Introduction to Working in Biotech
This bird’s-eye overview explores the attitudes, approaches, and actions that will make it happen.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Actually, it’s both—and a whole lot more. Whether you’re new to the biotech industry or a veteran between jobs, a plum position in this red-hot sector is unlikely to fall in your lap. To get the biotech job of your dreams, or even that steppingstone position, you need patience, perseverance—and above all, a methodical approach.
This overview puts all the must-have information at your fingertips, from the prep work you need to do before starting the search to the extra touches that will help you stand out before and after the job offer. Follow the links to dive deeper into specific areas of interest or challenge. If any questions or concerns remain, Sci.bio is happy to walk you through them.
CHARTING YOUR COURSE
First things first: deciding what you want to do and where you want to do it. Confronting these decision points early on will pay dividends in your job search and career satisfaction.
A Question of Degree
Do you really need a PhD to get a good job in biotech? That depends on the career trajectory you have in mind. If you aspire to the halls of academe, you’ll obviously need the credential. A doctorate also positions you for medical science liaison jobs. Leaving such specific scenarios aside, success in biotech does not depend on a PhD, and the years of toiling for the designation could even set your career back. The only thing a doctorate guarantees is that people will call you “doctor”—it certainly doesn’t entitle to you to a job.
Think of a PhD as an adventure in personal and professional development: hop on board if it resonates with you, but don’t feel you have to get on—or stay on—the PhD track if it doesn’t appeal. Consider, too, that many biotech recruiters and companies put real-world experience on par with advanced qualifications. Biotech companies continue to hire many people with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and the time-honored pairing of an undergraduate science degree with an MBA still opens doors within the sector.
The Great Divide
Many PhDs see their colleagues transitioning to academic post-doc positions and conclude it’s simply the “thing to do.” But basic research and the grant-application machinery don’t suit everyone, and recognizing a poor fit can spare you years of frustration.
The academic life comes with an attractive package of intellectual rigour, collegial culture, and freedom to explore your own research interests. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, responsibilities outside the lab can interfere with research time and the pressure to obtain funding can take its toll.
Opting for industry doesn’t mean giving up on your career as a scientist; the biotech industry produces a steady stream of research, often with a more clinical bent. If the lab bench doesn’t call to you, however, industry offers almost limitless opportunities to rise through the ranks and experience the high of working in teams. You’ll find more details about the pro and cons of each choice in this article about academia vs. industry.
There’s big pharma and there’s small pharma—companies that employ fewer than 500 people. Arguably the safer choice, big pharma will take you through a formal training process and give you access to a steady stream of learning opportunities. With size comes bureaucracy, of course. The red tape can slow down processes and create distance between the work you put in and the final result. Even so, consider going big if you value a mix of predictability and opportunity—and a good night’s sleep.
At the other end of the spectrum, a job with a biotech startup offers unparalleled excitement and collegiality, as well as a good chance of seeing a product going through a full development cycle. Or you may find your sweet spot in the relaxed culture and fluid roles of a small pharma company—the preferred option of an increasing number of biotech job seekers.
Off the Beaten Path
If you’re like many science graduates, you know a lot more about science than about science careers. Most post-secondary programs fail to educate students about the possibilities ahead, leaving graduates with a blinkered view of their options. If you’ve made it to the PhD level, you may see little beyond a postdoc or medical science liaison in your horizon.
The world of biotech is a lot bigger than that. Less common biotech careers that flow naturally from a PhD include market research analyst, business development manager, and medical communication specialist. And it’s not true that you need an MBA to snag a business consultant gig: the rise of technology-based business sectors has created a demand for consultants with STEM PhDs.
Then there’s the cannabis industry, a high-growth sector that rewards both creativity and business acumen. From extraction techniques to quality control, needs for scientific expertise in this area continue to grow. If you thrive on human relationships, you could find your niche in biotech recruitment, which combines uncapped earning potential with the unique satisfaction of helping other people launch their careers.
READY TO LAUNCH
Once you’ve established your desired destination, it’s time to lay the groundwork for a smooth and fruitful biotech job search.
Where to Look
Start by working backwards: make a list of companies where you’d like to work and check out the careers pages on their websites. You may be able to set up automatic alerts so the system notifies when suitable positions open up. Next, scour job boards that focus on the life sciences, such as the job pages on BioSpace or the Life Sciences Network.
