Escape to Industry, Part II


Dear CareerDoctor,This is Maria, your "December 2003 case". As I promised you, here is an update of how my " escape to industry" is going.While I was waiting for your answer I applied to the Roche Symposium for Leading Bioscientists of the Next Decade, which is taking place in Basel at the end of March. Early in January they told me that I had been selected and, although they stated that this is not a "recruiting event", I see it as an opportunity to get known by the R&D people at Roche (we have to give a 20-minute presentation about our work). The event will also give me a chance to see how R&D is performed at a big pharma company (we will get a full day of presentations by group leaders from different departments while visiting two of the company's sites).In parallel I broke the news to my boss that I was considering leaving academia for industry. To my surprise he told me that he gave a talk at a company and that they would like to collaborate in the project (using me as a bridge between the company and the university). This is still under discussion for the moment.In the meantime, the friend of a friend gave me the name of a guy working in research at GlaxoSmithKline. (You were right, you can find that you have a network you did not know about. You just have to open your big mouth and start asking for help!) So I arranged a phone call with this guy ( informational interviewing, another skill that I learned from Next Wave's articles, especially Dave Jensen). This has led to another contact and I am preparing an e-mail to send to them.

If you have any advice for the Roche symposium, I would be very happy to hear it. (I read your February article " Preparing for Assessment Centres" and already got some nice tips.)Thanks to your advice and all the articles I read on Next Wave, I now find myself saying and doing things that I would never have thought possible. You gave me tonnes of self-confidence and optimism. Now I know that there is, at least, one Mr. Perfect Job out there waiting for me and all I have to do to reach it is some focused work, a little self-assessment, and to be enthusiastic.Warm regards,Maria

Dear Maria,

First of all thank you for your update--it gave me a real boost to hear about your progress and to see how optimistic you are about your next career move. I'm not taking much credit though--your success is down to you and I hope it will inspire other people in a similar situation to get out there!

I should explain why I'm using another column to come back to some of your points, as anyone who has submitted questions will know that there is a backlog and may wonder what warrants devoting a second column to you! Basically there are two reasons. The first is that this new column allows me to address some similar questions to those "in the queue". And the second is that I went to the Life Sciences Postgraduate Careers Workshop organised by the School of Medicine at the University of Dundee last week and heard some fantastic presentations from relevant industries, which I want to share with you and other readers.

To start with, I had a look at the Roche event, and I think the timing couldn't be better for you. Although they have made it clear that it is not a recruitment event, my feeling is that it is part of a pre-recruitment strategy to ensure that Roche are aware of all the bright sparks in their field. It gives them a chance to impress potential recruits ahead of the competition, as well as being a great way of associating the name of Roche with "leading bioscientists"! This type of event is a "win-win" situation because you will learn about the role of scientists within industry, polish your presentation skills, network with people who may be influential in your career (or may not, but still you'll be practicing networking for next time), and discuss your career plans with peers (hey, don't forget to tell them about Next Wave!).

My main advice for the event is to go in with an open mind and enjoy it. The other attendees are as valuable a source of information as the company representatives--their presentations are going to give you a great insight into developments at the frontiers of bioscience. Back in the days when I was a bench scientist, a fellow postdoc went to an informal one-day conference about 6 months before he started applying for jobs. About a year later he got a job with a major multinational and still cites this event as being the main factor in giving him an edge over other candidates by broadening his perspective on his own research area.

A general guideline for your presentation would be to talk about the aims of your research and your achievements, to show that you are able to focus on specific goals and take a project forward (academics are sometimes perceived as holding onto pet projects rather than moving on into areas with more potential). Above all, stress any links with other scientific disciplines, as interdisciplinary teams will be the norm in industry (so make sure you pitch your talk for a nonexpert audience!). Don't be too modest--talk about your contribution and your ideas. ... But to be honest they are probably more interested in the quality of your science than expecting you to present it in a commercially aware way.

