How to become a biologist? First steps

Hello Wild biologists !

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I still think about the day I decided to pursue my career in biology. By the time, I was aged 17, which in my opinion, it is a quite young age to make such a important decision in life. But there I was, I decided to be a biologist without knowing really the meaning of it: what does a biologist do? do we chase animals and plants all our lives? do we observe birds? what do people in laboratories do?... so many questions, not so many answers, unfortunately. I am sure so many of you have gone through the same questions or if you are not in College or University yet, you might be suffering this doubts just about now. It can be stressful really and that is why I decided to create this blog. I think it might help you, young (not so young maybe…) generations to solve some of your doubts. For the ones who are still in university or have already got their Ph.D, feel free to share your experiences with the readers through comments so we can all benefit from your knowledge. Each experience is very unique and so many people might disagree with me. I am more than open for debate!

Why to study General Biology in University?

Firstly, I honestly believe that you have to love this career path. If you were always

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passionate about life, nature and had a very curious character, I think biology is the career that you should pursue. After my E.S.O studies in Spain, (Equivalent to GCSE in the UK), I’ve passed Bachillerato in Natural Sciences (Equivalent to GCE in the UK). For me personally, I knew I wanted to understand nature in general, I also loved my basic (very super basic…) biochemistry lessons, how do organs work within our bodies, a bit of physiology but surely, I never wanted to work with patients. So therefore, I knew medicine was not I was dreaming about. Besides, as a child I had always that dream of being a sea adventurer and chase whales, dolphins through their migratory paths. I did love so many aspects of life and how it works. By the time my A-Levels came I had so many doubts and I was so stressed. I did not have any scientist in my life and so I have asked my teacher at that time what should I do? Should I study biochemistry? marine biology? physiology?…. She told me, why not to try General Biology in University and from there decide which career I would like to pursue in future?. From her point of view,  if I did general biology I would get a bit of deeper knowledge in each subject and I would help me to decide which thing I wanted the most and which aspect of biology I wanted to dedicate my life to.

In my case, I went for biology because I was very indecisive about which career path I really wanted. I did not want to close doors for me and in future regret studying a specific bachelor degree such as advanced molecular biology (to be honest, I did not know a lot about molecular biology at the time, but I think it is a good example). I think people who are curious and know they want to study science and have more specific questions (for example, understanding human physiology, study the molecular composition of our bodies and its regulation, cell biology, etc.), certainly they should go for a more specific degree in University. Those who are still thinking about it, General Biology would help you to know which aspects of biology you hate and which ones you are passionate about.

Finally, if you just go to university for gaining some knowledge in biology and you want to gain deeper knowledge in macroevolution, botany, zoology, ecology, biochemistry, immunology, molecular biology and a long etc. I think General Biology is the one for you.

Before entering University recommendations

I would suggest each one of you (no matter what is going to be your major) to:

  1. Sit with yourself and think deeply about what are your dreams, what sort of job do you want in future, do you see yourself as a biologist?, are you doing it because you love it or you feel obligated? It is VERY IMPORTANT to have a lot of love for this career path to succeed in it. Too many people graduate from biology each year, yet there are just few biologists unfortunately (I will go into detail in this in my future posts!)
  2.  If you say yes to biology (Hooray!) I would definitely recommend you to check which universities offer it, and which offers suit better your interests. This sounds pretty straight forward, but sometimes we think all universities offer the same modules, which is not necessarily true. Even when the modules are called the same, the program might be different. To be a biologist it is highly recommendable to have field and laboratory experience, go for the universities which have more interactive classes. The information is in the text books. You can find it any time, so try to gain the experience in field and laboratory, which is difficult to gain through reading just.
  3. If you still have doubts, feel free to contact the universities and ask as many questions as you want, it is OK to be annoying, at the end of the day, your job is what you will be doing a massive part of your life, you better make sure you gonna love it.

If you have any doubts, any suggestions on what should I improve, please feel free to contact me! share with me your experiences also, I would love to hear from you.

This is the first post, it is quite generic, I would go into further detail in my future posts! so keep posted.

Speak to you soon wild biologists!

“Although Nature needs thousands or millions of years to create a new species, man needs only a few dozen years to destroy one” – VICTOR SCHEFFER, Biologist

 

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Doctorate (PhD) choice, how should I choose my Ph.D?

