The 'Where' Factor, Part IV

Jobs in the Southwest: Just a Sampling Editor's Note: Continuing our five-part series on geographic issues that affect job hunting for life scientists, we now turn to the penultimate installment, the Southwest and west to Hawaii. Our boundaries may not be a true geographer's boundaries, but for our purposes, this area includes Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, California, and Hawaii. In the next issue we'll discuss the Northwest, which will include Utah and Alaska. California, in particular the S

Karen Young Kreeger
Jun 25, 2000

Jobs in the Southwest: Just a Sampling

Editor's Note: Continuing our five-part series on geographic issues that affect job hunting for life scientists, we now turn to the penultimate installment, the Southwest and west to Hawaii. Our boundaries may not be a true geographer's boundaries, but for our purposes, this area includes Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, California, and Hawaii. In the next issue we'll discuss the Northwest, which will include Utah and Alaska.

California, in particular the San Francisco Bay area, is the figural epicenter of the life science community in this part of the country. But that's not to say that other regions of the West aren't attractive to bioscience researchers. Spots in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada offer many advantages without the high cost of living of California and Hawaii.

San Francisco is the home of biotech, points out David Jensen, managing director of Search Masters International Inc., a recruiting firm in Sedona, Ariz. "Because it's also the oldest market for biotech, the mix of companies is made up of many larger biotechs and lots and lots of small start-ups. It's an impossible place to move some people to because of the cost of living, but it's also impossible to pull people out after they've lived there for a while. It has such a pull."

But before jumping into California, here's a look at the southwestern states and Hawaii.


William Reed


Starting farthest east, William Reed, professor of internal medicine and associate dean for research at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, says that employment opportunities for Ph.D.-level life scientists seem to be increasing in his state. "At least this is true of the UNM Health Sciences Center."

The state is home to two national laboratories: Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos. "The labs are much more involved in the life sciences," says Reed. "We're holding many more joint meetings and seminars with them now, whereas we didn't in the past." In addition, the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, a private facility based in Albuquerque, employs about 40 Ph.D.-level scientists.

The state has two main research universities: UNM, with the state's medical school, and New Mexico State University, strong in agriculture, in Las Cruces to the south. In the private sector, companies are involved with more than 90 products and services, such as medical devices, diagnostics, and drug discovery. Some growing opportunities are in bioinformatics and genomics. The New Mexico Biotechnology and Biomedical Association maintains a Web site that includes, among other items, a list of its member companies.

"This is a lovely place to live, and I've lived in an awful lot of places," notes Reed. "Much science is based here with the universities and the national labs, so there is a high proportion of Ph.D.s in the area." Other factors that make New Mexico an interesting place to live, he says, are the blending of Anglo-European, Native American, and Hispanic cultures; the mild climate; and outdoor opportunities.

Robert Dorr
Next door, in Arizona, life science jobs are a different story. Even with the University of Arizona (UA) Health Sciences Center in Tucson, biotech has been slow to start in the state, notes Robert Dorr, professor of pharmacy at the Arizona Cancer Center, which is part of the university. This is probably because Arizona doesn't have the ready concentration of experts and infrastructure as other life science hotbeds. Arizona is trying to change that with a program to enhance the competitiveness of the state's economy through "industry clusters." One such grouping is the Arizona Bioindustry Cluster, whose Web site provides links to the state's bioscience companies and job opportunities.

Two life science highlights in the state are UA-Tucson, with the state's only medical school, and Arizona State University in Tempe. There are some private clinical/research facilities in Phoenix--most notably a Mayo Clinic campus and the Barrow Neurological Institute. In the private sector, Arizona hasn't been a hot spot in life science, but there are few spin-offs from UA.

Nevada has one of the smallest state populations in the country--roughly 1.8 million, which in part defines the outlook for life scientists. The major academic opportunities are associated with the state's medical school in Reno. Life sciences and agricultural sciences are major strengths of the university, notes Kenneth Hunter, vice president for research at the University of Nevada (UN), Reno. He estimates there are fewer than 60 faculty positions between the medical school and basic science departments.

"That's a problem here when you start to talk about biotech development," he says, referring to the lack of a nucleus. "There's probably a building somewhere in the Bay Area bioscience community that has the same amount of life science faculty as all of [UN-Reno]."

About 20 companies in northern Nevada would be considered biotech. Their products, says Hunter, are "all over the map," with expertise in genetically engineered products, bioengineering, and small-scale pharmaceuticals. "There are great opportunities here, but it just hasn't materialized," he says.

