Online courses – how important are they once you’re employed? Once you’ve finished with college, you’re done learning and can now sail by on the skills you have, right? Wrong! More than ever, learning is a lifelong process, and new skills can come in handy when you least expect them to.
If you work in the life science industry, chances are your whole career is built on discovering and analyzing new information. It never hurts to broaden your perspective with a little more! Whether you’re looking to enhance your skills in your current position, level up into a new one, or prepare for the workplace of the future, an online course on your resume can help show employers and peers that you’re ready for a challenge.
General Courses for General Knowledge
Chances are, you’re not an expert in every single scientific field. If you can identify an area of study that would help you in your current role, it may be a good time to bulk up on some learning! For the record, willingness to learn is high on the list of qualities employers look for in potential employees. Show them you’ve got what they’re looking for by skilling up in a relevant field.
Maybe you work as a geneticist, and you’d like to gain a more thorough understanding of anatomy. You may not need the knowledge, but a course in the subject would likely deepen your knowledge and understanding of your own practice. As a science/biotech practitioner, other subjects you may want to consider learning more about include biostatistics, immunology, and computer science.
Online Courses on Hot New Topics
There’s no quicker way to learn about a new industry than a one-and-done online course. With so many virtual education options literally at our fingertips, we can easily dive into topics that aren’t relevant to us yet, but that we believe will be soon.
So, what’s trending now? Well, for example, ChatGPT – and so are discussions about exactly what it can and can’t do. Ever considered taking a course to get some real answers? Then there are up-and-coming scientific and medical fields like health informatics, nanotechnology, and quantum biology. If one of these highly current fields piques your interest, don’t hesitate to jump on the bandwagon and learn more.
Developing Specific Skills
If you want to level up into a new position or refine your craft in your current one, a highly specific skill set is your golden ticket. For traditional science positions, some useful in-your-pocket skills include data analytics, bioinformatics, and digital literacy for scientists.
Maybe it’s not even a skill you need for your career, but one you’d like to understand because you work with others who use it. In this case, you can still go for it! There’s very little downside to learning a new skill. In fact, scientists who continuously learn new skills can expect to reap many benefits in their careers.
Consider a Communications Course
If information can’t be communicated, it loses its value. As a result, writing, speaking, and presenting are fundamental aspects of any industry. Consider a course like this offering by the American Society for Biochemistry and Microbiology to kick your science communication skills up a notch.
You may or may not see yourself as a communications expert, but even a small improvement in your verbal skills can lead to major breakthroughs in your job performance. For example, if you’re working as a data analyst, strengthening your writing skills could inspire you to write a LinkedIn post about applying statistics knowledge to the real world. Naturally, this could broaden your network and lead to new career opportunities.
Bottom Line: Up-Skill to Reap Rewards
Sometimes it’s intimidating to take the leap and learn something new. Keep in mind that you won’t become an expert overnight, but even a bit of extra knowledge can set you apart from the crowd. Online courses are abundant and generally affordable – so if you have the time, there’s no reason not to level up your skill set!
You might think of a “science job” as a lab-coat-wearing, number-crunching, sitting-and-calculating kind of affair. But science jobs can call for a full gamut of abilities – including “softer”, more “human-based” communications skills! If you’re used to seeing yourself as a “pure scientist”, this might seem intimidating – but basic communications skills are very useful in the modern life sci/biotech industry. Never fear: if you are able to understand a concept, chances are, you can learn how to communicate it.
Here we’ve outlined some useful communications skills for the life scientist of 2023, and how to go about cultivating them.
Life Sciences 2023: Communication Skills are Key
Nowadays, the general public is more interested than ever before in being scientifically literate. As such, there is no shortage of non-traditional, communications-based life science jobs to consider. From Social Media Specialist to Marketing Manager to Scientific Editor, jobs in the science communications space abound. Even if you don’t have one of these jobs, you’ll be a huge asset to your employer if you’re able to take on communications tasks in a pinch.
On its own, information isn’t actually all that useful. For it to bring actual value to actual people, someone or something needs to come along to communicate it. If you’re employed in the life sciences, at some point, you’ll probably have to be that person! That’s why basic communications skills are actually indispensable for the life scientist of today. Even something as simple as writing a clear and well-laid-out email is an extremely important business communication skill, and can help you stand out in the corporate world.
Another important skill, oft-overlooked: knowing your audience. If you’re writing for a presentation, think of it like a performance – for a bit of dramatic flair, you can add some extra variety in sentence structure and punctuation. If you’re writing an article for a scientific journal, on the other hand, feel free to indulge in some jargon – but maybe hold back on the poetic license. If you’re writing for a popular magazine for non-scientists, you’ll want to take a more conversational tone, and go easy on the obscure terminology. Whatever the case, knowing how to reach your unique readership can make or break the engagement factor of your work.
And let’s not underestimate the importance of visuals as communication techniques. At some point in your career, you may be asked to prepare a slide deck for a presentation at a pharma conference, or create an Instagram carousel about your company’s latest product line. If and when this happens, you’ll find that an eye for design, layout and color is crucial.
