WHAT CAN I DO WITH A BSc DEGREE?
This frequently asked question has no simple answer and is on many people's mind. This article offers a brief run-down on what is expected from a BSc graduate and potential avenues that one could explore. This article is written with Biomedical Science, Physiology, and Pharmacology graduates in mind and is based on current trends as of the time of publishing; so take it with a huge grain of salt - I'm not including references for good reason - in reality, things change all the time! One should view this article as a guide for places to begin looking and researching.
It may be worth noting that when you graduate from Undergrad, your certificate will only read "Bachelor of Science" (accurate as of the time of writing for the University of Auckland). It will not state what major you completed so you are literally indistinguishable from the next BSc graduate apart from name (honours and merits withholding) even if they graduated from a completely different discipline such as Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, etc. Taking a reductionist approach, although there is differentiation between the different majors offered within the BSc degree, it is perhaps fair to say that the underlying skills acquired within a Science degree are the same. Then taking an even further reductionist approach, all undergraduate degrees all have the common letter "B" so whether one graduates with a: BSc, BCom, LLB, BPharm, BOptom, MBChB, etc., it is perhaps (although a stretch), fair to even daresay that all Bachelor degrees are more or less the same with just different specialist knowledge areas. This really shouldn't be surprising given that all Bachelor degrees have the same "Graduate Profile" detailed in this link. My point here is that given broad equivalence of all the Bachelor degrees, it is quite easily perceivable that one can enter virtually any job given the right circumstances. Now this answer is obviously completely unsatisfying to the casual reader so by instituting framework and rigid structures first, I will oversimplify the "job market" into 3 different categories: Academia, Clinical, and Industry. In reality, these are 3 non-mutually exclusive tags that can lose their meaning particularly in their overlapping areas.
This is the primary route that a BSc (Biomedical Science) at a University institution prepares you for. The classical academic would be expected to follow a typical pathway outlined in Figure 1 below.
One could take the slightly elongated route via Postgraduate Diploma and Masters to reach the almighty PhD or
Take the accelerated pathway where a 1 year successful First Class Honours can allow a fast tracked route to the PhD.
The PGDip degree is a 1-year intensive degree filled with typically 8 courses where one is expected to read journal article upon journal article and absorb large amounts of information.
The Masters is a 1-year intensive degree dedicated entirely for a research project.
The Honours is a hybridised fast-tracked combination of a PGDip and Masters where one is expected to do a few courses (up to five, depending on the degree requirements) and a research project as well.
Meanwhile, the PhD is a 3-4 year degree (average of 3.8 years at the FMHS, UoA) where one dedicates their entire time to a larger research project. All research projects need to be supervised by an academic staff at the University and require you to write a thesis or dissertation as a summary of the skills, experiments, and research that you compiled and completed in the duration of your study.
Some research projects at Masters and Honours level can be funded (i.e. you receive a stipend whilst studying), but the majority are not. However, it is reasonable to expect funding for most PhD students at a sizeable tax-free rate of $27,000 per annum which is adequate to survive on whilst studying.
Following the PhD, one could expect to obtain a postdoctoral research fellow position at a tertiary institution (i.e. University) with a New Zealand median salary of $70,000 per annum. However, these positions are often short-term (i.e. 2 to 3 year contracts) which require constant renewal and grant applications to maintain.
Depending on one’s availability, one should also expect to move to other countries and Universities due to funding constraints. (Hint: NZ only has ~7/8 University institutions. For comparison, Australia has ~43, and the USA has ~2,600 <-- that is not a typo).
Following years of postdoctoral training, one might be lucky enough to start their own research laboratory and obtain “tenure” – a term used to broadly describe a permanent staff member of the University. The job security here is much higher and the median wage is approximately $80,000 per annum. There is a progressive pay increase associated with promotion through from Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor, and then to Professor (these job titles differ between different countries). These roles are largely expected to be balanced amongst three responsibilities: research output, teaching commitments, and administrative responsibilities. This is ultimately the end goal of the academic route where one is expected to continue working at a University: pioneering cutting edge research for the benefit of society, ensuring efficient management of the University, and inspiring generations to come in the tertiary education sector.
Figure 1 – the typical oversimplified academic pathway relevant to New Zealand. Numbers denote the typical number of equivalent full time study (EFTS) years required to complete the corresponding degree. Dollar values are based on NZD in 2018.
A clinical profession typically entails interactions with patients. Besides the traditionalist view of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and optometrists, hospitals are now using equipment more complicated than ever and the expanding arsenal of tools at the doctor’s disposal also requires a vast variety of experts to manage the growing complexity within a clinical setting. This section details but a few currently employable positions easy to enrol into following a Bachelors. Many require a couple years of postgraduate study, whereas some can be entered through a training programme directly at a District Health Board and they might be nice and fund your part time study at the relevant institution.