Don’t discount general job boards, either. Many employers cross-post their vacancies on a number of job sites, including all-purpose sites like Indeed or Workopolis. A recent Indeed search for Boston-based biotech jobs turned up vacancies for a senior scientist in in-vitro pharmacology, a quality control analyst in microbiology, and a bioinformatics associate, among others. Even Facebook has its own job board.
There’s also the question of when to look for a job: while there’s no hard and fast rule, your odds of success rise and fall at certain times of year. More important than the season is the time between the job posting and your application: make it as short as possible.
Start by making a list of networking prospects—friends, acquaintances, and business associates who may be able to offer advice or job leads. Ideally, this list should include people with positions you aspire to. Send each of them a brief email detailing your situation and your ask. If you get no response after a few days, don’t assume they’re willfully ignoring you. Far more likely is that they’re busy or disorganized, and everything less than urgent gets pushed into their “later” file. Follow up with another respectful call or email. Rinse and repeat.
Once you’ve heard back, aim to schedule a meeting over video (or in person, if/when Covid protocols allow it). Keep the meeting short and real: show interest in the other person, but get to your point. Seek advice about how to brand yourself and ask for new introductions or industry insights.
While looking for a job can easily become a job in its own right, consider breaking up your day with volunteer work. Not only does volunteering boost mental health, but the people you meet can become part of your informal network. Along similar lines, choose a couple of professional events to attend, either in person or virtually. Have a well-rehearsed elevator pitch so you can approach people with purpose and confidence.
Leveraging Social Media
Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t avoid social media when looking for a job. As evidenced in a recent survey on career building, social media now plays a significant role in the hiring process: not only do employers use social media to research candidates, but nearly half have a bias against candidates without any social media presence at all.
If nothing else, you need a LinkedIn profile to be seen as a serious candidate. Take the time to list significant accomplishments, awards, and testimonials on your LinkedIn page. Regular engagement on Twitter, while not a requirement for a successful job hunt, can demonstrate knowledge of your industry. Blog posts showcasing your communication skills and interactions with a prospective employer’s social media accounts can add further credibility to your social media presence.
If your social media profile is less than squeaky clean, you’ll need to do some scrubbing. Revealing photos, discriminatory comments, bad-mouthing previous employers, lying about an absence could easily land you on an employer’s no-hire list. No matter how many likes you garnered from such posts, delete them.
Working with a Recruiter
On the face of it, there isn’t much downside to working with a recruiter: it gives you access to an inside track hidden from public view. But the wrong recruiter can do more harm than good—for example, by sending you on interviews for ill-fitting jobs. A strategic approach to finding a biotech recruiter will help you avoid this outcome.
Rather than simply contacting the biotech recruiters that pop up in a Google search, attend networking events in your industry, where many recruiters congregate to build relationships with clients and meet candidates. If you’re a woman, you owe it to yourself to check out the events run by Women in Bio, an organization dedicated to giving women more visibility in the life sciences.
If you have your eye on a specific company, you may be able to connect with internal recruiters (i.e. recruiters who work within an organization) by using LinkedIn to locate employees with such titles as hiring specialist or employee success manager. If you’d like to learn more about how Sci.bio can fast-track your job search, we’ll be happy to arrange a conversation.
RISING UP FROM THE CROWD
Whether you have an impressive track record or no track record at all, taking extra care with your self-presentation can give you a meaningful edge.
Not sure where to start? This Science Magazine article about scientific resumés can help you decide between an experience- and skills-based approach. Whichever option you choose, you can’t go wrong with tried-and-true resumé-writing principles such as simplicity, lack of visual clutter, and logical progression. Resist the temptation to list all your accomplishments: while the assay you developed deserves pride of place in your resumé, you can probably leave out the time you took minutes for a departmental meeting. Less is more.
It goes without saying that you should adapt your resumé to each position you apply for, focusing on the experiences and accomplishments that most closely match the job requirements. When crafting the accompanying cover letter, avoid duplicating the content of your resumé. Instead, aim for a couple of short paragraphs that reveal something about what you want and who you are.
For still more detail about the fine points, check out this compendium of resumé mistakes to avoid, while this article on crafting a professional resumé can help you neutralize red flags such as a lack of experience or a gap in your employment history.
Phoning it in
Phone interviews are like the door to the waiting room: a mechanism to control the influx of candidates and weed out those who don’t meet basic requirements. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, phone interviews may enlarge their scope and replace some interviews that used to occur in person.