On the other hand, Reno and Las Vegas are two of the most rapidly growing cites in the country, and the universities have to grow with them, counters Hunter. For UN-Las Vegas, the challenge is to keep up with a growing undergraduate student population. Many people are attracted to Nevada because of the low cost of living and the outdoor recreational opportunities; he says this is the reason his school has been able to pull in talent. Almost half of the research activity on the UN-Reno, campus is in the life sciences and has been steadily growing in the last decade.



American Association of Medical Colleges' list of accredited medical schools in the United States and Canada medschls/start.htm

  Arizona Bioindustry Cluster

  Association of Independent Research Institutes

  Barrow Neurological Institute


  Biotechnology Industry Organization state affiliates

  California Healthcare Institute

Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology

  U.S. Department of Agriculture

  Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences

  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

  Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute

  Los Alamos National Laboratory

  Mayo Clinic

NASA Ames Research Center

  National Institutes of Health rankings of support by institution fiscal year 1999 @www.all.inst.fy99.dsncc

  New Mexico Biotechnology and Biomedical Association

  Preparing Future Faculty

  Salary Calculator

  Sandia National Laboratories

  Search Masters International, with links to career forums


The state government of Hawaii has an initiative to increase the job preparedness of its residents, and three of the five programs include bioscience: health care, environmental science and technology, and biotech. Mark Huntley, CEO of the Hawaii Biotechnology Council and an adviser to the Hawaiian initiative, notes that the health care sector in Hawaii provides an interesting twist. It has become somewhat of a health tourism mecca, and many Hawaiian institutions offer a blend of Eastern and Western medical philosophies. "Hawaii is one of the few places where herbalists are welcome among the M.D.s. There aren't a lot of jobs in this convergence area, but it is growing." On the other hand, he adds that as with the rest of the country, there is a shortage of people with expertise in information technology as it pertains to health care.

In biotech, the two areas of concentration rely on the islands' unique assets--water and a tropical climate. Marine biotech and tropical agriculture are the focus of most companies. In fact, Huntley's firm, Aquasearch, produces microalgae for use in nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals. Although marine biotech is a small industry in Hawaii, with fewer than 1,000 employees, it is growing steadily. Tropical agriculture is moving away from the traditional crops of sugar cane and pineapple and toward more specialized crops including disease-resistant strains of papaya. The state has also committed to attracting biotech with favorable tax legislation for investors and employees. For instance, stock options for employees are nontaxable. And as far as environmental technology is concerned, the background most needed is in regulatory affairs.

The University of Hawaii is the main academic institution, with strengths in marine science: It has consistently placed in the top five for extramural funding in this subject for the last several years. The state's medical school is in Honolulu and is associated with the university.


California--Bay Area

California reads like a list of life science superlatives: most medical schools in the country, with nine; largest concentration of biotech companies in the world; five research institutes in the top 20 for National Institutes of Health funding, with the University of California (UC), San Francisco, at number four and UC-Los Angeles at number 10; and the most member facilities in the Association of Independent Research Institutes. (See Resources for individual listings.)

David Gollaher
"The biggest and oldest cluster of biotech firms is in the Bay Area," notes David Gollaher, president and CEO of the California Healthcare Institute, based in La Jolla. "It has a lead time of five to 10 years from other areas in California. For example, Genentech is more than 20 years old." He also lists three subclusters within that area: Silicon Valley; the peninsula to South San Francisco; and East Bay, which includes Berkeley to Emeryville.

The overwhelming concerns for expanding the already great life science job opportunities in the Bay Area are lack of new real estate, congestion, long commutes, and the high cost of housing. According to an April 24, 2000 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, California has the claim to the real-estate-sticker-shock superlative: It has three out of the top six most expensive areas in the country, as measured by median home prices: San Francisco is first ($369,700), followed by Honolulu ($285,000), Orange County, Calif. ($284,900), San Diego ($236,000), Boston ($235,000), and Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon area, N.J. ($221,2000).

"Logistics has become a big part of the discussion in job hunting," says Gollaher. But one of the draws, he adds, especially for two-career families, is the rich and diverse job market. "There are lots of jobs in life sciences as well as other high-tech areas such as computing."