Surgical procedures require an anaesthetic team to monitor and sustain anaesthesia during the course of the procedure. With the global incidence of surgical procedures set to rise, the demand for anaesthetic teams are set to increase.
Anaesthetic technicians play a crucial role in ensuring all the equipment required for anaesthesia are maintained orderly and functioning. Despite the widespread use of anaesthesia, its mechanism is not well understood. The peri-operative incidence of anaesthetic complications such as nausea, vomiting, and awareness remain high such that equipment for measuring anaesthesia need to be used (e.g. Total intravenous anaesthesia and Bispectral Index (BIS) monitor).
Anaesthetic technicians continue to play an important role in the anaesthetic team and with increasingly complex equipment bound to enter the market, this role does not appear to be in an over-abundance any time soon. By completing a one year full-time diploma at the Auckland University of Technology alongside interning at a District Health Board, the job can be easily entered.
In New Zealand, there are eight branches of clinical physiologists according to the Clinical Physiology Registration Board (CPRB): cardiac, echocardiography, respiratory, cardiac sonography, renal dialysis, sleep, clinical exercise, and neurophysiology. Clinical Physiologists typically augment the medical team’s ability to diagnose patients and prepare the best possible treatment plan through specialist equipment unique to each specialty. Most of these specialisations typically require a one year diploma from a registered institution. For example, a Post Graduate Diploma in Medical Technology from the University of Otago is a prerequisite for registration as a Cardiac Physiologist. Sleep physiology requires a Post Graduate Diploma also from University of Otago Wellington and Renal Physiology specialists require a Graduate Diploma in Health Science and Technology from the Manukau Institute of Technology. These details are readily available from the Clinical Physiologists Registration Board (www.cprb.org.nz).
The importance of aural competence underlies huge downstream ramifications of more serious complications such as mental state and cognitive decline both of which are reversible with preventative measures such as hearing aids in elderly patients. With increased exposure to environmental noise pollution, more people are at risk of developing hearing loss and the burden of hearing loss is projected to continue to grow despite hearing loss already globally ranked 4th in 2015 for Years Lived with Disability. The 2 year Masters of Audiology programme is highly rated at the University of Auckland with 100% employment rate after graduation thus far. Whether working locally at a District Health Board or going abroad, the skillsets acquired are extremely sought after. However, competition is fierce with only 16 applicants accepted each year.
Medical Imaging Technologist
With complex technologies like X-Ray Computed Tomography, ultrasound, and MRI machines being more extensively utilised for advanced diagnosis procedures, technicians are in higher demand than ever to operate said machines. Entering this job requires a 1-year Post Graduate Diploma in Health Sciences from the University of Auckland specialising in one of the technologies. Typical work environments include hospital settings and working closely with the medical team to assure proper machine usage and reliable diagnosis.
Medical Laboratory Technician
In a similar vein to Imaging Technologists, many medical tests require laboratory technicians to run chemical, haematological, microscopic tests on bodily fluids. This service is fundamental to the healthcare system. Entering this job requires wet lab experience or a 1 year graduate diploma from Auckland University of Technology.
The impact of dietary lifestyle is a hugely important factor in health particularly in the modern age. Dietitians work in both the private and public sector being employed to educate and advise on dietary matters ranging from client patients to catering services. Currently, a 2-year Masters of Health Sciences in Nutrition and Dietetics is available at the University of Auckland.
With the explosion of knowledge about the genetic code and its implications for health, the field of personalised medicine is bound to expand in the near future. Genetic Counsellors are specialists in such a field where they advise patients on their personalised predisposition to certain diseases or illnesses based on the patient’s genetics. Currently, training to become a Genetic Counsellor requires a Masters degree offered in Australia at the University of Melbourne and the University of Sydney.
Health Services Management
Not particularly a clinical job, but vital for laying the foundation of all clinical jobs, health service managers ensure clinics, hospitals, and the entire region within a District Health Board maintains daily functional capacity. Currently, the Masters of Health Leadership is offered at the University of Auckland and paves the way for one to enter this important career pathway.
The term “industry” is admittedly vague but for the purposes of this article refers to the private sector where market forces dictate supply and demand. The ability to compete in “the market” through novel innovative ideas largely paves the underlying conceptual understanding in this section. Through first understanding the business life cycle detailed in Figure 2 below, we hope to impart some fundamental conceptual knowledge of how different job opportunities are created.
Figure 2 – a simplified view of the business life cycle for an organisation. Each step is numbered for reference sake and explained in text below.
1. Have An Idea
This stage is usually reserved for the most entrepreneurial of us who are bold enough to envisage an idea and to progress through each stage of this business cycle. It must be acknowledged that the success rate of Start-Ups remains low so this definitely is not for everyone.
