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Is Another Degree Necessary After Your PhD?

Is Another Degree Necessary After Your PhD?

Author: Cliff Mintz

There was an interesting article in Science Careers Magazine this week entitled “Should you consider another degree after your PhD.” The article traces the journey of several people who earned PhD degrees in science-related fields who transitioned into new careers including law, regulatory affairs, business development and science writing.

The gist of the article is that if you can afford the costs of earning another degree, it may be worth it for persons with PhD degrees who want to get “out of the lab.” However, based on my own experiences and those of the persons mentioned in the article, most graduate students and postdocs lack the financial resources to enroll in professional degree or certificate programs after completing their PhD programs. Consequently, most of the people showcased in the article were able to leverage unpaid internships and volunteer work into new jobs that paid for additional training or professional degree programs.

I have long posited that obtaining another degree after a PhD degree may not be in the best interest of PhD degree holders for a variety of reasons. First, as mentioned above, the financial obligations of a degree or certificate program may be too onerous or unrealistic for graduate students who worked for minimum wage for many years to obtain their PhD degrees; the funds simply are not available. Second, by the time a PhD degree is awarded and postdoctoral training is completed, most science PhD degree holders are in their mid 30s to early 40s and in many cases, have families, which may not be conducive to going back to school full time. Also, who wants to be a student for most of their adult lives? Finally, the mere exhaustion and stress associated with spending close to 10 years in a laboratory may discourage even the most ambitious individuals from pursuing another degree or certificate. Put simply, there may not be “enough gas left in the tank” to obtain another degree in the hopes of possibly changing a career trajectory.

Based on my experience as an instructor in a program offered to PhD students and postdocs who had already decided that a research career was not for them, internships, volunteer work and an unrelenting pursuit of an alternate career is probably the best way to navigate a career change. What I observed about all of the students in this program (over 70% of them obtained non-research jobs after completing their PhD degrees with no postdoctoral training) was that they were highly motivated and did whatever was necessary to network and leverage the resources offered to them by the program (which included mixers, invitations to professional meetings, and guest speakers outside of the research world including pharmaceutical executives, venture capitalist, medical writers and clinical study managers) to get “where they wanted to go”.

For example, one student, who was interested in regulatory affairs, went to the dean of her medical school to get the funds necessary to go to a national regulatory affairs meeting rather than attending an annual society meeting to present her research findings. Today, she is a director of regulatory affairs at a major biotechnology company. Another student wrote reviews for an online financial services company regarding the technology behind various private and publicly traded biotechnology companies as a graduate student, now works for a financial service company as an analyst. Finally, another student who was interested in technology transfer was able to leverage an unpaid internship in his university’s technology transfer office into a full time job (he is now a director of the office).

The bottom line: while obtaining another degree or certificate may better position you for a possible career change, it may not be emotionally or financially possible or likely. That said, rather than fantasizing about what may have been if you simply chose law or medicine or business over a graduate career in science, you best shot at changing the direction of your career may be to identify alternative career options and obtaining the necessary skill sets, qualifications and real life experience to make it a reality, Once you have identified those things, the next step is to devise a financially-viable plan to obtain them and then spend the majority of your waking hours successfully implementing the plan. It won’t be easy but as the old adage goes “if there is a will then there is a way.”

Why Online Networking Can Make a Difference in a Job Search

Why Online Networking Can Make a Difference in a Job Search

Author: Cliff Mintz

Most human resource professionals contend that some form of online networking with colleagues and peers is probably the best way to land a new job. To that point, online networking offers several advantages over live networking and other traditional ways of keeping in touch with others.

First, online networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy for people to find you. Unlike live networking where information flow is painstakingly slow, online networking allows users to provide prospective employers with large amounts of professional information. Moreover, online network users can control the information that employers and others can access. Effectively controlling online information may mean the difference between employment or not.

Second, membership in online networks allows users to easily keep tabs on others and visa versa. Also, users can configure online networking platforms to automatically receive news, updates and alerts in real time. Being the first to learn about a job opening may give a jobseeker a competitive advantage.

Finally, online networking sites allow users to quickly connect with one another (or access the knowledge base of a network) without investing much time or effort. In contrast with live networking, small talk and casual conversation is not required to get the information that you or a prospective employer may be seeking.

Getting Started

An important first step is to create a professional profile. This should contain a candidate’s career path including educational background, past places of employment, awards and honors, and his/her current position and job responsibilities. Sites that are designed for professional networking usually provide new users with templates that allow them to quickly create a profile.

Personal information should not be present in a professional profile. Things like age, marital status, political persuasion or sexual orientation should not appear anywhere in a user profile. User profiles MUST be devoid of compromising photos, inappropriate remarks or political or religious diatribes

Ensure that the information is publicly available so that it will appear in Google searches. Also, keep the profile current and remember to add things like recent speaking engagements, new publications etc. to remain competitive.

Expand Your Network

The next step is to find people at the site to connect with. Connecting with people who work at companies or institution where you may want to work is a great idea! Don’t be afraid to connect with others who may be more senior or even junior to you. However, only connect with others who you think may be important or valuable to your job search. Connecting for connections sake may overwhelm your network with irrelevant or inappropriate information.

