While Biomedical engineering has been getting a lot of interest, the field of biomedical sciences remains largely esoteric and unexplored.
In this post, guest blogger Tanmoy Ray talks about the discipline (and how it differs from biomedical engineering), the kind of jobs and salaries you can get, courses & degrees needed to crack into the field and the scope of biomedical sciences in India and abroad.
In this article, we’ll focus less on the academic aspects and more on the career and job prospects in biomedical science.
Biomedical Science is the applied domain of life and natural sciences, used for diagnosis, prevention and treatment of human diseases. There are various streams of biomedical sciences including human biology, pathology, biochemistry, molecular & cell biology, genetics, pharmacology, immunology, applied or clinical chemistry, microbiology, epidemiology, and biomedical engineering.
Biomedical science is ever changing and very dynamic, hence offers exciting career opportunities in specialist laboratory work, consultant work, research, education and management while serving the human society. The findings of the biomedical scientists are instrumental in making the advancements of modern medicine. However, the subject should not be considered as a substitute for Medicine.
The difference between biodmedical engineering and biodmedical sciences boils down to the contrast between engineers and scientists in any field. In biodmedical engineering jobs, you’d be focussing on executing, building and developing. Whereas scientist would focus more on the investigative aspects.
While biomedical scientists focus more on biology, chemistry and medicine, biomedical engineers work around instrumentation and engineering. The engineers liaise with doctors, clinicians and biomedical scientists for the invention of new devices and technology for diagnosis, treatment and monitoring of diseases.
For this post, we won’t draw strict boundaries between biodmedical engineering and science.
Biomedical scientists usually work in the laboratory. They handle biological samples (blood, urine, cells and tissues) and use a wide range of laboratory equipments ranging from test tubes, beakers and pipettes to computers and hi-tech equipments.
Some of the common job roles and responsibilities of a biomedical scientist are:
After studying biomedical sciences (or engineering), one can be employed in various job roles within scientific research and development, bioinstrumentation, medical imaging, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, drug design and delivery, medical equipment manufacturing and supplies, hospital and healthcare.
It is possible for a graduate with a good degree in biomedical sciences to obtain a place on a four-year, fast-track, graduate entry course to study medicine – so you can be a Medical Doctor (M.D.) even if you couldn’t have cracked medical entrance exam after your 10+2.
In order to become a biomedical scientist a Bachelors degree is a must. The first degree could be a B.Sc. in Molecular Biology, Genetics, Pharmacology, Chemistry or Biochemistry if one wishes to get streamlined at the beginning.
It is always possible to move to other stream as all of them are inter-related. Alternatively, one could also pursue B.Sc. in Biomedical Sciences or B.Tech. in Biotechnology or Biomedical Engineering, or even Bachelor of Pharmacy (B.Pharm) in order to have an overview about the whole field.
A graduate degree can land you in various job opportunities, but a Masters degree is required for better career prospects. If you aim for senior scientist and managerial positions , you will need a PhD or MBA.
Getting a job within the biomedical sector is very competitive. In India, biotech companies and research institutes offer a starting salary of 1.2 – 2.2 Lakh p.a. for graduates, although it is possible to get a 3 lakh p.a. package as fresher. For Masters degree holders it will range between 1.8 – 3.2 Lakh p.a.
You can also work as Junior Research Fellow (JRF) or Senior Research Fellow after clearing the CSIR-NET entrance exam, and ultimately working towards your PhD. JRFs can earn around 12,000 – 18,000 per month, while SRFs can earn up to 25,000 per month.
After finishing PhD (in India that will take 4 – 6 years) you can join as a faculty member involved in both teaching and research while earning 4 – 6 Lakhs per year along with lot of benefits.
You could look for a Masters degree abroad for better exposure, training and career opportunities. Taking up Bachelors studies abroad is an excellent option, but very expensive as well.
Popular destinations for biomedical studies and research are the traditional ones like US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Canada; and the new ones like Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Austria, France, Italy Ireland, Japan, South Korea (the tuition fees in these countries are very competitive in comparison to those traditional ones).
