Many scientists enter a PhD program believing their career path will be one thing — often targeting an academic position — only to realize part-way through the course that their interest lies elsewhere. Given the competitive job market for academic positions, and the lack of information about alternative careers available to many undergraduates, such changes are understandable. In a 2019 Nature survey, 45% of graduate students said satisfaction with their program worsened over time. Nearly 8 in 10 respondents expressed concerned about uncertain job prospects.
What happens if your desired career trajectory shifts radically while still a graduate student? Should you get another degree after completing your PhD?
Are you over or under-qualified for your new career?
One issue to consider is whether — in light of your new career goals — you need a PhD at all. Pharma and biotech companies continue to hire BS and MS scientists in large numbers. According to a 2019 employment outlook report from MassBioEd, the number of nationwide job postings by biotech companies for BS-level hires (approximately 115,000 in 2018) was more than double the number of postings for MS and PhD candidates (approximately 58,000 and 52,000 respectively that same year).
“I think there’s an overproduction of PhDs in many areas of lab sciences,” notes Eric Celidonio, Founder and Managing Partner at Sci.Bio. Biotech companies need scientists for benchwork, and hires with a PhD typically move out of those roles quickly. These jobs are mostly filled by BS and MS scientists.
While some specialized non-R&D roles such as Intellectual Property prefer to hire scientists with a STEM PhD and provide legal training, other entry-level roles for STEM graduates don’t need a PhD, and may be seen as an overqualification.
For many graduate students, the best way to break into a new career would involve entering the job market with a MS degree instead of a PhD and transitioning into a new role after several years of work experience, rather than seeking the ‘perfect’ additional qualification before searching for your first job.
Get another degree or acquire work experience?
Getting an entry-level position in any industry is challenging without qualifications or relevant experience. Fortunately, recruiters and biotech companies often view a couple of years’ experience as equal to — if not more valuable than — a qualification in that field, notes Brandi Byner-Burrow, a sourcing specialist at Sci.Bio.
Full-time paid work experience isn’t always necessary for entry-level roles. Seeking out volunteer opportunities is another way to showcase your aptitude and motivation for the position. For example, if during graduate school you decide to transition into science writing, start building a portfolio of clips while you are still in your program by writing for your student newspaper or department web pages. If there are local chapters of professional STEM organizations, assist them with communications. These unpaid experiences can later be leveraged into securing paid internships or entry level roles in your chosen field.
Similarly, many graduate programs offer business courses, investment, and consulting clubs aimed at doctoral scientists, providing business and entrepreneurial training while completing your PhD. The tuition fees for an MBA program is often in the six-figure range, so it makes financial sense not to complete one if you don’t need to!
Some caution is necessary if you decide to take elective courses during your PhD. Recruiters wish to hire PhD scientists who are experts in their particular STEM field, and additional coursework not immediately related to that field may detract from your research and the acquisition of technical skills. Kerry Ciejek, Managing Partner at Sci.Bio, stresses the importance of “establishing credibility” in your field of STEM training before changing fields.
Making an informed career decision
If you’re weighing up the decision to pursue another degree, it is important to gather as much information as possible from recruiters, hiring managers, and people working in your desired occupation. Ask people how they got into their current role, and what (dis)qualifies potential candidates in the view of hiring managers. If you don’t have the opportunity to network with these people in person, reach out on LinkedIn and politely request a short informational interview. Most people are happy to discuss their professional experiences, give advice, and help junior scientists make good career decisions.
Are you a PhD candidate interested in careers outside the lab? Not sure your STEM PhD is a help or a hindrance to finding your dream job? The experts at Sci Bio are here to help. Get in touch with us today.
The advent of online job board and e-applications in the early to mid 2000s all but killed the cover letter. The impersonal nature of applying online for pharmaceutical or biopharma positions led many to believe that cover letters did not improve or enhance a person’s hireability or them an edge in landing a job. However, the cover letter is making something of a comeback in today’s highly competitive job market.
Pharmaceutical recruiters and biotech headhunters have begun to read cover letters again because in today’s fast -paced business environment. Hiring decisions must be made carefully and quickly. To that point, job applicants who actually take time to carefully read job descriptions and craft cover letters to introduce themselves to biotech & pharmaceutical recruiters are likely to be more qualified and interested in the jobs that they are applying than those those who simply attach a resume to an e-mail message and hit the send button. Also, cover letters offer candidates opportunities to make a strong first impression but injecting some of their personality into a job application.
So, what should a strong cover letter contain? Besides including keywords (taken from the job descriptions) and action rather than verbs, job candidates ought to infuse cover letters with engaging and memorable dialog. Also, applicants must include descriptions of their skill sets, career goals and previous experience that may help to differentiate them from the hundreds of other people who may have applied for a particular job. For example, rather than writing “I’m writing to apply for the open position at your company” try offering something like ” My name is ____ and I’m looking for a change. After that opening, then explain why your background, skill sets and career focus are in line with the company’s needs that were outlined in the job description. Biopharma head hunters pore over hundreds of job applications and tend to remember the ones that stand out.
