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Biotech Woes

Biotech grad Mehul Maisheri writes in response to ‘Biotech boom – but where are the jobs?’published in a recent JAM issue

Whenever we tell people we are biotech graduates the immediate expression is: “WOW! cool field!” We just nod and smile quietly.

No doubt, our field is so very interesting – extracting DNA/RNA from blood, plant, animals, karyotying, gene sequencing, microarray, Nano devices, High Throughput screening etc. It all sounds better than a science fiction movie.

But the story turns sour once the issue of employment comes up.

The so-called career of the 21st century pays from a measly Rs. 8000 p.m. for a fresher to a pitiful Rs 20,000 for someone with 3 years of hard core experience. Compare this to a call center employee who nowadays makes upwards of Rs 20,000 a month soon after he starts although his job requires little academic qualification. A BTech engineer too starts at a modest Rs 15,000 a month. But his growth is fairly steep and a good engineer can expect to make Rs 30-40000 a month after 3-4 years of good performance.

One could say that there is no point in comparing apples or oranges. But spare a thought for the biotechnology professional who needs to be armed with at least a Masters degree to earn as much as a call center employee does. But even if one ignores the poor start in terms of salary the scene later only gets worse.

In our field one has to do at least a PhD or a post-doc to settle in for a career. By then he has spent the best part of his youth in classrooms and laboratories. And all he gets in return is a maximum package of some Rs 35,000 a month. After all this he/she is successful if and only if one has got his own independent research sponsored by DBT (Department of Biotechnology) or such reputed institute and has a few students under him for a PhD. Moreover to be fully dedicated to research one has to sacrifice his family life, friends and all social activities.

Lately I have been interacting with people in the field; I met a person who is a PhD Biochem from Pune University (completed her PhD nearly 20 years back) – one of the best biotech institutes in India and a B Ed degree holder too. She is now into academics as a teacher. She has to re-appear for a interview every June where her position is reconfirmed based on performance and student feedback. This is the state of employment security for a highly educated biotech graduate.

I spoke to a few more people after that trying to see if there wasy any light at the end of this tunnel. The MD of a pharma company told me that he did have a biotech deparment. But nothing ever happened there. Another biotech professional echoed this sentiment.

Employees in these companies have a single thought in their minds: “Kahaan fas gaya main!” Any other field would be more fruitful in terms of employment opportunities and pay scale. Recently scientists from IISC & JNU made scathing remarks about biotech: biotech has not progressed as much as was expected, biotech should not be introduced at bachelor’s level as it is a highly specialized field, biotech departments at colleges/universities use outdated textbooks and have poor lab facilities.

Check out Orkut job communities to see biotech grads begging for jobs. So all this talk of a biotech boom sounds more like hype than reality to me. But till the job scene takes off all I can do is go back to my books and classes. Fingers crossed.

Mehul Meisheri completed his BSc in Biotechnology from PSG Coimbatore and MSc from VIT Vellore. He has applied to over 300 companies but is yet to land a biotech job.

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