How to Find Hidden Lucrative Life Science Jobs in Government

How to Find Hidden Lucrative Life Science Jobs in Government

April 6, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

There is a tendency, when we talk about jobs in life sciences, to think about biotech and pharmaceutical companies, or research jobs at universities or academic institutions, such as hospitals or healthcare centers. But one broad area that sometimes gets overlooked is the government sector.

Federal Government

In a 2009 article in Science, Emma Hitt noted that the U.S. government is the largest single employer in the country with about 1.6 million full-time, permanent jobs. Although it’s probably better to think of the federal government as a few hundred smaller employers.

Examples of places for life science graduates to work include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and various divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Less obvious departments include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The NIH currently has 70 postdoctoral positions listed at its website.

A quick search of “biology” at shows jobs available for the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service (part of the Department of the Interior), Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of the Army, Indian Health Service (part of HHS). A search of “molecular” shows similar jobs, but also Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Department of the Air Force.

Other potential departments include the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, Department of Justice, Department of the Navy, and others. There are also plenty of Science, Engineering & Technology positions with the Central Intelligence Agency. And for life science jobs, don’t forget the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others.

Hitt notes that there are jobs in more than 2,000 separate job categories, and 80 percent of them are outside the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area—often scattered across the U.S. and worldwide.

State Government

Within states, there are often life science jobs in various departments of the state government, including Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Departments of Public Health, Commerce, as well as various types of National Guard and state-based military units.

A search through State of Michigan’s Job Openings shows positions for psychiatrists and psychiatric directors at various locations around the state in Health and Human Services, and several positions for physicians and analysts.

On the California State Jobs board, when you type in “scientist” up pops jobs in the State Air Resources Board, Pelican Bay State Prison, California Energy Commission, Department of Pesticide Regulation, Department of Public Health, State Water Resources Control Board, Department of Food & Agriculture, the Department of Toxic Substances Control and many others.

A “laboratory” search provides a broad range of job postings at both the federal and state level as well. A quick search on showed a Clinical Laboratory Scientist I/II (Medical Technologist) position at the San Mateo Medical Center in California (with pay from $82,659-$109,387), a Laboratory Scientist 2 in Licking County, Ohio ($20.89 per hour) to perform environmental testing, and a Laboratory Administrator job in Midland, Texas for the Water and Wastewater Laboratories ($56,332 annually).

Local Governments

There are also life science jobs at the county or city level, particularly if the city is good sized. For example, New York City is currently looking for a City Research Scientist, Bureau of the Public Health Laboratory/Microbiology, a Biosolids Program Manager, and a Technical Director for Microbiology, and Assistant Director of Distribution Laboratory for the NYC Department of Environment Protection.

Oakland County, Michigan currently has a posting for a Chemist at the Department of Water Resources Commissioner and a Histology Technician for the Medical Examiner’s office.

Pros and Cons?

Having never worked for the government, I can’t personally attest to the advantages. I have at least one friend who spent the majority of her career at the NIH and seemed quite happy with it. Pros are typically excellent benefits and competitive pay, decent work/life balance—federal holidays, for example, generous vacation and sick leave, as well as a wide variety of opportunities to either advance or make lateral moves, and numerous opportunities for professional development. Job security is generally viewed as a selling point for government work.

The cons are, of course, that it’s a bureaucracy. A big one. The hiring process is generally a bigger headache than for private companies and academic institutions, and although these are good jobs, the salaries are more likely to be capped than jobs in the private sector.

Go Government notes that “One complaint that some government employees have is that, while government work is not inherently political, it is affected by politics.”

That seems particularly true at the moment, with the Trump Administration, which has rattled a number of scientists with pronouncements of budget cuts and at least the perception that in some areas the administration was applying political activism to science, for example with climate data and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

When looking for jobs in the life sciences, to just ignore of government jobs is to ignore a huge block of potential jobs.

Mark Terry, a regular writer for BioSpace, is a full-time freelance writer, editor, novelist and ghostwriter specializing in biopharma, clinical diagnostics, medical practice management and resume writing. He has written 1000+ articles and more than 20 books, including the award-winning THE FALLEN. When not writing, he can be found practicing Sanchin-Ryu karate, riding his bicycle or reading.

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