There is no doubt that writing new cover letters time consuming and often difficult. It is much easier to just hit the send button because you may believe that volume will trump quality. That said, pharmaceutical recruiting firms and biotech head hunters no longer have the job to carefully evaluate potentially qualified job applicants. These days they are looking for any edge to quickly identify and separate right fit candidate from the thousands of job applications that they receive. Remember: taking time at the front end of the job application process will often pay off with success on the backend!
Until next time,
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!
by Cliff Mintz There was a very insightful article in this past Tuesday’s NY Times Science Section entitled “Building Resilience in MIdlife.” that I thought was applicable to the challenges that many job seekers face while searching for a new job or pondering a career change.These insights were offered in a book entitled ‘Resilience:The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges’ by Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York after being shot several years ago by a disgruntled former employee while leaving a NYC deli.
Practice Optimism. According to Dr. Charney, optimism is part genetic, part learned. That said, looking for a job in a highly competitive field without success can easily lead to feelings of defeat, failure and even depression. Put simply it’s normal to feel sad or “down” when things are not going your way during a job search. Rather than succumb to pessimism, Dr. Charney suggests that learning to think positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with optimistic people (there are people out there who ARE really optimistic all the time) can help. It’s easier to think more optimistically if the people around you are upbeat and always putting a positive rather than negative spin on things. I am not suggesting that that you jettison all of your pessimistic friends but finding new optimistically-thinking ones will not only increase the breadth and size of your social circle but may also help to elevate your emotional state during a frustrating job search.
Rewrite Your Story. Instead of focusing on your shortcomings or difficulties that you have experienced, it may help to change your internal narrative and focus on accomplishments (rather than setbacks) and things that you may have learned about yourself to this point in your life journey. While this may sound like an existential exercise, changing the internal story that you tell yourself (from a negative to a more positive one), may help you to feel better about yourself and make things easier for you. And believe me–from my own personal experiences– others around you will notice the change; most importantly prospective employers and hiring managers!
Don’t Personalize Your Failures. Everyone tend to blame themselves for life’s setbacks and ruminate about the decisions that they have made to put them in difficult situations. A way to counteract this is to recognize that, generally speaking ,other factors and uncontrollable life events likely contributed to the so-called bad decisions that you made. In other words, unexpected, mitigating factors not simply your poor judgement, likely contributed to the situation that you find yourself in. Recognizing this may help to assuage that nagging tendency to blame yourself for your current situation and may also allow to “learn from your mistakes” to avoid making them in future personal and career decisions.
Remember Your Comebacks. It is easy to wallow in your failures and feel bad about your current situation. Rather than letting things get you down, try to remember times earlier in life when you were able to overcome adversity and still “land on your feet.” This will remind you that you have the skills and experience to overcome a current “bad” situation. Also, it may be helpful to read about others who seemingly failed and were able to turn those failures into positive personal and career moves. In my experience, failure is a key ingredient to a successful and meaningful career.
Take Stress Breaks. Stress is a fact of life that nobody can escape. Rather than succumb to life’s constant unrelenting stresses, it is important to take breaks to regroup and push forward. For example, take walks, have lunch with friends, go to the gym or even meditate. One way that I relieved stress as a graduate student and postdoc was to play intramural softball as much as I could and then drink beer with teammates after the games. Putting your “head down” and pushing forward will not relieve stress or eliminate anxiety in your life.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone. It is easy to continue to do the same thing even if that thing is stressful or hurtful because you are comfortable (despite assertions to the contrary) with what you know. However, doing the same thing over and over again because your are familiar with it will not improve your current situation or change how you feel on a daily basis. Perhaps, taking yourself out of your comfort zone and placing yourself in new challenging positions may help to overcome those feelings of “being stuck.” For example, if you don’t want to do laboratory research for the rest of your career, learn new skills (that may have always frightened you) to help find a non-laboratory PhD job in the pharmaceutical or biotech industry.
While doing the things that Dr. Charney recommends may not materially improve your current job situation or career choice, they may help you to look at the world in different terms, feel better about yourself and provide some clarity/insights into t future career directions or job choices.
Until next time…
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!
It is officially summer (July 4 was this past Tuesday) and things have slowed down as most people take their vacations during the summer months. Invariably, recommended summer reading lists have appeared in print, in podcasts and on radio shows.
One book that may be an interesting read for science graduate students (and possibly postdocs) is a novel entitled “Chemistry” by Weike Wang. I heard about this novel on an NPR radio show during an interview with its author. While I have not read the book (I’m on the downside of my career and no longer an academic), a recent review of the novel suggests that it may be helpful for science graduate students who may be struggling with career options and future career choices. As I mentioned above, it may be a good read for postdocs but they may be too far down the career rabbit hole to benefit from it.
The reviewer, Beryl Lieff Benderly (a professional freelance science writer), offered the following critique:
Though Wang doubtlessly does not intend her debut novel as a treatise on the ills and failings of scientific training at high-powered research universities, she poignantly highlights many of the issues that make that process so trying for so many ambitious and earnest young people. Among them is the “common knowledge … that graduate students make close to nothing and that there are more PhD scientists in this country than there are jobs for them,” Wang writes. In addition, there’s the lab member who “strongly believes that women do not belong in science because [they] lack the balls to actually do science.” And these aren’t even close to the most serious of the protagonist’s challenges.