2. Pitch the Idea to people with money
You have an idea and now wish to pitch it to venture capital organisations or angel investors, or both. These are people who have money who make some form of agreement where they effectively loan you money to kick-start your idea and in return, they obtain some financial return on their investment. Venture Capital organisations themselves may manage investment funds or manage the requests from innovative individuals – both of which require analytical minds such as BSc graduates. Furthermore, these organisations are likely to have their own connections which can help kick-start an idea into fruition by linking innovators to their required service providers.
3. Receive mentoring / consultancy aid along the way
Sometimes, things go wrong. Consultants are poised to help deal with problems and recommend changes to fix such problems. There are specialised consultancy firms which employ people to deal with this. (Think of Gordon Ramsey in his series "Kitchen Nightmares"; struggling business; Gordon comes in; changes things up; Owner is super happy).
4. Conduct Research and Development
In order to produce a product, one must have some sort of competitive advantage. In order to obtain such advantage, one typically needs to conduct research and development (R&D). Private firms are likely to employ their own scientists or research lab technicians to conduct such R&D. Alternatively, it is possible to contact research institutes or contract research organisations to aid in this regard.
5. Manufacture the product
Now that you have an actual product, one needs to find the most cost efficient way to build the product. This typically goes hand in hand with R&D. Furthermore, one must ensure all products are of a certain quality and organisations are likely to hire quality control personnel to maintain such quality. For example, a drug company might want to test each batch of drug produced to ensure the correct dosage has been made.
6. Protect Your Intellectual Property
When dealing in the private sector, patents, trademarks, and copyright issues are there to maintain your competitive advantage. There are legal firms which specialise in this and provide professional services to ensure enforcement of your intellectual property. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need a law degree to work in this sector, although a law degree would probably help.
7. Sell Your Product
Whether your client is the lay customer or large organisations such as governments, your product needs to be marketed. Organisations employ marketing representatives to present their product to potential clients to achieve these lucrative deals which drive this corporate machine along.
8. Logistics of Distributing Your Product
Organisations need to transport their product from their manufacturing location to the customer. Depending on the product itself, this may be a tricky task where temperature and temporal sensitive procedures might be required. Operation managers are likely to be in charge of this aspect and may need to compare the alternative routes available: rail, road, air, sea. Furthermore, crossing borders require special permits from the Customs branch of the government and again, depending on the product, this needs to be closely followed to ensure compliance.
9. Manage Your Company, Hire More People
From paying employees to hiring more employees; from setting up secondary offices around the country to expanding into the international market; a successful company can typically look to expand. With the addition of more employees, the creation of some form of Human Resources or Payroll departments will be needed to manage a company depending on its size. Whether you wish to work as a head-hunter at a specialist recruitment agency or as a human resources manager within a company, the role of internal management is essential.
Examples of New Zealand Organisations which are involved in this cycle are given in Table 1 below. It is important to note that each organisation is unique and cannot be simply categorised into only a single aspect. Table 1 simply profers a simplistic view to match the simplified Figure 2.
Table 1 – a list of organisations with offices in New Zealand demarcated as either “Professional Service” type organisation which specialises in helping clients or a “Product-Oriented” type organisation which produces a tangible product to sell to clients.
As one can appreciate, there are nigh infinite opportunities available. However, each opportunity is likely unique and tailored to each companies’ needs. To get into the mix, one should try to expose themselves to as many networking opportunities as possible. Furthermore, don't think that just because an organisation that does not have an opening is a "waste of networking time" - if they don't have a spot for you, they probably have a contact down the road and can "hook you up". Also, each company has its own financial year and ideal employment times; so whilst you might be looking for an employer during September towards the end of the semester, a particular organisation might have their recruiting time set for March instead.
Anyhow, a good starting point a tertiary student can easily start at is to participate in Chiasma, the premier student-led organisation connecting science and business - they have many connections to the Biotech industry. Another pathway to keep in this loop is to complete a 2-year Masters of Bioscience Enterprise programme at the University of Auckland. This is another popular pathway with bounteous options available.
Back to Reality & Conclusion
As one can see, the mere diversity of options available is immense. Whilst I have categorised this into three fields of “Academia”, “Clinical”, and “Industry”, it is important to note that reality is never so simple. In reality, these distinctions are blurred particularly because an individual can be involved in all three fields if they desired; for example: a clinician could be needed to ensure patient safety in a clinical trial of a patented drug. Academics can easily commercialise their research should they want to; clinicians can help recruit patients into academic studies; and the private sector can provide the laboratory equipment needed to actualise academic studies. The whole "system" is intertwined. For medical students, they are no exception to the above; they can enter these fields just as easily as any other graduate with the obvious distinction that they have the opportunity to practice medicine due to their associated degree.
Again, I cannot stress upon you enough - take this article with a grain of salt - a lot of this information is collated from word-of-mouth with reliable and unreliable sources so everything varies. It's just nice to know the bigger picture first hence why I write this article :) Good luck!