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According to Real Scientists, This is How You Get a Job in Biopharma

7/20/2017 1:53:59 PM

According to Real Scientists, This is How You Get a Job in Biopharma August 3, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Although there is no secret formula for getting a good job in biopharma, there are plenty of what could be called best practices.
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JR Thorp, writing for Bustle, took a slightly different approach and went and spoke to two scientists and asked their opinions, which added some color to the typical HR and recruiter focus.

1. Academia versus Industry. Even at the undergraduate-degree level, the question of whether to stay in academic research or look for an industry job is relevant. And it can be a tough decision. After all, by the time you finish a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate in your chosen degree, you’ve been in school anywhere from 17 to 22-plus years! You’re either sick to death of academia or you’ve very comfortable with it because you’ve spent such a big part of your life there.

There are pros and cons for both. “Industry” is a very broad term that can describes two-and-three-person biotech startups as well as international conglomerates with thousands of employees. Academic research labs are typically grant-based, which can create some career instability. Of course, industry labs can go out of business, have products rejected or run out of funding as well.

The key factors that usually are discussed are: money, flexibility, teamwork, credit, politics, opportunity and reinvention.

Sam Thorp, London South Bank University’s Research & Development Officer, told Bustle, “One of the best ways to know whether the academic lifestyle appeals to you is to try it—spend some time volunteering for an academic in your field of choice. How easy this is depends on your scientific discipline, particularly whether it is experimental or theoretical.”

Jane Charlesworth, a postdoctoral genetic researcher at Cambridge University (UK), told Bustle, “Work for a few years as a technician before applying to PhDs. Lab heads love students who already have a solid skill base, so it seems like a really good idea.”

2. Or Government. Life science jobs don’t have to be as binary as Academia versus Industry. Numerous healthcare systems have research work, sometimes timed to clinical laboratories, but often grant-based. Another area that is often forgotten is government work, both at the state and federal levels. In a 2009 article in Science, Emma Hitt noted that the U.S. government is the largest single employer in the country with about 1.6 million full-time permanent jobs.

For life science grads, places to work include the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and various divisions of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other departments include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NISH), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

A quick search of “biology” at provides jobs in the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Services and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (part of the Department of the Interior), Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of the Army, Indian Health Service (part of HHS), the Department of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and Department of the Air Force. And those are only some of the possibilities.

3. What’s in Your Toolbox? Another basic tool for getting a job in life science is to take a hard look at your skill set. Thorp noted that non-academic scientists are in “the interesting position of having a lot of skills but no defined career path. There are an enormous number of science-adjacent and science-related careers for you to choose from. The first difficulty is figuring out which one you actually want to pursue.”

Examples could include sales, technical representation, writing, teaching and others.

But many people might be surprised if they sat down and started writing down their skills and then matching them with what they like to do most. Thorp said, “If you’re not sure which of the available paths appeals to you, one idea is to do some skill mapping; lay out what you’re good at and what you actually enjoy doing, and see where they intersect. This sounds basic, but it can reveal useful insights—sure, you’re good at number-crunching, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to do it 24/7.”

Many science people skim over broader skills when selling themselves, such as: data analysis, research, coding, statistics, attention to detail, documentation, problem solving, critical thinking, initiative, teamwork and independent work.

4. Internships and Volunteering. Universities and employers have placed a lot of emphasis on the value of internships and volunteering. Yes, this can be enormously irritating to students because it often looks like free work for the employer—and if you’re taking an internship in college, you’re very likely paying for the experience. So yes, if you can get a part-time job working in a laboratory at a university, hospital or company and get paid for it, that’s fantastic. But volunteering or internships can be an excellent way to make contacts and gain useful experience to put on your CV.

Thorp says, “Sadly, working for free is becoming almost a requirement for getting a job in many fields, and those in science are no exception.”

5. Network. With the exception of undertakers, people generally like to work with people they know. Networking is sometimes outside a student’s comfort zone, but it doesn’t have to be quite as intimidating as it sometimes seems. Universities often have organizations and clubs. For example, Michigan State University’s College of Natural Science has the NatSci Student Advisory Council (SAC), the Science Theater, the Actuarial Science Club, the Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Undergraduate Club, the Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics/Medical Technology Association, the Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity and the Younger Chemists Committee, as well as numerous others.

If there are areas you’re specifically interested in, there are professional organizations that often have lower-priced memberships for students, such as The Association of Genetic Technologists (AGT) and the Association For Molecular Pathology (AMP). These types of organizations can put you into contact with professionals in the field, have various publications, online networking opportunities, and regional and national meetings.

Thorp told Bustle, “Importantly, don’t abandon your network the moment you get a job! Networking should be part of your career for life. Finally, treat the people you’re networking with like friends—‘networking’ should be synonymous with ‘making friends and acquaintances in a weird, semi-formal environment.’”

6. Get Realistic About Your Dream Job. Sometimes people fresh out of college—or even people who have been in the workplace for years—turn down good opportunities because they are waiting for that perfect job to come along. First, dream jobs are, well, admit it, fantasies. It probably doesn’t exist.

Purnima Balraju, writing for Executive Coaching & Coach Training, also points out that if you wait for your dream job, you could, “miss out on an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This could be a new graduate studies program or even a potential job that could lead you to your dream job.”

In addition, Balraju writes, “You mature over the years and this means that your ideal job would change, too. The last thing you want is to lock yourself into a specific career track with no way to switch out of when you want to.”

In reality, you might have to create your dream job yourself, whether within your workplace or by creating your own.

7. Fight Sexism. Sexism is hardly relegated to the life sciences—it can be seen throughout most industries, although to what extent can be debated, and the statistics are often fuzzy. For example, Denise Cummins, writing for PBS Newshour in 2015, argues that the STEM gender gap is overblown, noting that men don’t outnumber women in all STEM fields. In an analysis of the percentage of bachelor’s degrees earned by women between 1991 and 2010, based on NSF statistics, there was almost no gender differences in the biosciences, social sciences or mathematics. The biggest differential was in computer science and engineering. And at the PhD level, even that difference narrowed.

For example, in the U.S., about 50.1 percent of biological scientists are women, 52.8 percent of medical scientists are women, and 44.2% of chemists and materials scientists are women. Yet only 25.6 percent of computer and mathematical occupations are women.

And yet, it was only in 2016 that the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference ran into a problem. An after-party at the conference hosted by LifeSci Partners LLC came under criticism for hiring scantily-clad women to attend the party. Andrew McDonald, a founding partner at LifeSci partners said in January that the women were hired to provide “balance” to the high number of male attendees. But several female executives decried the event and more than 230 industry executives sent an open letter about it.

Bloomberg noted that women occupy only 20 of 112 senior management positions at the 10 highest-value companies in the biopharma industry. Of the top 10 biotech startups that raised the biggest sums of investments in 2014, only 19 percent of top executives were female and only 8 percent of board members were women.

Charlesworth told Bustle, “Prejudice can be subtle, but keep challenging it and keep going. We have shown that women are at least as good as men at science, and we can keep showing it.”

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