Time Spent in Research Lab Pays Off for UMass Biology Grads, Survey Shows

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts biology students who spend time in the research lab significantly increase their chances of being happy in the work world after they graduate, according to a survey of the 1996 graduating class.

Almost half of the biology majors spend one or more semesters in a research lab during their undergraduate career at UMass, according to department chair Christopher Woodcock. The University offers many programs which enable students to obtain research experience, including several which are funded through grants by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of Chevy Chase, Md., to promote undergraduate instruction. The survey revealed that 85 percent of graduates with research experience are satisfied in their present job; but that only 46 percent of those without research experience are satisfied. Of the 120 alumni who graduated from the University with bachelor’s degrees in biology last year, 100 were contacted for the survey.

Other survey findings include: 94 percent of last year’s graduates are either employed or deliberately taking time off (88 percent and 6 percent, respectively). Of those who are employed, 73 percent are in jobs that make use of their biology education. The number of biology majors has almost tripled since 1992, from fewer than 300 students to more than 800 today.

Students with biology degrees have a wide range of career paths open to them, including biotechnology, laboratory research, the health care professions, and the teaching of science, according to Woodcock. A significant portion - 15 percent - go on to graduate school or medical school.

"One of the best predictors of success, as defined by the students’ satisfaction with their present job, is research experience," says Woodcock. "By that, we mean hands-on experience working on a research project with a faculty member, either in a laboratory or field setting. Having this type of experience is a huge advantage when trying to land jobs in research labs or biotech companies, or getting accepted into graduate school."