Good afternoon WildBiologists!

I know, once more I have not posted in ages and I know it might sound as an excuse, but I am honestly extremely busy. Ph.D, life is no life. That might be my life motto for the following 4 years of my life.

So, my last post has been about the differences between industry and academia life from my personal point of view and personal experience. From now in advance, I will focus specially in academic life, since it is what I am doing and what I am learning about. I believe it is a topic that might have been discussed in numerous blogs (which might make it a bit repetitive), however, it is needed to have a pool of information of personal experiences, academics, scientists, students, etc. to have a clear idea of what is really going on in the scientific-academic life.

I am sure if you are going towards an academic life, you might be asking yourselves millions of questions. One of the most important questions that needs to be addressed is, how can I chose the perfect Ph.D. without compromising my lifestyle?

Most of the Ph.Ds, specially experimental ones, need a massive time investment. So you have to ask yourself before choosing, how much time do you want to dedicate to your Ph.D. Based on that you can proceed to choose:

  1. The topic of interest. Most of the topics are quite interesting. Your research will be focused on a very specific portion of information. I cannot emphasize enough how much you have to love your topic in order to create a good research thesis. You will dedicate hours and hours to it and you will have to love reading about it, try different protocols in order to gather data, analyze the raw data, plot it and discard the hypothesis that you might have believed in for really long time, which is disappointing and time consuming. If you have to waste your time, at least do it in something you love. architecture black and white challenge chance
  2. Contact different research groups through emails. Once you find your topic, go and search for laboratories that you are interested in. Contact them, ask if you can go and see  how they work, what founding possibilities they have (no one wants to be a slave in XXI century, we all need a source of income and I think we can all agree here) and focus on the working environment. If you work in a positive environment, you will have a less deadly experience. Ph.Ds are hard. We really do not need a hostile job environment, or highly stressful, since we will be stressed enough with (let’s all asume it) negative or no illegible results.
  3. The supervisor or Thesis director. This is one of the MOST IMPORTANT things about Ph.Ds. Through this learning process you will need the right guide. A supervisor who is not able to read your thesis, provide you ideas about possible experiments, show you the right methods of analyzing your data, dedicate few hours a week to you, is no supervisor. It can get very unsatisfying, saddening and it had lead quite a few people to leave their research careers.

I would like you to ask yourselves also what are you aiming when you decide to follow a research career? Some people decide to go for really prestigious research groups because they have really great CVs and aim to be some day popes in their fields. They end up in very competitive groups (e.g some supervisors make two pre-docs compite for the same project and the first who gets data, gets to publish the paper), they end up winning or feeling useless. My moral from this is: you have to try to find a balance: you do not need to be in the most competitive research group to be successful. Try to be in a group where you have enough founding to be able to do your research but also not to be stressed about being kicked out because you are not a science super star.

Feel free to ask me anything! if there is something I didn’t cover you can leave feedback in the comment section and I will get back to you.

By now, until next wildbiologists

 

 

Differences between Academia and Industry in Science

Hello Wild biologists!

It has been a while since I have posted something on my blog.

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboardI thought at some point I would just give up on writing, but here I am again (never give up). While hanging out with one of my closest friend, we had a extremely interesting discussion about industry and academia and how they are linked in science. The main questions that were arisen in our little debate (which I will answer in the following paragraphs) were:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of being in Academia or Industry?
  • Is the knowledge between the two fields transferable?
  • What can you achieve realistically in both fields?

After getting my MSc in Biomedical Sciences, I went for a job in industry while my friend, who cursed a MSc in Paleontology, went straight to Academia (predoctoral researcher or Ph.D). I think it is quite interesting to discuss this matters with her, since our perspectives and what we have learnt my differ and it helps to have a less biased point of view.

Academia, advantages and downsides

I will start analyzing the academic field. One of the biggest and most beautiful aspect of academia is that it gives you the opportunity to explore a very specific topic that you are interested in;  it is what is also known as research. As for your Ph.D the topic has to be novel, interesting and also it has to be about something that has not been studied before. Through the development of your Ph.D you would acquire innumerable qualities: communication and writing skills, a great network of scientists who would you collaborate (hopefully) with during your career development, criticism and great attention for detail.

