get my name out there, let them know who I am before the interview process starts,” said Di Prato.
“You’d have to be very proactive to find information about this many programs and companies,” said Tom Scouras, ’14, an interdisciplinary biology and chemistry major from Garden City, N.Y. “Here, it’s all in one place.”
Scouris is open to working for a company in a gap year before he pursues a master’s in immunology or chemistry. At the fair he gathered information from schools and a mix of firms.
The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard sent representatives to the fair, joined by a handful of private companies and educational testing services like Kaplan and the Princeton Review. Company reps said students in the sciences possess the analytical and critical-thinking skills that they want in their employees.
“Most STEM students are meticulous, intelligent, insightful, and with any involvement in STEM comes an awareness of the other sciences,” said Darwin Ray, emergency management director for BioStorage Lab Services, LLC, in Middle River, Md. “Often that makes STEM students stronger candidates than other students.”
Ray’s firm attended the fair to connect with potential interns for spring and summer programs, and educate students about what’s important to bring to the table aside from just a biology degree. The BioStorage Lab Services table was crowded throughout the duration of the event. It was the same case for the other organizations.
Rivers said that was the goal, but there’s still room to grow.
“We’re just trying to make that connection to get things started,” said Rivers.
Rivers anticipates additional sponsorships next year that could boost student and represented organization attendance. The Maryland Biotechnology Center has already expressed interest.