Originally Posted by spongebob14
Daughter is a Junior in High School. She would like to have a career in lab research on immunizations, medicines, diseases, etc. What is the best area for her undergrad, basic Biology degree, Biotech, Microbiology, Pharmacy, or other? Will she need a Masters to do this type work?
While she's kind of young to be making such decisions, there are some general suggestions I can make. For the record, I have a PhD in immunology, a bachelors in cellular and molecular biology, and am currently employed as a researcher in an academic facility.
It sounds like your daughter is interested in pursuing clinical research - as in research that directly seeks to generate cures/treatments for diseases. The career path for this can be markedly different from the one I took and Dan described (which is a basic sciences career) - or it can be very similar. I realize at your daughters age she probably doesn't have a firm plan in place, but I hope I can shed a little light.
There is, in essence, two routes into clinical research. The first is to become a medical doctor, and then develop your own research program after that. Many universities now have joint MD/PhD program intended to train people for this kind of clinical work, although some people will do a straight MD and follow that up with a "mini-PhD" during their residency instead. If this is your daughters intended route a degree in biology is ideal, but I would avoid over-specialization. A detailed knowledge of biochemistry, cell biology, microbiology, etc would not be as useful (at least in terms of getting into medical school) as a general knowledge of all these areas (plus physiology, anatomy, etc). Most uni's offer a general biology degree, without specialization, which are good for this route. Some uni's offer pre-med degrees, which are ideal.
The second route is the one I've taken - that is, a basic sciences route. In this case your daughter will need to specialize in one area of biology. There is no real "right answer" here - microbiology, molecular biology, genetics, epidemiology, biochemistry, etc, all have many job opportunities and interesting research subjects. What is more important is for her to specialize in an area she finds interesting - science can be a hard career path (particularity for women) and if you don't love what you do, you're not going to succeed. Probably the most important think she can do during her bachelors (this is true as well, if she intends on following the MD route) is get lab experience - either through volunteering in a research lab, or through doing a formal undergraduate research project (a "class" offered by many universities). This will make her a more attractive candidate when applying for grad (or med) school, and will let her experience the lab environment before committing to anything major.
One thing I would bring up, as it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, is your daughter should take a course or two on effective communications while in undergrad. Regardless of which career route she takes (including non-science careers), the ability to communicate clearly and effectively is probably the most important skill she can learn. I've know people who were fantastic scientists (far better than I), but whose careers failed simply because they could not communicate their findings with others.
As for how much of an education she needs, the answer is "it depends on what she wants to do". If she wants to run her own research lab/program (either in a university, government lab, or company) she will need a PhD. If she wants to work in more of a lab technician/data analysis role a masters is sufficient. Unfortunately, a bachelors degree offers few possibilities these days.
Another route you may not have considered, but one which is rewarding financially, is management in phama/biotech. Generally, these companies are looking for someone with a masters or PhD PLUS an MBA. I have a friend who went this route, and currently works for Eli Lilly, in a role which he greatly enjoys.
There are many other career paths, other than lab researcher, open to people with masters and PhDs in biological disciplines. Some other choices are:
1) High school science teacher. This is one of the few jobs where a bachelors (plus teachers certificate) is sufficient.
2) University/college lecturer (teacher). Generally requires an MD or PhD.
3) Clinical trial specialist. There are many jobs involved in running clinical trials - everything from trial design, to patient monitoring, to statistical analysis. These employ a large number of people, with a broad range of expertise. Degree requirements are generally MD, masters or PhD.
4) Medical sciences liaisons. These people work for companies and universities. Their job is usually to manage interactions between scientists and non-scientists. This can be anything from helping departments in a company work together, through to public relations type work. Usually requires a masters or PhD, plus good communication skills.
5) Investment specialist. Basically, you work for investment firms, generally investigating biotech and pharma firms as potential investments. Generally requires as masters, and some business background is a bonus.
6) There are a lot of other options, I just cannot think of them right now.
I've already said this once, but its worth repeating. The most important part of pursuing a career in science is to find an area of science you enjoy and find interesting. A deep interest and love of what you do will, in the long run, serve you far better than any particular combination of degrees (although you'll need those degrees to land a job).
Lastly, most universities offer career/degree counseling; it may be worth contacting your local university to see if they can give your daughter some guidance. Also, some universities and companies have summer programs where high school students get to work in labs. Check with your local options to see if they have such programs - most are restricted to kids in grades 11 and 12, but those programs are worth pursuing once she gets to those grades.