Escape to Industry


Dear CareerDoctor,I'm a molecular neurobiologist currently postdocing in an environment that doesn't inspire me. I've done a lot of research into the options open to me, especially through reading Next Wave, and it seems the best solution would be to do a postdoc in a pharmaceutical or biotech company. I'm flexible about location, but would prefer to work in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, South Australia, or New Zealand.My big problem is that I have no firsthand knowledge of this world and my network barely exists in academia, let alone beyond it. I'm also the "food provider" of the family, so forget about financial risks. My institution does not have a career centre, so I need other sources of advice.I don't want to end up in a job I would hate even more than the one I have now. Is there something "masochistic" in my character for putting myself through the hassle of changing track, or I should never stop chasing "Mr. Perfect Job"?So CareerDoctor, could you please give me some tips for the application and hiring process; information about additional skills I should acquire to be "appealingly employable" for the pharmaceutical or biotech industry; more information about pharmaceutical and biotech industries in Europe where I could do a postdoc; events and other opportunities to network etc. ...Thank you very much for your help!Maria

Dear Maria,

You've obviously given this a good deal of thought and I think that you've come up with a great way of maximising your research experience whilst getting away from all the negative elements of your current position. We've got a lot to get through, so I'll leave it up to you to find out about the pros and cons of industrial postdocs elsewhere on Next Wave.

Academia, industry, or a bit of both?

Getting tailored advice

Any career transition can be made tricky by the need to find the right vocabulary to describe the transferable skills you have to offer. Most postdocs have the skills required for work in industry but can let themselves down if they believe their academic experience is second rate--why then should any employer rate it? Try and think about your research in a different way. Identify your achievements and relate the outcomes of your research to the aims outlined in the job ad. This should help you present your work with a more commercial "flavour", even if it is very academic in character.

You will also need to ensure that you use the right protocols in your applications to employers in the different companies, let alone countries, you are considering. The differences can be considerable and getting it wrong might give the idea that you aren't going to fit into a new culture. For country-specific advice, there are two excellent Web sites that should help you to present your applications like a native.

The first is Prospects. As a UK site aimed at graduates, it isn't specific to research, however the coverage in terms of countries and advice is impressive. As well as describing the format of job applications for each of the countries you're interested in, they also give information on the national job markets, immigration issues, and additional resources.

The Association Bernard Gregory, a French organisation with a mission to help young researchers from all disciplines to enter companies, also offer a similar guide of the issues faced in the different European countries.

My second recommendation is the Researchers' Mobility Portal. One of the many positive outcomes of the ongoing drive to develop Europe's research base is "free access to a Europe-wide customised assistance service offered by the European Network of Mobility Centres". Although these aren't yet available all across Europe, one of the countries that you are interested in, Ireland, has a centre that you can e-mail for advice.

I've also mentioned professional bodies from time to time--the larger ones are beginning to offer access to tailored careers advice either through careers surgeries, access to advisers at conferences, or telephone consultations. You don't necessarily need to join them to get this--next time you are considering attending a major conference, get in touch with the organisers and ask if they are offering any careers training or support. Make sure you sign up early, as places are usually limited. Keep an eye on the European Events Calendar for details of events with a career element (and those I'll be attending!).

Building a network

Career advisers and professionals are not the only sources of help though--as you recognise in your request for advice on building a better network. In fact, any scientist who has made a transition into industry will have valuable information for you. So, how do you hunt them down? Start by taking a closer look--although you may not feel you know anyone "useful" it's amazing how quickly your network grows when you actually start thinking about it.

I'd start building my network at conferences. Everyone there shares an interest in the field being discussed, so you have a straightforward way of identifying relevant employers--comb through the lists of delegates, speakers, and posters. The conference environment is a natural place for exchange so you'll probably find that researchers are happy to talk about their jobs and may be able to suggest ways to identify new opportunities or key people to approach.

Researchers are also brought together for training events, which I'd also recommend as part of your escape plan. Any way you can improve your understanding of commercial issues will help you to convince a potential employer that you are capable of working on industrial projects. Funding councils, professional bodies, or universities often run these events and these are advertised through their mailing lists, the Researchers' Mobility Portal, or Next Wave's European Events Calendar.

Talking of e-mailing lists, don't feel you have to network "face-to-face". There are many forum and discussion lists, which cover the issues in which you are interested in a comprehensive way and give you access to personal insights from people in similar situations. These are again available from the Researchers' Mobility Portal and Next Wave's CommunityNet, as well as many other sites.

Identifying recruiters in the countries that interest you

To give you a picture of the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries in the countries you've mentioned, I've found a few directories for companies in these sectors. There are many smaller companies that won't be listed on these, but this is a starting point.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has a dedicated careers site which links to its members.

For Ireland, I've found an article on the Irish pharmaceutical industry with lots of links to companies, but also observations and insights into the industry as a whole.

I've also found similar resources for Germany and Denmark--a site promoting partnerships between academy and industry and the Danish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry (which is in Danish).

For Australia and New Zealand, I've found directories which you can search by state or industry sector.

Should you decide to consider France as well, one of the Mobility Centres there is actually operated by the Association Bernard Gregory. They have a CV database and ads for job vacancies aimed at academic researchers looking for their first position outside academia. So even though they are primarily addressed to PhD students, don't be put off as it should offer exactly the kind of opportunities you are looking for.

Many of these companies will advertise vacancies on their Web sites or you could contact them to explain your interest in them and ask how they advertise.

Making sure your next step is the right one

Finally, Maria, DON'T give up on finding Mr. Perfect Job! You've obviously invested a lot of effort into working out what you want from your career. You have to be prepared that the next job you take may not be 'the one', but you must also believe it will turn up eventually. Put together a wish-list for your ideal job and compare any vacancies against this. You are likely to have to make compromises, but if you make these consciously rather than just taking anything in desperation, you can use a post which isn't quite right as a stepping stone (just don't share this plan with the recruiter!). Use the other articles you've read on Next Wave to give you hope and the confidence to reject any jobs that don't seem to lead in the right direction.

I'm sure you and Mr. Perfect Job have a long and happy future ahead!

All the best in your career,

The CareerDoctor

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