The downside of being a researcher comes when you have to make a decent living out of it. Many Ph.Ds are not founded and therefore people interested in developing a research career find it very difficult to carry on within this path. Besides, once you qualify for a founded Ph.D the competition is fierce, so the stress levels are beyond imaginable. Indeed, many studies find that Ph.D students face difficulties on keeping up with a good mental health and suffer anxiety and depression. Once you get the founding, you get under the pressure of publishing in high quartile journals to be “eligible” to develop your scientific career in academia (access to a PostDoc, Research Fellow, Research Associate or Professor). I would love to mention one fact that many ignore, specially the ones who are not involved with this career: while developing your Ph.D, there is a high chance of being underpaid; most of the salaries are between £1000 or 1000€ per month, while the working hours, depending on the research group you are in, could go over 12h per day. This formula (overwork and underpaid), for sure, is not the cup of tea of everyone.

 

Industry, advantages and downsides

Certainly, if you want to get into industry you will be better paid and your working hours will be more regulated than as a Ph.D student. Nowadays, there are a lot of Biotech companies, who take students fresh out from university and give them the formation needed to perform their duties within the company, facilitating the task of getting a job. Some companies, would allow you to grow with them and eventually you would pass from more automatic roles (Such as preparing buffers, excel data sheets, doing the same basic experiments, etc.) to their research teams, where you will be assigned with a project related to some patent they want to develop.

As someone who have been working in industry, I have learn that this path has a lot of disadvantages. While you make more money than a Ph.D student, if you analyze your potential development if 5 years, it would not be not as much as if you get a Ph.D. You will grow slowly, and your growth would be directly related to the role you play within your company. It is true that if you stand out, you might get paid courses to keep learning, but this knowledge would be limited to the sort of job you do, which is not necessarily what everyone likes. Finally, I would like to mention, that not all fields in science are profitable and it is very hard for so many scientists to get out of their specific academic field (e.g. paleontology).

Conclusion

I would say that there are so many other points that I would like to discuss, but I think this post would be extremely long. So I focused my main ideas about this topic. For me, as a curious human being, I think a research career is more fulfilling than industry. However, I think while you are trying to get a Ph.D you have to make sure to have the right financial support. I have always thought that understanding life, how it develops, the interactions at the cellular and molecular levels, the pathophysiology diseases, etc. somehow makes me happier, which for me it is the final destiny of all mankind. And while developing my Ph.D, I will try to remember that. However, I understand, that at some point, when you have a family and you need to pay rent or a mortgage, bills, health insurance, car, car insurance and so many things that I might have forgotten, your best option is to have enough income to fulfill your basic needs.

These are my main ideas, now the election is yours.

Until the next post 🙂

The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.- NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Master degree, Would it help my career?

Hello Wild Biologists!

As a statement I would like to mention, that this article is not only directed to people in biology field but any scientific or academic field.

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A master degree is often needed to secure some job positions, get greater responsibilities or even in some countries, it might also benefit you from an increase in your salary (that happens frequently in the UK, where higher qualification means you would benefit usually from  slightly better salary). Obviously, I think, far from the theory, this is not always the case. If you want to work in industry and you have done a less specific degree (Say, general biology, general chemistry, physics, etc.) you might need a master degree to get a deeper knowledge in certain aspect of your degree; so for example, if you studied biology, you might need to study a Master degree in biotechnology or molecular biology to work in a BioTech or BioPharma company. Besides, in some countries such as Spain, it is compulsory to study a Master degree if you want to get into academia or research.

From my personal experience, I studied a Master degree in Biomedical Sciences, from a molecular point of view, because I wanted to get eventually into research. However, after my graduation, I secured a job in industry, in an antibody manufacturing company (BioTech/BioPharma) and that is what I have done for more than one year. While it was a very important experience in my career, I was still focused in my academic career. My master degree helped me to start from a higher salary than some people who did not have it and also helped me while I was applying for Ph.Ds and founding. So, if you have the will to get a deeper knowledge in some field and eventually want to get higher responsibilities, I would strongly recommend you a master degree in the field you love.

I think it also helps to build on the skills you get through your undergraduate degree. You  would notice a higher capability of managing your time, better writing and analytical skills and more self-descipline. This would be really important when you would start a job. Finally, It is clear that continuing education is important, but the value of your degree is really dependent on what you want from it.

“This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits.” – Rachel Carson, Marine Biologist.