Finally, invite professional friends and colleagues to join your network. Having a Nobel Laureate or a member of the National Academy of Sciences in a personal network can really do wonders for a job search! Again, this is a professional network; so only invite people to join who you can trust to keep it that way.

Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?

Despite its massive size, Facebook has yet to prove its value for jobseekers. Twitter is better than Facebook, but like Facebook, its value as a job seeking tool remains to be determined. At present, the largest and perhaps best online networking site for professionals is LinkedIn. It boasts free job boards, paid advertising and is regularly scrutinized by professional recruiters. One of the more valuable LinkedIn features, are the LinkedIn groups where it is easy to start conversations with prospective employers and hiring managers

Keep it Professional

These days hiring managers routinely scrutinize candidates’ online presence or personas before moving forward with the job application process. Therefore, it is a good idea to Google yourself from time-to-time to manage the information that is available to prospective employers. Any damaging information may mean the difference between employment or not. Finally, online networking, if appropriately used, can be an extremely effective job seeking tool for those seeking employment in the life sciences industry.

Industrial Careers: Big Pharma vs. Biotech?

Industrial Careers: Big Pharma vs. Biotech?

Author: Cliff Mintz

Many PhD life scientists who have determined that a tenure-track career is not for them usually set their sights on entry-level R&D jobs at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. While both pharmaceutical and biotechnology jobs are generally lumped together under the umbrella of “industrial careers” there are many differences between them.

Big Pharma: Is Bigger Always Better?

The pharmaceutical industry has been in existence for over 100 years and has successfully developed and commercialized thousands of products. Therefore, not surprisingly, big pharmaceutical companies are generally well-capitalized, multinational organizations that globally employ tens of thousands of people. Because of their large size and financial largesse, there are many advantages to working for a big pharmaceutical company.

First, big pharma companies usually offer high salaries, outstanding benefit packages and a variety of perks including flexible spending programs, onsite cafeterias and large annual bonuses. Second, because of their financial stability, R&D budgets at big pharmaceutical companies are generous and research need not be bootstrapped on being conducted using a shoestring budget. Also, as far as job security goes, it is unlikely that a big pharma company will ever go out of business because of bankruptcy! Finally, because of the large number and diversity of jobs at big pharma companies there are ample opportunities for career advancement or even career change

Despite the obvious pros with these companies, inevitably, the terms “large,” “bureaucratic” and “cumbersome” are typically used to describe the way big pharma companies operate. In general, organizational structure is rigid and inflexible, administrative rules and regulations are strictly enforced, collaboration is difficult and for some employees navigating internal politics can be extremely treacherous. Further, R&D projects are mandated by management and scientists have little flexibility in their day-to-day job duties and responsibilities are rigidly defined and adhered to according to job title. Finally decision-making is often painfully slow and multiple layers of management often impede the progress of research projects.

Biotech: “Take A Walk on the Wild Side”

Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, the biotechnology industry is only 50 years old. Yet, despite its youthfulness, the biotechnology industry has become a vibrant and essential sector of the American economy and is threatening to surpass the capabilities of many pharmaceutical companies.

There is general agreement among industry experts that the small size and entrepreneurial spirit of biotechnology companies enhances their scientific nimbleness, allows for quick decision-making (less bureaucracy) and tends to foster collaboration between employees.

Unlike big pharma companies, many biotechnology companies are often strapped for cash and funding ongoing research operations can be challenging. This forces biotechnology companies to hire fewer employees and exclusively focus on developing a single rather than multiple products at a time. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that biotechnology company employees frequently possess a wider range of skill sets and experiences than most pharmaceutical employees because it is likely that biotechnology employees (unlike pharmaceutical employees) will be asked to “wear many different hats” to scientifically advance a project.

Because of the smaller number of employees, the organizational structure of most biotechnology companies is less hierarchical and the culture at these companies is much more “relaxed” and less formal as compared with big pharma companies. Innovation is encouraged (and rewarded) at most biotechnology companies and collaboration between scientists is very common. This is in marked contrast with big pharma where so-called “silos” are prevalent, collaboration is nominal and innovation is difficult.

Despite the many “pros” associated with biotechnology jobs, there is a downside. First, starting salaries are lower and benefits packages are much less generous at biotechnology companies as compared with big pharma. Second, because the financial future for many biotechnology companies is uncertain, job security is an ongoing concern. Finally, unlike big pharma, opportunities for career advancement/change are restricted at most biotechnology companies because of lack of job diversity and financial resources.

Things to Consider with Industrial Careers

While there are obviously many differences between pharmaceutical and biotechnology jobs, the competition for industrial careers can be fierce. To that point, most jobseekers will not have the “luxury” of choosing between a biotechnology and pharmaceutical job to be gainfully employed!