Have your resumé and a few key points at hand so the interviewer’s questions won’t catch you off-guard. It’s also a good idea to prepare some questions of your own, which signals seriousness of intent. Avoid bringing up salary—such conversations are best left for face-to-face meetings—unless specifically asked.
In addition to confirming your qualifications, a phone interview gives the interviewer a glimpse of your professionalism. Choose a quiet space for the interview (or ask a family member or neighbor to take the dog out) and turn off all electronic devices. During the interview, speak calmly and clearly and avoid jokes or sarcastic remarks—this is not the time to show off your edgy humor. And don’t even think of eating anything, let alone chewing gum. To make sure you avoid such gaffes, check out this list of 10 phone interview tips.
Acing the Interview
In the post-pandemic world, face to face doesn’t necessarily mean in the same room—it just means that you and the interviewer(s) can see each other. At this stage, consider “well groomed and well dressed” to be the price of admission.
Be ready to answer standard interview questions like “why are you interested in this job” or “where do you see yourself in five years.” To address the obligatory question about your weaknesses, focus on a deficiency you have overcome or are working to overcome. Think of the question as an opportunity to demonstrate both your honesty and your work ethic.
Most important of all, you’ll need to make a good general impression: fail at this task and you’ve lost the job. Fortunately, the key ingredients of a good impression—a positive and confident attitude—lie within everyone’s reach. If you’re unsure you can pull it off, rehearse with a friend or colleague.
Taking Setbacks in Stride
Learning you didn’t get a job after what seemed like a stellar interview counts among life’s most demoralizing experiences. While mentally steeling yourself for this outcome won’t take away the sting, it can help you recover more quickly and with your confidence intact.
It pays to remember that personal biases permeate all human transactions, and job interviews are no exception. That elusive quality called “fit” doesn’t always work in your favour. In some cases, a position may have been earmarked for an internal hire, but due diligence required it to go through a formal solicitation process. Of course, it’s also possible that you came off as more arrogant or boastful than you intended, and it never hurts to ask a friend for feedback on your self-presentation.
For further insight into “the job that got away,” check out this article on getting rejected for a job after acing an interview.
MAKING IT WORK
A job offer is only the beginning. What happens next can set the stage for you career.
Negotiating an Offer
You got the job! By all means convey your excitement to your new employer, but resist the impulse to immediately accept the terms of employment: the offer will not evaporate if you negotiate. When discussing compensation, don’t get stuck on the annual salary, as many companies offer bonuses and stock options to top up the base pay. If you come up against a hard compensation limit, ask for alternative perks such as flextime, option to work remotely, or support for continuing education. The fine points of negotiating an offer also include tackling one issue at a time and knowing who holds the decision-making levers.
If you’re already working but suspect your salary doesn’t reflect your worth, reach out to a recruiter to get feedback on industry norms. If you believe you’re being underpaid, you’ll earn your supervisor’s respect—and quite likely a raise—by stating your case. Presenting your accomplishments and knowing your boundaries will serve you well when negotiating a salary increase.
Fast-Tracking the Culture
Company culture, also known as organizational or working culture, refers to the attitudes and behaviors of a company and its employees. It encompasses ingredients such as work environment, leadership style, working style, and expectations. Figuring out the company culture as quickly as possible will help you fit in, feel comfortable, and work productively. To get a read of your new employer’s culture, look for the mission statement and client/employee testimonials on the company website. Most important, observe your co-workers: see how they dress, carry themselves, and interact. Figure out whether that happy-hour Zoom meeting is expected or optional.
Whether you’re working on-site or remotely, make an effort to build relationships with your colleagues. Showing the “real you” to people inspires trust. Even a single work buddy can help you integrate into the culture, and connecting with people outside your rank can help loosen the barriers between managers and employees.
There’s no shame in making strategic connections, either. Start with a focused “career talk” with your supervisor, which demonstrates commitment to your growth within the organization. Identify the key stakeholders in your new role and arrange to meet them. One of them could turn out to be the perfect mentor for you.
The Publishing Pressure Cooker
Scientific research has become a highly competitive endeavor. If you’ve chosen academic research as a career, sooner or later you’ll confront the “publish or perish” imperative. At the same time, rushing to publish can compromise the quality of your work. Indeed, a study of scientific publication determined that pressure to publish led to poorer-quality output and a bias toward positive results.