After completing Bachelors or Masters degree in Biomedical Sciences you could land with a job offer of 24,000 to 30,000 Euro p.a. in Europe or 45,000 USD p.a. in the US. So, the starting salaries are very handsome in abroad, and you can expect a pay rise of 5-10% every year. After working as a research assistant or staff scientist you can also go for MBA (specialising in Technology Management, Strategic Management, innovation Management, Marketing, International Business or Entrepreneurship) if you want to pursue business development and consulting roles with global pharmaceutical and biotech giants.
In order to conduct independent research within academic set-up or aspiring a senior position in a company or to start your own business, a Doctoral degree (PhD) is not only handy but essential in most cases.
To enrol for a PhD program ideally you need to have a Masters Degree (you could get away with a 4-year Bachelors degree too) along with 1 – 4 years quality research experience (and one or two publications).
During your PhD you can have a monthly net earnings of around 1100 – 1800 GBP in the UK, 1400 – 2400 Euros in other European countries, and 2000 – 2600 Dollars in the US, Australia or New Zealand.
A PhD in abroad typically takes 3 – 4 years depending on the University, your PhD supervisor, your determination, hard-work & creativity, and little luck as well. After finishing PhD you can go on to the industry or working in academia as a Post-doc (Post-Doctoral Researcher or Scientist).
As a post-doc you can expect to earn 40,000 – 50,000 Euro annually. It can take 5 – 10 years to become an Assistant or Associate Professor, and making 60,000 – 80,000 Euro p.a. The industry will pay you 10-20% higher at that stage.
The drawback in the West is that you won’t get a permanent job (academia or industry) in your first 10 – 20 years irrespective of your qualifications (Bachelors or PhD). It will always be a contract based job. People start with 1 – 3 year contracts and maximum 5 year contracts. However, it is very much possible to keep your job with the same employer through a series of successive contracts if you put considerable effort and end up with some interesting lab findings. In the meantime you will have the opportunity to get settled abroad as well.
You could return to India after a 3 – 5 year stint as post-doc (or longer if you wish) and join pharmaceutical/biotech companies as group leader or senior scientist. The industry package at that stage won’t be on par with the West, but it will be exciting and along with good benefits. If you are ambitious enough to be a Vice-President or Global Research Head of a MNC, an EMBA following a PhD will make it 10 – 15 years faster.
Another option after returning to India is taking up a faculty position with Research Institutes and Universities. At that stage of your career you can take home 65,000 – 120,000 INR per month.
More importantly you will be leading a lab along with teaching and inspiring students While staying in the academia, if you discover something great (a drug, biomarker or technology), you can earn a lump sum by patenting and licensing your findings. You can also have your start-up based on your discovery.
The Indian pharmaceutical-biotech-healthcare industry worth 75,000 Crore INR, with the biotech sector alone comprising 4.3 Billion USD at the end of 2013 financial year. Indian companies are actively collaborating with foreign ones to make world-class infrastructure and atmosphere for research.
One perfect example is the partnership of Syngene (subsidiary of Biocon) with Novartis (2004), Bristol-Myers Squibb (2007), Endo Pharmaceuticals (2011), Abott (2012) and CytoSorbents (2013). Biocon and few other contract research organisations (CRO) have been quite active in recruiting foreign-return Indian biomedical scientists.
Biocon also took a nice initiative by introducing a 16-week training program in collaboration with California-based Keck Graduate Institute, with the objective of reducing skill gap and make young Indian bio-medical students industry-ready.
Even the Government is coming forward. In keeping with the vision to turn India into a research powerhouse, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared $28 billion USD spending on Universal Healthcare Scheme in India. The feature of this scheme is free check-ups for everyone, and that will create an enormous amount of job opportunities for biomedical scientists in the coming years.
The biomedical research sector is unique and rewarding. The work is flexible and very stimulating intellectually. You will be working towards the betterment of human health and saving lives, so it is very noble in itself.
Even if you don’t end up winning a Nobel Prize in your lifetime, you have to remember that your research will always have the possibility of helping someone else to take your work forward and win a Nobel 20 years later.
Read this next post on PhD Admission Tips for Biomedical / Biological / Life Sciences.
Author Bio: Tanmoy is an MSc Pharmacology graduate with 4.5 years of international research experience in biomedical sciences. He has been involved in projects on cardiovascular medicine, drug discovery, biomarker discovery, cell signalling and protein biology. Right now he is working as an academic counsellor. If you are interested in biomedical sciences, post your queries in the comments below.
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