Opinions differ widely as to whether a bachelor’s degree is enough for a career in the business world. While business representatives tend to point out that bachelor’s graduates are most welcome in their company, many students are of the opinion that a master’s or doctorate degree is required. Julia Bottlang has a B.Sc. and was offered a job by Konstanz-based GATC Biotech after doing an internship there following her bachelor’s studies. Despite her success, she believes that bachelor’s courses have some room for improvement.
Julia Bottlang has been working at GATC Biotech AG, which specializes in sequencing services and the development of bioinformatics software, since 2010. She works in the company’s custom sequencing department where she analyzes sequencing data and responds to client requests. In her current position, Julia Bottlang benefits from the experience she had within the company immediately after finishing her B.Sc. At the time, GATC Biotech AG was establishing a new sequencing laboratory in London and Julia Bottlang was taken on as laboratory manager in the company’s production department. “When I moved from the production to the technical support department, I was able to see the processes from a completely different perspective,” Julia said adding, “I used to produce data but now my job involves data analysis.” She is about to discover what it is like to work in another part of the company when she moves on to the company’s sequencing technologies department.
Julia managed to land herself a job in the company after doing a practical internship in the company. The bio- and process technology bachelor’s course at Furtwangen University of Applied Sciences requires all students to do an internship. Julia contacted five companies, mostly in her home region, and eventually got a positive response from GATC. “I found it rather difficult to sell myself at a stage when I did not really know what I had to offer,” Julia said. The offer to do an internship at GATC Biotech laid the foundation stone for her subsequent professional career. Following her practical training, GATC Biotech offered her a permanent position, which meant she didn’t have to go through the job hunting process.
Julia Bottlang is not the only GATC employee with a bachelor’s degree – many of her colleagues, especially those who work in the company’s international sales force, also have a bachelor’s degree.
Julia believes that it is not only the degree that counts, but also the impression that graduates make. However, she also pointed out that she would have preferred a diploma degree over a bachelor’s as she did not benefit from the oft-touted advantages of a bachelor’s course. When she started her studies at the Furtwangen University of Applied Sciences in 2006, the university had only just switched from the diploma to the bachelor’s system. Apart from the fact that the courses were run on a modular basis, Julia Bottlang could not see any major conceptual and content-related changes from the previous diploma courses.
“The change seemed relatively easy; the professors kept the same documents and concept and one of the practical semesters was struck off the curriculum. That was it,” said Julia, observing that whilst requirements remained the same as before, the new bachelor’s degree is generally regarded as being worth much less than a diploma degree. When she was looking for a job, Julia came across many job offers requiring bachelor’s graduates or technical assistants. “The fact that a bachelor’s degree is put on the same level as vocational training qualifications is disappointing in some ways,” she said.
Julia Bottlang cannot say whether a bachelor’s course better prepares students for a professional career or that studying abroad for a semester has become easier than it was under the diploma system. Although bachelor’s courses still have a compulsory practical semester, diploma students had two semesters to gain practical experience if they chose to. In addition, students find it difficult to get recognition for courses done at universities outside Germany. “Many of my fellow students who spent one semester abroad had to study an extra semester in Germany,” said Julia commenting on the fact that the introduction of the bachelor’s system was actually supposed to facilitate student mobility. “However, the new bachelor's system also has some plus points. For example, as the system is universally recognized, it becomes easier for German students to continue their studies abroard after the bachelor's programme,” Julia commented.
Despite this criticism, Julia nevertheless believes that the bachelor’s courses have prepared her well for working in companies. She learned the theoretical basis of laboratory work during her studies and gained practical insights into important processes thanks to many practical courses she undertook. However, it was unknown territory for her when GATC took her on as a laboratory manager, a job that also required her to supervise and head up a team. “Although I had attended lectures in career and business management, things are quite different in practice,” said Julia, although she is not sure how academic courses could prepare students better for professional life. In any case, she believes it is important for universities to offer a broad range of different courses. “This maintains student interest and also gives us a good level of self-confidence,” Julia concluded.