Further she offers:
Wang clearly wrote this book as a character study, not as an academic analysis of the grad school experience. Still, I suspect that reading it could prove useful to academic officials interested in improving grad students’ often difficult lot. The protagonist appears to receive essentially no meaningful help or guidance in her travails from anyone associated with her university, and officials might do well to consider why this is so and what services could have proved useful.
I’m sure that many of you identify with the premise of the novel and may have even experienced some of the universally-recognized “ills” and “failings” of modern scientific training. That said, while reading the novel may bring back bad memories or make you think about your difficult current situation, it is always helpful to read about others who have shared your experiences and are intimately aware of your current plight. If nothing else, it helps to remind you that you are not alone and perhaps, more importantly you are not crazy!
Enjoy the book and your summer!
Until next time…
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting.
While a resume is a mandatory requirement for all job seekers, writing one that ultimately may lead to a job interview remains elusive to many job applicants in the biotech and biopharma industry.
To that point, resume writing is more of an art than a science and it can take many attempts to discover a format that works. Nevertheless, there are several common mistakes to avoid when writing a resume to improve the likelihood of success.
1. Don’t forget to include a “Summary of Qualifications.” Instead of an objective statement at the beginning of a resume, replace it with a “Summary of Qualifications” (SOQ); 3 to 5 sentences that highlight an applicant’s skill sets, experience and personal attributes that help to distinguish her/him from other job candidates. The SOQ ought to be constructed as a “30-second elevator pitch” that cogently describes who you are and the value that you will bring to prospective employers if they hire you. Don’t be afraid to pepper the SOQ with laudatory adjectives and action verbs. The purpose of the SOQ is to grab the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager to continue reading your resume. To that point, it has been reported that hiring managers take between 6 to 30 seconds to review a resume and determine whether or not to move forward with job applicant.
2. Make sure to include keywords in your pharmaceutical resume. Increasingly, many pharmaceutical and biotech companies are using software and keyword searches to screen the large number of resumes received for individual job openings. Because of this, it is vital that jobseekers sprinkle keywords throughout their resumes (including the SOQ). A good way to determine which keywords to use is by reading job descriptions for opportunities that interest you. After identifying the keywords, make sure to insert them into your resume where appropriate.
3. One size DOES NOT fit all! It is very tempting to craft a single resume and then submit it for all jobs that interest you. Unfortunately, this approach is certain to increase the likelihood that your resume will land in the recycle bin. Prospective employers want job applicants to take the time to write a resume that clearly demonstrates how and why they are the right candidate to fill a position in a specific organization. Again, a good way to craft job-specific resumed is to read job descriptions for individual opportunities. Identify the technical skills, educational background and job responsibilities and then create a resume for the pharmaceutical job that shows that you meet all of the job specifications and requirements. While this may seem like a lot of work, it is necessary to ensure the likelihood of a successful job search.
4. Typos and spelling errors are forbidden. Given the fierce competition for jobs in today’s global economy, a single typo can land your resume in the “not interested” pile. Resumes should be spell-checked for typos and grammatical errors before they are submitted to prospective employers for consideration. It is vitally important to proof read a resume and it is a good idea to allow friends and colleagues to review it as well. A biopharma resume is the first exposure of a job applicant to prospective employers and it should be perfect. Resumes fraught with typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors signal to employers that a job applicant may be careless, not thoughtful and does not take pride in his/her work product.
5. Keep it simple. There is no need to use special fonts or color in a biopharma resume. It is best to stick to black and white color and use basic fonts like Arial, Tahoma or Calibri with sizes of 11 or 12 pt. Also, it is important not to incorporate long or dense blocks of text into a resume. Dense blocks of text are difficult to read and increase the time hiring managers want to spend reviewing resumes. Instead, concisely describe achievements in 2 to 5 bulleted points per job. Also, be certain to highlight your accomplishments rather than simply listing duties for different jobs. Prospective employers are much more interested in what was accomplished rather than what your responsibilities were. Finally, white space is known to draw readers’ eyes to important points. Therefore, it is vital that your resume is not cluttered, formatted correctly and contains sufficient white space to invite the reader to read it.
6. Size does not matter! Urban legend tells us that a resume should be two pages or less in length. In reality, there are no absolutely no rules governing resume length! The goal of a well crafted resume is to allow prospective employers to determine whether or not a job applicant is qualified for a specific position. While in some cases, a one or two page resume may be sufficient; in others a longer one may be required. That said, generally speaking, shorter is preferred by hiring managers/recruiters (because of the thousands of resumes that they review daily). However, do not be afraid to craft longer resumes if additional space is necessary to present yourself in the best light to potential employers.
Although, the items mentioned in this post are common resume mistakes, it is by no means a complete list. However, they are easy to fix. A good way to test resume effectiveness is to revise an old resume (to fix the above mentioned mistakes) and then apply for different jobs using the old and revised resumes. If there is an uptick in employer response rates to the revised resume as compared with old one then you are likely on the right track. If not, you may want to seek additional help with your resume writing.
Until next time…
Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!