New Graduates Struggle in Current Biopharma Job Market

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Pictured: College grad looking toward future in science/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

As biotech and pharma companies announce layoffs and trim their research pipelines, fresh graduates who dream of a career in the industry are struggling to get a foot in the door. Getting ghosted by recruiters and receiving impersonal auto-rejection emails is just another day for many of them.

Anushka Pathrikar, who will graduate with a degree in biotechnology management from the University of California, Irvine, in a month, said she has applied to more than 100 life sciences consulting jobs since September. Most applications didn’t yield a response, and the ones that did didn’t materialize into a job. “It is really tough right now. This wasn’t the case with people who graduated from my program two years ago,” she said.

It is a similar story for 33-year-old Sudeshna Biswas, who will soon earn a doctorate in molecular biology from Wayne State University in Detroit. Since December 2023, she has applied to over a hundred research scientist roles in small and large biotech and pharma companies through LinkedIn and Indeed. Rejections keep piling up. “At this point, I have lost count,” she said.

A Fall in Investor Funding

The biotech industry, which enjoyed a period of enthusiastic investments during the pandemic, has been in a lull since last year. A record number of companies in the industry have gone bankrupt, and many others have laid off employees and abandoned research programs.

The number of job openings posted on BioSpace declined by 31% in 2023 compared to 2022, while the average rate for applications per job increased 137%.

“Right now, it is a perfect storm for a disaster for fresh graduates trying to break into the industry,” Nick Poloni of the Portland-based recruitment firm Cascadia Search Group told Biospace.

According to him, while the number of available jobs is lower now than two years ago, that is just one part of the problem. Other issues making the job search difficult for new graduates include fake job postings, AI-based screening of applications and inefficient human resources teams.

“A lot of posted jobs actually don’t exist because an overworked HR forgot to take the job posting down,” he explained. “On LinkedIn, these jobs keep getting reposted, so it may look like they’re two days old. But in reality, they may be five months old and have been reposted 100 times.”

Poloni added that it’s not just fresh graduates who are finding the job search challenging; it’s just as tough for people with five to 10 years of industry experience. These more experienced people are now willing to apply for junior-level positions, and “Companies in such cases tend to go with people with more experience,” he said.

Looking to Plan B

Dismayed by the current job market, some students are considering accepting internship offers upon graduation, Biswas and Pathrikar said.

According to Biswas, many of her classmates are in the same boat as them and are therefore actively looking beyond research roles in the biopharma industry. “One of my friends, who will graduate in a few months, is thinking of applying for postdoctoral positions in academia. Others are looking for opportunities in sales and marketing,” Biswas said.

Pathrikar said that for many international students in the U.S., the fight is not just about landing a job but also about staying in the country. Some, she added, are willing to take internships upon graduation to keep their visa active and pay the bills.

How to Stand Out from the Crowd

Nihar Parikh, an executive recruiter at Smith Hanley Associates, agreed that the current economic climate has severely affected the pharma job market. In light of this, he advises that all fresh graduates polish their networking skills. “They should attend conferences [and] industry events, and maybe take up freelance projects,” he said.

Additionally, they must work on updating their LinkedIn profiles and mention every little work experience and skill. “Sometimes recruiters look for people with very specific skills,” Parikh noted. “Even if someone has a little experience with niche laboratory techniques and programs, I highly recommend that they put it on their profiles and resumes.”

Aayushi Pratap is a New York-based health and science journalist and an alum of Columbia Journalism School. Reach her at app2151@columbia.edu.

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