Despite them saying this isn't a recruitment event and whilst you need to be yourself, Roche will be looking out for potential employees or academics to collaborate with. So it may be useful to keep in mind what skills and qualities they will be most receptive to, and a Next Wave resource which may help you in that, and which I recommend very highly is the recent Interviewing Skills for Scientists Webcast (Next Wave's first ever such broadcast!). An expert panel of industry scientists dissect an interview, giving insider's tips on what the employers are digging for through their questions and how to answer them to make the best impression. The experts also answer questions from the audience, giving advice on how to make a transition from academia to industry, find unadvertised jobs, negotiate salary, and lots of other topics you may not want to ask in a real interview!

My final piece of advice about this event, although I'm sure you don't need reminding, is the one golden rule I've mentioned already in the " assessment centre column"--don't be caught out by the free bar!

If you can, wait until after the Roche event to send your e-mail to your contact at GSK so that you may include the insights the experience will have given you into your own skills and qualities and give more compelling evidence of what industry is looking for. Most academic scientists are not natural self-publicists, so do ask for feedback at the event to get an idea of other people's perceptions of you.

Three key points will increase your chances of GSK replying.

1) Make it clear how you came to make the contact (mention the name of the colleague and consider cc:ing the message to them) as it is always more difficult to say no to someone who has been referred to you personally.

2) State clearly what your objective is and why you are contacting them so it is easy for them to reply or pass on the message to the right person (rather than them meaning to ask for some clarification and there always being something more pressing--you get the idea).

3) Most importantly, mention the Roche event (possibly in the context that it confirmed your interest in industrial research) because this makes the point that you are already making an impact with one of their competitors--can they afford to miss out?

If you attach a CV, a good idea would be to use Rich Text Format so that both Mac- and PC-users can open it without problems. Keep your CV targeted and ensure you highlight your key achievements--published work, papers at conferences, and evidence of securing research funding, but keep it to no more than two pages. If you want to describe your research strategy in more detail a scientific abstract can be added as an appendix. Don't restrict yourself to a pure text abstract--science is often best communicated with diagrams and graphs. Again, to ensure they can be read, convert your diagrams into a universal format, JPEG for example. Or even better, why not also set up your CV on the Web and link to it in case there are problems reading attachments?

The Roche event isn't unique, as I've attended something similar in the UK. These events are commonly organised by major companies or professional bodies. To find out about them you can keep on eye on your careers services or announcements on Next Wave. And if you are reading this, thinking 'there is nothing like this in my field', why not organise your own like the Genomics conference I attended in January?

To close I want to share with you some of the insights I got from the event I mentioned earlier. The Life Sciences Postgraduate Careers Workshop offered excellent advice on how to break into a pharma company. A presenter from Lilly outlined their ideal recruit--someone who had developed excellent technical skills through broad experience. He recommended you should go to a new institution for your PhD or postdoc, particularly if this involves experiencing very different cultures and learning a new language.

He also referred to adaptability, ambition, and team skills because research in industry isn't done in isolation and scientists need to be prepared to subjugate their own needs to the wider goals (whilst still pushing as hard as possible for success!). He then gave a genuine example by showing us an advert and a brief CV of the successful candidate--a postdoc who had worked in Europe, secured a fellowship, developed a range of scientific skills and knowledge by working in a number of related, but not identical fields, and spoke three languages.

The other speaker from KuDOS Pharmaceuticals, a small biotechnology firm, talked about his perception of the balance between "R" (research) and "D" (development) in different environments. Of course academia is very R whereas industry is more D, but still, industry invests significantly in the R to come up with new ideas (rather than just developing existing ideas!). He made the interesting point that small biotech companies are also very R because they sell on their ideas and the potential they have to larger companies who have the resources to develop them into potential products. Research in this sector is still very much applied, but there are strong parallels with academia, where you publish rather than sell any research that shows promise.

Whatever happens at the symposium, avenues into new companies and sectors seem to be opening all the time and I am confident that you know how to grab them. Before long we'll be reporting in this column that you've found Mr. Perfect Job!

All the best in your career,

The CareerDoctor

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