Nevertheless, before beginning an industrial job search, it is important to determine whether big pharma or biotech is the best fit for you. For example, if you want financial security, don’t mind bureaucracy and are accustomed to a slower, more conservative research environment, a pharmaceutical company may be ideal for you. On the other hand, if money is not a high priority, innovation excites you and working in a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment is your thing then perhaps a job at a small biotechnology company may be a good fit for you!

Publish or Perish: Dealing With the Pressure

Publish or Perish: Dealing With the Pressure

Author: Cliff Mintz

The “publish or perish” principle of academia is certainly not a new one and is likely as old as scientific research itself. And, while persons who choose scientific research as a career are often motivated by curiosity and the desire to improve the human condition, they soon find out that academic research is highly competitive and oftentimes dominated by overly ambitious and egocentric individuals. I’m sure that most of you have been told that in order to excel your research must be published in the highest impact journal possible. This, coupled with diminishing research funding can place enormous pressure on individual researchers to gain a competitive edge via less than ethical (and possibly illegal) behavior.

To that point, there was an article in the NY Times that described a postdoc who intentionally sabotaged the efforts of a rising star in a cancer research laboratory at the University of Michigan. While this is only one incident, I do not think that it is the only example of intentional sabotage taking place in academic research laboratories. In fact, this recent incident brings to mind a candid discussion that I had with a prominent academic researcher many years ago. He confided to me and a colleague that he intentionally sabotaged a fellow postdoc’s work because he did not like his competitor and did not want him to get recognition for a discovery (BTW, this discovery led to a patent that made the researcher a very wealthy person).

There is no doubt that in present times, working in an academic lab can feel like working in a pressure cooker that is about to explode. That said, it is important to realize that you are not alone and that learning coping skills can be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety about future career opportunities and employment. However, there is never an instance, when cheating, fabricating data or intentionally sabotaging a competitor’s experiments is acceptable. In fact, any researcher who behaves in this manner ought to be called out, censored and disciplined for their actions.

If the pressurized academic rat race is not for you, there are plenty of jobs available at biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies for qualified candidates. Unlike academia, there is no publish or perish pressure, working hours are much more regular and the salaries are usually very generous. While in the past the transition from academia to industry was a fraught process, the emergence of translational medicine coupled with advanced genomics technology has made the process a lot more navigable for academicians who want out! Further, the availability of online courses and certificate programs that offer training in the so-called “soft skills” which can make the transition from academia to industry much easier.

We are living in uncertain times in which hypocrisy, lies and alternate facts are acceptable to large numbers of people. As scientists, we are responsible for facts and “the truth.” Any deviation from this obligation is unacceptable. In the end, people always look to scientists and researchers for answers, solutions and hints of the truth. It is important that we do not succumb to today’s economic and political pressures and continue to be the purveyors of facts and “the truth.”

Six Common Resume Mistakes To Avoid

Six Common Resume Mistakes To Avoid

Author: Cliff Mintz

While a resume is required for all jobs, writing one that ultimately leads to a job interview and new job remains elusive to many. In many respects, resume writing is more of an art than a science and it can take many attempts to uncover a format/style that works for you. Below are six common mistakes to avoid when writing a resume.

  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); three to five sentences that highlight your skill sets, experience and personal attributes that will help to distinguish you from other job applicants. The SOQ ought to be constructed as a “30-second elevator pitch” that describes who you are and the value that you will bring to employers if they hire you. Don’t be afraid to pepper the SOQ with laudatory adjectives and action verbs to grab the hiring manager’s attention and distinguish you from other applicants. Put simply, don’t be humble!
  2. 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 detailed resume that clearly demonstrates how and why they are the right candidate to fill a particular job opening. First, identify the technical skills, educational background and responsibilities for a job and then craft/build a “unique and personalized” resume that showcases why you are the right fit candidate to fill it.
  3. Make sure to include keywords in your resume. Increasingly, many companies are using AST software and keyword searches to screen the large number of resumes that are received for job openings. A good way to identify what keywords to include in your resume is by carefully studying descriptions of the job opportunities that interest you. Once you identify key words from the job descriptions, liberally sprinkle them throughout your resumes, and most importantly, in the SOQ because this is what is read (scanned) first.
  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. Not surprisingly, resumes rife with typos and misspelled words indicate a lack of attention to detail; something that is vitally important for jobs in the biotechnology and life sciences industries. For example, a hiring manager I know who was seeking to hire a Senior Clinical Research Manager summarily rejected any job applicants whose resumes contained any typos! This is because typos in clinical documents may lead to regulatory delays for new drug approvals. Nevertheless, resumes should be spell-checked for typos and grammatical errors before they are submitted to prospective employers for consideration.
  5. Keep it simple. There is no need to use special fonts or color for a 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. The resume should have an “open” feel and not be filled with long dense blocks of text. Be certain to highlight your accomplishments rather than simply listing duties for different jobs. Prospective employers are much more interested in what was accomplished for a previous employer rather than what your job responsibilities were.
  6. Size does not matter. Urban legend suggests that a resume ought to 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 you are qualified for a specific position. While in some cases, a one or two page resume may be sufficient, don’t be afraid to craft longer resumes if additional space is necessary to present yourself in the best possible light to prospective employers.