What does it take to get a job in science, and what role do universities play? There has been some discussion of these issues in the blogging community lately (here, here, and my thoughts are here). Being on the inside, it doesn't seem that complicated to me, but to someone considering a career in science, choosing a college, or just starting college, it can seem very confusing. On occasion I supervise undergraduate summer students, and from their questions, it's clear students aren't so sure about what job opportunities there are in science, and what educational pathways are involved in getting those jobs. One issue that comes up repeatedly is the university's responsibility for job training. The answer is, it depends on the type of job you want. I do not think that Universities need to become more like community colleges or vocational schools. The whole point of a liberal arts education, with a major in some specialized area, is to give you enough education so that you are capable of learning the specifics of a variety of different careers - not to teach you how to do a particular job. For many careers, a good liberal arts education is more important than specialized knowledge, because you are expected to pick up that specialized knowledge later - in medical school, law school, grad school, or in on-the-job training with many corporations and government organizations. Google, Microsoft, the CIA, JP Morgan, McKinsey - those places care more about the quality of your education than about the specific job skills you learned. It's true that to start a biology career after college, you do need some basic undergrad science education. If you want to be a research scientist - one who, after choosing or being given a scientific problem to work on, can design, carry out, and interpret experiments, you need to take a core set of classes including math, chemistry, physics, and a fair amount of biology. This will largely be background knowledge that you need to know - it will not cover the details of whatever research project you work on when you start a job. To do well in your job, you need background knowledge and learning skills to pick up the details of whatever sub-field you start to work on. Your core undergraduate curriculum should include enough lab work so that you get familiar with basic techniques, but it's a safe bet that in your career, you will probably spend most of your time using techniques that you never learned in your undergraduate lab courses. There is simply no possible way that even the best university lab courses can cover all of the major techniques that are important in biology research. In college, you should get some idea of what working in a lab is all about, but when you start your real job (or graduate school), you can expect to have to learn a whole new set of techniques from scratch. What this means is that getting a good liberal arts education, including a science major that provides you with background knowledge and familiarity with lab work is more helpful in pursuing a research career than vocational training that tries to anticipate the specific skills you'll need in your first job after college. This is true whether you go to grad school, work as a technician in a research lab, or move up the career leadership ladder in a technology company. In either case, you'll need to be versatile, picking up new knowledge and technical skills as you go along. If you finish college able to do this, then your university will have succeeded in giving you the science job skills you need. Is there are role for vocational training in the biological sciences? I'm a bad person to render advice on this point, because I work at a research university, where there really is no place for lab workers who went to a vocational school. If you want to work in a forensics or clinical lab, or do a repeated set of experiments, designed by someone else, at a biotechnology company, then there are good community college programs. But the room for career advancement is probably limited - if you want to run a forensics lab, you should consider some form of graduate school. So, if you are considering a career in science, it may be helpful to view science careers as falling into two broad categories (either of which can be fun and satisfying - it just depends on what you like to do): careers in which you design and interpret your own research, and careers that involve carrying out experiments that are designed and interpreted by someone else. This division is not unlike the split in medical careers, between physicians and nurses: both careers require technical skills, both careers can be demanding, fulfilling, and satisfying, but physicians make diagnoses and prescribe treatments, while nurses implement those treatments without being responsible for the overall treatment decisions. Nurses learn many of their specific vocational skills in the first few years of college or nursing school, while physicians learn almost none of theirs until they get to medical school. This is why 4-year universities shouldn't tailor their science curriculum to be more vocational - that kind of training is too specific for the types of science careers most of their science majors are considering.