A couple of months ago, I collaborated with the Pharmaceutical Club of New York and New Jersey to assemble a panel of professionals from various biopharmaceutical companies in the New York metro area. Industry is an obvious nonacademic alternative for science PhDs yet the various positions scientists hold and how to get them is not always as clear. Our event From the PhD to Industry: Careers for Scientists in Biotech and Pharma held at the Academy on October 27, 2010, aimed to shed light on the industry job search. Below I’ve summarized some of the main points I took away from organizing and moderating the event.
1. There is a staggering array of job titles in industry so become familiar with how biotech and Pharma companies work. While “scientist” seems like a no-brainer, our panelists also held positions like “senior clinical manager”, “global program manager”, and “formulation scientist”. Another panelist scheduled but unable to attend was a “specialist” in the global agreements group. What do these titles mean and what kind of work do they entail? To appreciate the titles, you have to know the various stages in the drug development pipeline, from discovery research to preclinical and clinical development, product development, and regulatory affairs. Other potential homes for scientists are also in intellectual property, business development, and as medical science liaisons between companies and doctors.
Do your research to understand the range of opportunities and how they interconnect before going on the market (see the Pharma & Biotechnology resource page on this site and the book Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development by Toby Freedman; From Alchemy to IPO: The business of biotechnology by Cynthia Robbins-Roth is also a good read for understanding the business side of biotech and its history). And note: if you want to experience a little bit of everything, consider joining a startup.
2. As an extension of the above, once you’re in industry there is great potential to move around and take on new roles and responsibilities. The current projection is that most people will hold 7-10 jobs in their lifetime and so you will likely be bouncing around a lot within a company, across companies, and even into different but related industries. Most of our panelists had changed jobs or companies at least once since their graduate degrees/postdocs; one of our panelists had successfully transitioned into the financial sector; another had moved to a non-profit. Your first position outside academia is a stepping stone, the important thing is breaking in and getting the industry experience on your resume. How do you get your foot in the door in this competetive market? Cue takeaway #3 below.
3. Networking and good communication skills are imperative for scoring highly coveted industry positions (or any job, for that matter). PhDs are facing an extremely tough job market right now and successfully landing a job requires significant effort beyond listing your research achievements on a resume. Networking and good communication skills are key and this point was reiterated throughout the panel. In fact, networking may be responsible for upwards of 70-80% of jobs acquired. What does this mean for you? It means moving past anxieties and misconceptions about networking. Not only for the extroverted, it’s a skill that can be honed and developed. Better to start early when you can practice and have time to slowly build professional relationships than to wait until you’re already on the market and desperate for a job.
If you need help with the basics, many career development centers and postdoc offices offer networking seminars. If you’re ready to network, then get active with your school’s biotech club, attend career panels and talk to the speakers, join professional societies, and hit up science-oriented networking events (for some ideas in NYC click here). Finally, don’t forget about maintaining your network through online platforms and utilizing more than one. LinkedIn is a must for everyone; Nature Networks, BioMedExperts, and Epernicus are just a few tailored to scientists.
If you’re interested in hearing more from this event, a meeting summary and the audio can be found here (Academy membership required for access to the audio).