How to Succeed with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Biotechnology

Loading samples in a gel. Photo credit:  Guy Aday

My journey into biotechnology began accidentally; more of a plan B after my initial goals seemed less in line with my physical limitations following a work injury. Ultimately discovering that I enjoy the field, I turned my attention to it fully and became determined to do my best. Part of the curriculum for my AAS program was the completion of an internship with an industry partner or an individual research project. I had the privilege of being invited to participate in the 2017 Bioscience Industries Fellowship (BIFP) as my internship. Overall a positive experience, conversations with industry representatives from human resources to CEOs during the fellowship raised an important question that needed answered. That question is “does the AAS level of training in biotechnology provide a practical avenue for long term employment at a level which one can support themselves and a family?”

The short answer is yes, but with a caveat. It’s not going to be easy and one will likely face challenges. Many job postings for bio-technicians currently require an undergraduate degree in a scientific field. This can be disheartening for a job seeker, perhaps with little or no experience outside of their academic program and a newly minted AAS in Biotechnology. I experienced this myself and truly felt as maybe I had made a poor choice. My opinion at the time was that two year AAS programs that didn’t encourage their students to go straight into a transfer program were doing those students a disservice. Ultimately a student needs to be able to translate their education/training into a paycheck and a fulfilling career; it seemed as though academia was a decade behind what hiring managers were looking for. Into the gray area… the good news, there are jobs. The bad news… you will likely have to use a variety of tools and tactics to get an interview/offer and it very well may be challenging and disappointing at times.

That being said however, the previously mentioned conversations from industry professionals provided some of the tools one can use to make themselves stand out and lead to that interview/job offer. Some of this may be common sense; ultimately the ideas listed will be helpful to students/jobseekers new to biotech:

  • Apply yourself  100% - From day one in your program, put 100% of your ability into your studies. Be passionate and interested in your work. Look for opportunities to learn beyond your classroom or lab; get involved in your school’s biotech club or another organization that involves the sciences.
  • Networking – This is key. Maintain contact with students and instructors from your program. Go to events and talk to people, introduce yourself , make a connection. It’s a difficult task for some, but it’s worth stepping outside your comfort zone.
  • Flexibility – Be flexible in your job search. There are many positions in biotechnology; the smaller the organization the more flexible you need to be. Be open to jobs you may have not considered previously, even if they are not ideal.
  • Contract to hire – Many companies use contractors to fill vacancies as opposed to direct hiring. Vetting and training an associate is an expensive, time consuming process. Take that contract position through a recruitment agency; get your foot in the door and show the company you’re a worthy candidate for the direct hire opening.
  • Be creative – Job shadowing or volunteering at your school can provide valuable experience. If a work study position exists in your program, apply for it.
  • Apply Anyway – You may not be 100% qualified for a position’s ideal requirements; apply anyway if you feel you can do the job (be reasonable, but let the recruiter/HR department be the one to say “no”.)
  • Professionally Written Documents – This can be a tough pill to swallow, but consider it an investment. Have your resume/CV, cover letter and Linked In entries professionally written. Getting through modern applicant tracking software (ATS) used by companies can range from daunting to impossible for the lay person. Professionally written documents are formatted and contain language designed to be picked up by these systems; at a cost of around $300, it is money well spent.

The above list is not exhaustive, but it is a starting place. I found out first hand that the job market in the 21st century is a challenging place. There are opportunities however, and one can translate an AAS in Biotechnology into a well paying, meaningful career. 

 Another key to being successful has more to do with those graduates who’ve landed a job and are working in industry. Don’t forget where you came from, stay connected to your peers and the instructors who mentored and trained you. When there is an opening in your organization, reach out to your network; try and find a way to help those who are following in your footsteps. The community college network is a valuable resource for training the 21st century workforce, but it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. North Carolina is currently ranked number three in the country for biotechnology; there are opportunities for a fulfilling career at every level, from an AAS to a PhD.

This article was written and contributed by Guy Aday, Alamance Community College graduate, BFIP Fellow, and Biotechnology Professional

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