Fortunately, many experts have voiced concerns about the push to publish at all costs, suggesting the tide may be turning. As noted by Cambridge University researcher Kanad Mandke, “the slow science movement [an antidote to publication-oriented science]…is gaining a lot of traction among eminent scientists.”
While the pressure to publish isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon, a focus on quality over quantity and will serve you well in the long run. A methodical approach to getting published in scientific journals, as well as a set of strategies to manage the pressure, will help you stay sane along the way.
Even a dream job can lose its luster over time. New management, a new R&D direction, or even a new supervisor can tip the balance from great to not so great. Sometimes the whole work environment can turn poisonous over time. Signs of a toxic workplace include harassment, unaddressed conflict, and harsh top-down management that leaves employees feeling unheard and unappreciated.
If you’re wondering whether to stay or to go, consider these five reasons to switch jobs. At the same time, a vague feeling of dissatisfaction does not automatically signal a need to get out. A change of responsibilities, departments, or working conditions could help you recapture your enthusiasm. Respectfully approach your supervisor to explore such possibilities.
If you lean toward leaving, it may help you to contact a reputable biotech recruiter to gain insight into current market conditions. Aside from having deep industry connections, a good recruiter can alert you to career paths you hadn’t considered. Once you get a new job offer, your current employer may attempt to lure you back with a raise, a promotion, or all manner of promises. While flattering, such counteroffers rarely result in mutual satisfaction. Unless the counteroffer provides a clear fix to the problems that led you to look elsewhere, honor your instincts.
”I want to be a recruiter when I grow up!”
Okay, chances are you never uttered those words as a child. As Allison Ellsworth, Sr. Recruiting Partner and Director HR at Sci.bio, says “The vast majority of people don’t go to school to become a recruiter. You kind of fall into it through different choices you make on your career path, as you follow and develop your skill set.”
So let’s assume that over the years as you either considered options for starting your career or have contemplated a career shift, you decided that recruiting might just be the job for you. After all, you like interacting with people and think you’re a good judge of them; you can see yourself enjoying the prospect of conducting interviews on a daily basis and think you might even be pretty good at it.
But there’s more to being a great recruiter than just an affinity for talking to talk to people. Of course, that’s a necessary trait; if you don’t like interacting with people recruiting is likely not the job for you. But there’s also much more involved than the interview alone; a number of different types of skills and attributes are necessary to truly stand apart as a great recruiter.
3 Types of Skills/Attributes
The skills and attributes required can be grouped into three categories: Interpersonal Skills, Personal Attributes, and Business Skills. Let’s take a look at what falls into each of these categories.
Interpersonal skills could be considered the ante just to get into the game; any great recruiter has mastered them. When your job centers around interacting with and assessing people on a daily basis, things like communication skills and the ability to build and develop relationships are a must.
Great Communication Skills
The ability to verbally articulate is certainly important, but good communication skills go beyond speaking, or even writing. The ability to read body language to ascertain the real meanings, feelings, and emotions behind the words a candidate is saying, as well as the ability to use your own body language to put others at ease are just as important. And being able to actively listen to the nuances of what a candidate says – again, going beyond the simple words – can go a long way in making a thorough and accurate assessment.
Some may say that recruiting truly is an art of relationship building. And this means not only building and nurturing relationships with current and potential candidates, but also doing the same with hiring managers and even fellow recruiters. Finding and placing that perfect candidate in the perfect role is a team sport and requires trust, reliability, and a strong connection with all parties involved.
If interpersonal skills are the ante, certain personal attributes are the things that refine your ability to be a great recruiter even further. The tricky thing here is that some of these attributes tend to be inherent in a person and might be tough to learn if you don’t already have them. That’s not to say that can’t be learned, but if they come naturally to you, it may make being a great recruiter a little easier for you to attain. Some of the most important include:
Resilience/ Adaptability – when you’re dealing with various people, numerous variables can come into play, some that can even be beyond your control. People can be unpredictable, schedules can change last minute, and priorities and needs of both people and organizations can shift without much warning. When things don’t go as planned, the ability to bounce back and/or change your approach is key.
Patience/ Professional Persistence – sometimes it might take multiple tries to find and recruit the perfect candidate; the ability to play the “long game” and not give up after a first seemingly failed attempt can serve you well.
Results driven – recruiting can be a competitive profession, especially in industries that are in high growth mode where demand for talent may outpace supply. The best recruiters know how to set goals, keep focused on those goals, and work tirelessly towards them until they’re achieved.
