Suzanne Judd was once a contestant for Ms. Fitness USA; now she wants to work in a science lab. Same with Roxy Faily, who used to design couture gowns and even once had Julia Roberts wear a piece of jewelry from her collection.
Neither of these students look like a stereotypical scientist — Judd favors bright red lipstick and low-cut shirts while Faily wears tunics and dresses she designs herself — and neither have any science background beyond high school chemistry classes they took more than 10 years ago. But both are pinning their hopes on jobs in the biotech industry and are using federal stimulus money to get there.
The biotech industry is one of the biggest employers in San Diego, and several local colleges are hoping to take advantage of its job opportunities. Students across the county are preparing for biotech jobs, enrolling in schooling from stimulus-funded boot camps at Cal State San Marcos and Miramar College to new genome sequencing courses at San Diego State University.
Although the technology industry has cut 3,600 jobs since 2008, a recent report from the local National University System Institute for Policy Research showed San Diego tech employees faired far better than other local workers. While some biotechs laid off hundreds of employees, the institute found that overall employment in the biotech industry increased slightly, thanks in part to 300 new startups that launched last year.
As the economy improves, the industry is expected to quickly bring more jobs to local residents.
But what that work is like is a different question. Many entry-level biotech jobs are repetitive and formulaic, and while the students training to land them are grateful for the job opportunities, they also hope their careers will climb higher. The entry-level workers, after all, are known as “lab rats.”