There's also a richness in the types of institutions that employ life scientists, notes Sue Markland Day, president of the Bay Area BioScience Center, a nonprofit organization serving the biotech community in the San Francisco region. There are four large research universities in the area: UC-San Francisco, UC-Berkeley, UC-Davis, and Stanford University. UC-Santa Cruz is also a short distance away, with life science niches such as marine sciences. Six California State University campuses are also in the region. "Most every town also has a community college, and many of these have elaborate training programs for the biotech industry," adds Day.

UC-San Francisco is unique in the UC system, points out Michael Alvarez, former director of the school's office of career services and scientific recruitment and now an independent career and recruitment consultant. It has no undergraduate programs and operates four schools devoted to life science graduate degrees in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and dentistry, and a fifth entity to administer Ph.D. and postdoctoral programs. Last fall UC-San Francisco broke ground on an expansion project in the Mission Bay area of the city. The city donated 300 acres to the university to develop a campus for more life science buildings as well as space for spin-off companies and affordable housing for faculty and students.

Two federal labs in the area also have life science programs: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, strong in aging and breast cancer research, and NASA's Ames Research Center, which is developing part of its campus to accommodate start-ups, including bioscience companies. There are also 12 private, nonprofit research centers in the area.

According to Day, the Bay Area is home to the largest concentration of life science companies in the world--about 500--and if medical device companies are included, the number is closer to 750. "There's an entrepreneurial culture here," explains Day. "This started with the Silicon Valley computer culture of big risk-takers, and this thinking reaches to academia and spin-offs." Southern California

Until relatively recently, lack of diversity in life science employment as compared to the Bay Area impeded San Diego's desire to attract bioscience expertise and companies to southern California. Now it boasts the state's second-largest concentration of

bioscience institutions and companies. Gollaher describes San Diego as the "most dynamic and growing" area in the state for life sciences. "As San Francisco becomes more difficult, people have shifted their line of vision to San Diego, with its relatively lower housing prices and great university clusters." Many companies and institutes have come into their own in San Diego in the last five years. It's now considered more of a high-tech city than a retirement community and Navy town.

For example, Novartis, the large European pharmaceutical company, has its genomics and agricultural research

institutes here. Irene Evans of Novartis human resources says that her company has established two new research institutes in the San Diego-La Jolla area in the last two years: the Novartis Institute of Functional Genomics and the Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute. There are about 220 employees between the two facilities, 70 percent of whom are Ph.D. researchers, according to Evans. Both institutes expect to continue to hire Ph.D.-level researchers in the next few years.

Sandra Schmid, professor of cell biology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., moved to San Diego 12 years ago at the start of the city's rise in biomedical research. Five years ago Schmid and a colleague started a San Diego-wide meeting of cell biologists, with about 70 participants. At this year's meeting, 350 showed up.

She says that because of the diverse opportunities in the life sciences, San Diego is an especially good spot for postdocs and dual-science-career families. She knows this firsthand--her husband, William Balch, is also a professor of cell biology at Scripps. "This area also offers flexibility for people at different stages of their careers," she adds. "And couples are rarely at the same stage."

San Diego is also attractive for well-established researchers because of the rich opportunity for collaboration with researchers at universities, private research institutes such as Scripps, and biotech companies. Within about one square mile, along or near North Torrey Pines Road, are Scripps, the Burnham Institute, UC-San Diego, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Novartis Institutes, and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, among many others.

Orange County, on the other hand, says Gollaher, looks like San Diego, but with a different industrial and intellectual base. San Diego is most concentrated on molecular biology and genetics, whereas Orange County's major technology employer has been engineering, namely aerospace and other mechanical fields. Hence people have started medical device and bioengineering companies in this area.

Los Angeles County is home to the first graduate school in the country dedicated solely to applied biosciences. The primary degree offered by Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) of Applied Life Sciences1,2 will be a Master of Bioscience, which is intended to train people for technical and managerial positions in industry. The first students will start classes later this year. "We anticipate hiring two new faculty members a year for the next several years," says KGI president Henry Riggs.

Considering that California is one of the largest states, "the quality and sheer number of organizations flocking to it in the last decade to pioneer life sciences research [are without] equal," concludes Alvarez. S


Karen Young Kreeger ( is a contributing editor for The Scientist.



1. P. Gwynne, "Programs prepare scientists for business world," The Scientist, 12[7]:4, March 30, 1998.

2. A.J.S. Rayl, "Designer degrees or academic alchemy?" The Scientist, 14[7]:41, April 3, 2000.