Integrity – having a reputation for operating ethically and with honesty, and with the best interests of all involved always front and center can really set you apart from those who might use more questionable tactics to achieve their goals.
In a profession that is hyper-focused on people skills and relationship building, this final group of skills can sometimes be overlooked, but can truly level you up and make you stand apart from the rest.
Industry/Job Knowledge – having strong working knowledge of both the industry in which you are recruiting and the specific jobs you are trying to fill will make you more effective in assessing a candidate’s fit for an opportunity. Knowing the job intimately isn’t necessarily required, but having a working understanding of some of the key responsibilities and skills/experience needed to accomplish them will help you dig a little deeper in your interviews. Additionally, different industries often have their own unique attributes, needs, and nuances, and having a solid understanding of those will make finding the right talent that much easier.
Sales/Marketing skills – part of your job as a recruiter is to “sell” your ability to fill the role to the hiring manager, then “sell” the opportunity to potential candidates and the candidates’ abilities back to the hiring manager. Having natural sales abilities or being able to develop them can take your recruiting skills to the next level.
Problem solving & technical skills – some roles can be much harder to fill than others; roles that are highly competitive or require difficult to find skill sets may require out of the box thinking to successfully find and recruit candidates. In addition, knowing not only which technologies are available, but how to use them to find those hard to come by candidates can set you apart as well.
Time Management/Multitasking – this may go without saying, but being a recruiter means juggling multiple schedules, interviews, and job requisitions at the same time. Without strong organizational/time management skills and the ability to multitask, there’s no way you’ll be able to stay on top of everything you need to manage.
Want to hear what actual recruiters have to say? Stay tuned for an interview series with some of Sci.bio’s recruiters: learn what makes them tick, what it takes to be successful, and discover if recruiting is a career path that is a good fit for you!
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruption to the ways we work. Some of the changes wrought will remain in effect well into 2021. Virtual meeting software (Zoom, WebEx, GoTo Meeting and Microsoft Teams to name just a few) is now a significant part of the professional workday. Respondents to a survey by Robert Half reported spending 30% of their workday on camera with business contacts or colleagues. The software isn’t simply being used for scheduled business meetings, but for informal gatherings between professionals, socials, and interviews.
While such software allows many of us to maintain a sense of normalcy and connection to our colleagues, ‘Zoom burnout’ is a real problem. Twenty-four percent of people surveyed by Robert Half found “virtual meetings inefficient and exhausting and prefer to communicate via other channels like email or phone.” Many struggled to concentrate after too many meetings.
For job seekers and students in their final year of college, networking is still crucial to landing the right position, and Zoom is an important tool for that purpose. For workers not actively seeking new opportunities, Zoom allows them to stay connected with other colleagues working remotely and make new contacts.
Zoom as a job-seeking tool
Despite the disruption caused by COVID-19, people are still graduating college, entering the workforce, and planning career changes. Fortunately, the biotech job market remains relatively strong and companies continue to hire. Networking remains an important part of the job-seeking process, and many networking events have successfully migrated to a virtual format.
If you’re hunting for a job, look for networking events run by professional science organizations, regional trade associations, or interest groups. Happy hours or networking socials are particularly helpful to attend as a way to meet recruiters and people already working in your target industry.
It can be difficult to network online in a large group, so many events either set up breakout rooms attendees can self-select into, or randomize participants to different breakout rooms during the social as a form of “speed networking.”
While networking online, remember it’s harder to read body language and detect social cues when looking at a person through video conference software, so be careful not to monopolize the conversation, and give other people a chance to share their thoughts. Consider sharing links to your LinkedIn profile in the group chat so others can follow up with you after the meeting ends — and copy the information quickly, because you probably won’t get access to the conversation afterward.
Zoom as a tool to connect with coworkers
Many virtual meeting platforms function equally well for business and personal gatherings. Zoom estimates 89% of its users are using its platform for work and 63% are using it for conversations with friends and family.
If you’re looking for novel but relaxed ways to connect with colleagues or employees, consider running a remote coworking event where participants socialize for the first 30 minutes then focus on their work for a couple of hours. This lets everyone have some company while they work. Another option is to schedule virtual coffee breaks or lunches with your coworkers.
Many workplaces have organized work from home socials where participants are sent the necessary components for an activity — escape room clues, wine or food tasting samples, a simple craft activity — that they can all enjoy together as a shared experience.