Practicing Your Communication Skills
As we’ve discussed already, “good scientific writing” means different things in different contexts. That said, there are some general rules to keep in mind. For scientific writing that is at once concise and compelling, remember these tips:
Ask yourself, “Would I want to read this?” If you wouldn’t – why not?
Also keep in mind some common writing mistakes. Is your writing:
Using more words than it needs to convey a simple idea?
Full of dull, uninformative “filler” phrases?
So repetitive in sentence structure and word choice that it’s… boring?
These are very common mistakes, so don’t feel bad if you make them too. Just keep an eye out – they can creep in pretty easily if you’re not careful! As for design, keep these general ideas in mind:
Don’t use too many different shapes, fonts, etc. – unless you have a clear reason to
Use different shades of the same color on the same page for a simple, visually pleasing aesthetic
Position your most important elements slightly upwards and leftwards of center for maximum visual impact
Communication Skills – the Life Raft of Information
It’s always a good idea to have extra skills in your arsenal – you never know when they might come in handy! If you practice your writing skills, design skills, and overall ability to concisely convey concepts to different audiences, you’ll be well on your way to being a pro scientific communicator.
If you’re new to the biotech job market you may hold the following common misconceptions about recruiters (put your hand up if you’ve believed either of these things): recruiters are indiscriminate in who they reach out to, and they only care about meeting hiring quota.
In reality, biotech recruiters are often very familiar with the industry, because they have long standing relationships with pharma clients, and are trained as scientists themselves. Many recruiters are STEM graduates like yourself, and love talking about science with jobseekers and clients.
If you’re overwhelmed by the post-graduation hunt for a job, working with a boutique biotech recruiter will make your life easier. But if you’ve not worked with specialized recruiters before, you might not know how to build a relationship with one, or let them know you’re job-hunting.
If a biotech recruiter hasn’t reached out to you, here are proactive ways to reach out:
Attend mixers or networking events at events in your field (e.g. a Working in Biotech career panel, a young professionals mixer) – it’s likely you’ll find one or two recruiters among the attendees
After introducing yourself: your current role, when you expect to graduate or begin job-hunting, and the job positions you’re interested in – the recruiter will likely ask for an opportunity to chat with you on the phone to learn more.
What to expect in initial phone conversations with recruiters:
Don’t be shy – recruiters speak to a lot of people like yourself, and are familiar with conducting these types of conversations and putting you at ease.
Practice a brief couple of sentences’ introduction. E.g. I’m an Immunology PhD candidate at X university. Give the other person space to ask follow-up questions.
Think about when you are looking for a job and what skills you have. What analytical instruments do you work with? What laboratory techniques do you regularly perform (e.g. PCR, western blot)? Decide what you are looking for in a role, and if you don’t know, think broadly: do you want to work with people, are you interested in being a bench scientist? Would you like to work in a fast-paced start-up, or a more traditional large pharmaceutical company? These answers will help the recruiter decide which roles to put your name towards.
After your initial phone call and emails, don’t be afraid to follow up if you haven’t heard back within an agreed upon timeframe. Recruiters are busy, and clients can experience delays in their hiring process, so recruiters are unlikely to be ignoring you! Checking in regularly demonstrates your continued interest in the roles discussed, as well as your good organization skills.
At Sci.Bio, we’ve helped hundreds of STEM graduates get into their first biotech job. Get in touch to schedule a chat with one of our friendly, knowledgeable recruiters today.
Are you wondering what to expect at your biotech job interview? Before we get to that, congratulations on getting this far! Whether you are applying to your first STEM job after graduation, or re-entering the job market after a long time, the biotech interview process can appear intimidating. Fortunately, the recruitment process is fairly standard across the industry – with a few exceptions described below – and with a little bit of preparation you can shine every step of the way.
General Structure of Biotech Job Interview Process
The first step of the recruitment process is usually an HR screening call. The recruiter or HR representative will tell you about the company and the role in more general terms, and assess your basic suitability for the role: whether you have the right qualifications and experience. The next stage is a call with the hiring manager, followed by technical or panel interviews. Panel interviews will usually involve senior employers across a variety of functions who will interact with you in their line of work. For instance, if you’re interviewing for a bench position, you may be interviewed by your potential line manager, the head of your department, and someone from finance or operations.
These interviews will delve deeper into your experience, competencies, and what the role involves. Depending on the technical role you’re applying for you might be asked to present on a scientific topic (e.g. your thesis project), or complete a timed/take-home assessment.
A biotech job interview will often be via video conference (Microsoft Teams, WebEx or Zoom), though you may be invited for an in-person interview at the final stage if you live nearby.
If you found this job through a recruiter, expect them to follow-up with you after each stage to get your feedback. The recruiter will often do the majority of the interview scheduling, and talk to the hiring team on your behalf.
It’s a good idea to prepare for the interview by gathering basic information about the company you wish to work for. Look at the company website, its LinkedIn pages and read through recent press releases or news articles about the company.
