Science career opportunities limited to experience and connections

Nov. 3, 2014

Audrey Jensen
[email protected]

Colorado Springs was nicknamed the mini-Silicon Valley in the mid-80s due to local computer software companies. There was a strong job market for natural science graduates. But trends have shifted and students now have fewer options.

Chair and assistant professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department David Anderson said that only occasionally do companies go to professors looking for students to hire.

“Both before and after graduation we regularly write letters of recommendation to help students get jobs. Before graduation we also have opportunities for students to participate in internships with companies and other organizations locally or regionally, some of which have resulted in full-time employment,” he said.

UCCS alumna Andrea Tully received her Bachelor’s in forensic chemistry and was able to land an internship her senior year with the El Paso County Coroner’s Office. Janel Owens, assistant professor in the chemistry department, helped.

“I did research with Janel Owens who is friends with Werner Jenkins [chief forensic toxicologist at El Paso County Coroner’s Office] and I signed up for an internship class offered in the chemistry program,” Tully said. Tully was then hired on as an assistant forensics toxicologist.

“The internship helped me to get a job. I was introduced to people here and they were able to see my work ethics,” she said.

Tully said it is important for students obtaining a degree in a natural science to have research experience and get to know the faculty in their area of study.

“I know a lot of people that graduated in the chemistry area who got jobs in town,” she said. “The professors really helped a lot, they know which leads are looking to hire and have companies that ask for students.”

Jobs that do come along tend to be from internships and letters of recommendation from professors.

“While the prospects for jobs is somewhat limited in Colorado Springs, we have a somewhat greater range of opportunities for internships that will provide students with valuable experience in their pursuit of careers,” Anderson said.

Anderson listed several companies where students have interned in the past or where they are currently interning, including Pyxant Laboratories, the County Coroner’s Office, Chromatic Technologies Inc., Aspire Biotech, Neuman Systems, NexGen Pharma and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

UCCS alumna Kat Johnson, who graduated with a Bachelor’s in chemistry and a minor in physics, didn’t know where she was going to work after graduation.

“I looked for jobs locally for about a month [after returning from a two month vacation after graduation] before a friend of mine from the chemistry program told me about an entry-level opening at Pyxant Labs that had just become available,” she said.

Although Johnson did not intern anywhere, she said she knew the language of the lab well due to her degree and was hired on at Pyxant Labs as soon as her interview ended.

“Science jobs in Colorado Springs are there, but they are scarce,” Johnson said.

“There are a few contract labs like the Pyxant, as well as engineering firms that may require a few chemists, but those positions are highly competitive. Also, there are lots of job opportunities working for Colorado Springs Utilities, but beyond that, it was difficult to find science jobs in the Springs,” she continued.

Hallie Hardrick, who works in the quality assurance department at NexGen Pharma, graduated from Western State College with a Bachelor’s in chemistry and a minor in mathematics. She did not have a job lined up after graduation either.

“I had a hard time finding a job after graduating and ended up just settling for a job I didn’t really want. The job was in my field, and I need experience to help me get hired in the future,” she said.

Hardrick said her degree gave her an advantage compared to other applicants, but said, “I don’t feel like I really use my degree in my work. Knowing how to write scientifi cally and how to use Microsoft programs has been helpful, but a high school knowledge of these would allow anyone to do my job.”

“I do add extra into my work from things I learned in college but that just makes me liked more by my employer but isn’t required,” she said. Hardrick is staying at her job for the experience.

“Employers in my field like seeing a degree on a resume but seem to only really care about the experience, which can be hard to get when no one wants to hire without it,” she said.