Avoiding Zoom fatigue
Burnout from too many online meetings is a real phenomenon, so use the software sparing for maximum benefit. Try to avoid scheduling too many meetings back-to-back, and consider spreading essential meetings out over several days. Of course, the best way to avoid Zoom fatigue is to not use Zoom; consider taking a step back and asking yourself if this virtual meeting could be an old-fashioned phone call (or even just an email!). Also consider other ways to manage your work-life balance.
When you do have to hop on a virtual meeting, try to reduce your number of available distractions and avoid multitasking. Though it can seem productive trying to complete several tasks at once, it will end up increasing your Zoom fatigue and making it harder to focus in the next meeting.
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.
Working in the pharma industry remains an attractive employment prospect for many STEM graduates and PhDs, and demand for new employees continues to rise. However, the biotech and pharma industry has changed a lot over the years, and so has company hiring preferences. If you’re a student or recent graduate, you are probably wondering what are the most in-demand majors for pharma companies right now. And, perhaps more importantly, what is driving demand?
Recent Hiring Trends
In recent years, the market for biopharma has expanded steadily. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, biotechnology jobs are expected to grow an additional 10 percent by 2026—faster than the national average across all other occupations. In 2018 the biotechnology industry employed nearly 215,000 people in the United States. This industry is spread across 35 states, with hot spots in Massachusetts and California.
According to a 2019 report from MassBioEd, which analyzed majors specified in job postings, the most in demand disciplines for PhD-level hires among Massachusetts life science employers were statistics and biostatistics. Chemistry and biology majors remain in high demand at Bachelors, Masters and PhD level, but for Bachelors level hires, computer science, bioengineering and engineering majors were also highly sought after.
Experienced life science recruiters also note “an uptick in demand for engineers of all disciplines: particularly chemical and biomedical engineering” over the past few years, explains Brandi Byner-Burrow, a sourcing expert at Sci Bio.
Engineering and Problem-Solving
It is important for students to not just identify which STEM majors are in demand right now, but to understand why pharma companies are seeking them out.
For instance, pharma and biotech companies are seeking out engineers for their problem-solving abilities. “(Companies) like their hands-on ability to troubleshoot and tinker, fix and build things using critical thinking ability,” says Kerry Ciejek, Managing Partner at Sci Bio.
The demand for engineers at the expense of other STEM majors is motivated by the perception in industry that troubleshooting and problem-solving isn’t taught in many advanced degree programs. “PhDs in academia are not really trained to solve the product development problems. A lot of the work is based on mechanistic, basic research. That’s still needed in industry, but not to a large extent,” says Eric Celidonio, Founder and Managing Partner at Sci Bio.
When they are not seeking versatile problem-solving STEM PhDs, these companies prefer to hire candidates with highly-specialised technical backgrounds that fit ongoing drug discovery programs. For example, a biotech company won’t look to hire just anyone with a microbiology PhD — instead they may want a microbiologist whose area of expertise is a particular bacterial strain such as C. difficile. If a life science PhD without a niche focus cannot demonstrate broad problem-solving skills to make up for it, it limits the number of opportunities they’re eligible for.
Robots and the Pharma Industry
Another major shift in the pharma industry which affects hiring preferences is its move away from small molecule drug discovery — traditionally the expertise of synthetic chemists — to emphasize biologics and automated drug discovery processes. IT and robotics are more prevalent in pharma, and with it the demand for scientists who can parse data and incorporate robotic technology and AI into their daily workflow.
Not only are pharma companies seeking to hire more data scientists, statisticians and computer scientists — they want bench scientists with IT skills. “There’s a huge IT component to the job now,” explains Celidonio. Bench scientists now have access to automated technology to pipette liquids and run high throughput screens, and they need to be comfortable using the technology and fixing it when something breaks.
How much does your major in biotechnology matter?
As a STEM major or PhD candidate, you must be aware of trends in pharma hiring and jobs that will be in demand after you’ve completed your degree in biotechnology. Your choice of major or MS/PhD program should be informed by the number of industry jobs in your area of expertise available upon graduation.
The best advice for students seeking an industrial career is to expose yourself to industry in undergrad through internships, co-ops, or summer jobs. If you can’t secure work experience, look online to see what jobs companies are hiring for, and which majors or technical qualifications are in highest demand.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t panic if your major is not currently top of the most in-demand list, or demand seems to be waning. If you’re already part way through a program, there are ways to increase your attractiveness for recruiters and hiring managers regardless of your major. This includes obtaining relevant work experience, and improving your public speaking and communications skills to make a better impression in interviews.