You want to get a general idea about the structure of the company (how many employees it has, where are its offices, etc), and if it’s expanding or changing its business focus. During the interviews you could be asked “what do you know about the company?” and you want to be able to give a brief but accurate answer. Were there any big approvals or results from clinical trials? Most interviewers are prepared to talk about the company, and answer your questions, so don’t feel shy about admitting you don’t know something.
For the later interviews (e.g. with the hiring manager, technical, panel) think about scenarios in previous jobs – or during school – when you had to deal/work with a difficult person, work in a team to solve a problem, deal with multiple challenging deadlines at once, etc. You’ll often be asked basic competency questions to see how you communicate and work with others, in addition to assessing the technical skills you bring to the role.
The best way to demonstrate interest in the role is to ask questions and maintain a dialogue with the interviewers. In the last few minutes of the call, ask a couple of questions about the state of industry, any changes in the industry or company the hiring managers are excited about; or why they enjoy working for the company. It reflects well on you if you have thoughtful questions to ask.
Different Companies Have Different Hiring Procedures
This interview process varies depending on the size of the company hiring. At a small biotech start-up there are usually fewer interview steps. You’re more likely to interview with company higher-ups such as the CEO sooner.
At larger biotechs of pharmaceutical companies the recruitment process is more formal, with more interview steps, and a greater number of people involved in each interview. It therefore might take longer to move through the interview process, since there are more people to schedule around, more candidates, and more internal bureaucracy prior to approving a new hire.
Overall, though the biotech interview process can feel exhausting and repetitive, exposure to multiple people will give you a good sense of the company culture, and allow you plenty of opportunities to get your questions answered.
Nervous about applying for a new STEM job? The friendly recruiters at Sci.Bio will be with you every step of the process to help you prepare. Connect with us to discuss your needs today.
Science MBA Combo? The short answer: yes! The long answer: yes, because career opportunities in the STEM business space are more abundant than ever, and it’s never been more useful to bring a wide range of skills to a position. An MBA can be the perfect complement to a science degree, supplementing a technical grounding in science with some highly sought-after business skills.
A solid foundation
Science degree holders are often already well-versed in many of the skills required to succeed in business. These can include research skills, data analysis skills, and the ability to communicate high-level concepts. With a little bit of instruction, these skills can easily be applied in a new context. In addition to applying them to lab work and problem-solving on a chemical level, a science-and-business expert knows how to apply them within the context of a whole company.
STEM Science MBA
Some highly specific MBA programs offer tracks for STEM, healthcare, and other fields. This is in response to the ever-growing need for specialized business experts. If you’re thinking about doing an MBA, consider applying to a specialty program that will not only teach you the standard content of this classic degree, but how to apply these lessons to your chosen field.
If you do find yourself shopping around for STEM MBA programs, make sure you have your screening process down pat. Prioritize programs whose curricula offer a direct pathway into the role you’d like to land afterwards. And should you be called in for an interview, be sure to clarify what companies recruit from the program, and the kinds of positions that are up for grabs.
Career opportunities for a winning combo
For those who’ve graduated with a STEM degree and go on to pursue a Science MBA combo, career prospects abound. Many positions require a blend of technical science acumen and more hands-on, management-focused business skills. If you can bring both to the table, you’ll be a piping hot candidate.
Financial analyst: a financial analyst in the life science space can choose to work for a company, or to work as a freelance consultant. In either case, your primary role will be to offer financial and business advice to biotech and pharma companies.
Quality control specialist: this position involves overseeing research processes to make sure they comply with all applicable regulations. That might sound dull, but there can be an element of creativity, too: this job can also involve making recommendations to improve the efficiency of the research process.
Sales account manager: A sales account manager for a life science company may indeed find that they can work in a scientific field they’re passionate about, while receiving no shortage of opportunities to schmooze with customers. For the right person, managing a sales account in a field they love can bring the best of two worlds to the work experience.
Product manager: an employee in this role oversees the development of new products in the life science and biopharma space. This could involve monitoring lab work, advising a marketing team about current project specs, or advising businesses on what products to develop next.
Advantages of a diverse skill set
Biotech businesses are some of the hottest on the market right now, and at present the industry is only growing. As a result, life science employers are more in need than ever of employees who understand their businesses on both a micro and macro level. Surprise surprise: the science MBA combo lends itself beautifully to just that.
Another benefit of getting an MBA post-life science undergrad: more interactive career opportunities. After years of highly detail-oriented and isolated lab work, some scientists hunger for more interactive, people-facing employment. If you can relate, take note: an MBA will bolster your chances of finding a socially dynamic position that still calls upon your years of rigorous scientific study.
The perfect position for your background
Clearly, the science-MBA combo has never been timelier. Employers nowadays are looking for a blend of soft skills and hard skills, and the moment they see that winning duo of specialties on your resume, they’ll know without any further investigation that you possess plenty of both. If you’re looking for an interdisciplinary position that incorporates the full range of your skills, Sci.bio’s recruitment services can help you find it.