When you’re on the job market, a clear outline of your technical skills in job application materials or LinkedIn profile will make it easier for recruiters to find you when they seek qualified candidates in your area of expertise. It’s not enough to just have the degree; you must be able to show that you have the critical thinking and technical skills to really use it in the industry.
At Sci Bio we understand the biotech industry’s changing landscape, and use our expertise to ensure hiring managers and job candidates find their perfect match. Get in touch with us today.
Teacher, nurse, nutritionist, psychologist, driver, security officer, event planner, waitress, referee, entertainer, comforter or in other words, mom. Moms naturally perform a balancing act. Adding work to the intricacies of motherhood further fuels the complexity of family life.
The pandemic has brought many unforeseen challenges to women of the household.
“Study after study finds that women shoulder more of the child care, more of the housework in families… men are doing more around the house than a generation ago, but the Labor Department has found mothers still spend almost twice as much time on child care and chores. So you add to that virtual school, and women are just saying this is too much.”¹
It is too much. What are the options in this scenario? According to a recent article, 2.2 million women have left the workforce since the pandemic began² most likely feeling that they had no other choice. A supportive work environment is crucial to keeping parents in the workplace and SciBio is a company that understands this.
Founder & Managing Partner, Eric Celidonio’s goal is to create a flexible environment that values performance, recognize contributions and provides meaning. Eric says “We love the fact that we have a lot of working moms on the team. We have a need for flexibility and so do they.” How do moms on the team feel? We surveyed our moms and here’s what they have to say.
- 90% of them say flexibility is provided by SciBio which is so instrumental to parenthood
- 90% of moms who have worked in other companies agree that SciBio is a supportive environment for working parents
- 100% of moms say the ability to work from home and create their own schedule has greatly benefitted them
Hear from some of our working moms:
Kerry C: “Sci.Bio is a flexible environment where having kids doesn’t mean putting your career on hold. Management prioritizes family and never makes you feel like your work should come before your family…I feel lucky to be here, working for this company that supports me and allows me flexibility.”
“Sci.Bio is a more supportive environment for working moms than other places I’ve worked in the past. It definitely alleviates some of the stress that invariably all working moms feel when doing the daily juggle”
Sandra T: “Working moms need flexibility and understanding. Sci.Bio does more than just permit you to make your own schedule and/or look the other way when an urgent family matter takes center stage; Sci.Bio encourages us to seek balance in ways that fulfill and restore us.”
“In previous companies, it seemed there was a divide between working parents and child-free employees who could dedicate 10 hours/day…Our leadership understands that we’ll get caught up as soon as possible, and they see the results we produce. It’s a much more nourishing environment.”
Allison E: “The majority of my colleagues are also working moms or parents, so they get it. It’s a relief to be able to juggle kids and work and not feel that I have to hide any part of my life. At Sci.Bio, we have always had flexible schedules and the ability to work independently, so I have always been able to work during the times in my day that the kids don’t need me (hooray for nap time!).”
“Without this flexibility, I wouldn’t be working. I would be another statistic, another mom who drops out of the workforce because it simply doesn’t support parents, and mothers in particular. I was never willing to sacrifice time with my children just to be in an office for 10 hours a day–it’s unnecessary. Losing women in the workforce negatively impacts all of us, and it’s past time to make changes to allow people a life outside of the office. The flexibility we have at Sci.Bio has allowed me to retain other parts of my identity besides being a mom, which so many women aren’t able to do–and maintaining those other aspects of who we are makes us better moms AND better workers”
Shereen D: “At Sci Bio the flexibility is an amazing benefit, I never feel pressure or guilt when I need to focus on my family.”
“I always considered myself to be very organized but being a mom has intensified this skill. Being a first time mom is challenging and actually remembering that you need to stay organized is key! Working at SciBio has helped me balance life as a doting mother and a dedicated employee.”
Between cuddles and conference calls, reading picture books and reading emails, working moms have a life filled with laser focus and optimal efficiency. Looking at these daily experiences, we celebrate the unsung heroes in the workforce, and look forward to continuing to meet their needs in a work environment.
Sci.Bio is a leading recruitment and search firm based in Boston. We specialize in finding and hiring the best talent to fill temporary openings, long-term positions, and executive roles in the Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals, and the Life Sciences industries.