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Beyond the Lab and the Launch

Beyond the Lab and the Launch

Author:  Gabrielle Bauer

Explore these ideas, insights, and tips to help you live your best life, both on and off the job.

INTRODUCTION

To stay sharp and to grow within the biotech industry, you need to look beyond the daily routine, to set goals, and to make connections. When you reach a fork in the road, you need strategies to help you choose your next steps with confidence. You also can’t ignore the rest of your life. No matter how inspiring you find your work in the life sciences, time away from the lab or the boardroom can help you maintain your zest for working and for living.

This backgrounder aims to inspire you to live more purposefully and creatively, at work and beyond. Use the ideas and tips below as a starting point, adapting them to your unique style and circumstances. Follow the links to dive more deeply into a topic, and keep an eye out for our blog and events for further insights into the science life.

CAREER JOURNEY

A successful career journey includes both making and changing plans. While perseverance can get you through many rough spots, you also need to know when to cut your losses and regroup. Consider these approaches to help you chart your course.

Boosting Your Goal IQ

“I want to be successful in five years” may be an admirable goal, but it’s not a smart one. Smart goals are:

  • Specific: To zero in on your goal, try answering the five W questions: What do you want to accomplish? Why is the goal important? Who does it involve? Where is it located? Which resources does it require? ●
  • Measurable: How will you know when you’ve reached your goal or are partway there? Measuring your progress can help you maintain your excitement about approaching your goal. If your goal will take months or years to accomplish, break it down into steps that end with clear milestones.
  • Achievable: By all means dream big, but make sure your goal matches your interests, aspirations, and aptitudes. The best goals are those that stretch your abilities without exceeding them. A word of caution: avoid setting goals that depend on someone else’s actions, like “getting promoted to medical director.” If that’s what you want, reframe your goal to something like “acquire the training and skills to be considered for a medical director position.”
  • Relevant: The goal has to mean something to you. If it doesn’t align with your values and other life goals, it will lose its appeal. You know your goal is relevant if you can answer yes to the questions: Does the goal seem worthwhile? Is this the right time for it? Am I the right person to pursue it? Does it make sense in the current business environment?
  • Time-bound: A time-bound goal has a deadline. If you decide to pursue an advanced degree in bioinformatics, you can set your deadline at (for example) three years from now. You can also set deadlines for completing prerequisites, if needed, and for applying to bioinformatics programs.

While you’re working on SMART goals, take the opportunity to step back and consider your long-term career trajectory. Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University, suggests you begin by clarifying where you don’t want to go. “Get clear on what you don’t want, and then take steps to avoid that,” she writes in the Harvard Business Review. “It’s much easier to identify things you know you dislike, rather than ideating about a hypothetical future.” Perhaps the pandemic years have made you realize that you don’t want to spend all your time in an office environment. Or perhaps it’s the opposite: you’ve learned that working from home doesn’t do it for you. Or you’ve realized that you don’t want to spend the rest of your career in a laboratory or on the road.

Next, flip the exercise around and make a list of scenarios that instinctively appeal to you. Maybe the entrepreneurial lifestyle calls to you, and you can picture yourself launching a boutique skincare company with a small lineup of clinically active products. Maybe you’re an avid hiker and you’d like to live closer to the mountains. Such “visioning” exercises will keep your long-term aspirations alive in your head, so you’ll be ready to turn them into SMART goals when the right time comes.

The Biggest Decision

If you’ve recently completed your schooling, you’re probably staring down the scientist’s biggest fork in the road: academia or industry? Or maybe you’ve already made your choice, travelled some distance down that path, and are now wondering if you should backtrack and take the other road.

It never hurts to lay out the pros and cons of either choice, as we’ve done here. For extra inspiration, check out videos such as this one, targeted to scientists and engineers.

Pro and Cons Chart of Academia and Industry

When reviewing such lists, be sure to check in with yourself. Are you listening to your inner promptings, or are you trying to please a colleague or professor sitting on our shoulder? If that’s the case, refocus your thoughts on your own mental picture of yourself—the only picture that counts. Nobody knows you as well as you do, and what works for your mentor won’t necessarily line up with your needs.

Finding Your Career Sweet Spot

Ever heard of Ikigai? This Japanese path-finding exercise, which roughly translates to “reason for being,” can help you zero in on a career path that speaks to your heart and your mind. As illustrated below, Ikigai invites you to ask four questions:

  1. What do I love?
  2. What am I good at?
  3. What can I get paid for?
  4. What does the world need?

Once you’ve answered the questions, see where they overlap: that’s your ikigai, or career sweet spot. For example, if you love biology, you’ve always been good at drawing, you’re comfortable around computers, and you’ve noticed many new digital health communications companies popping up, you may find your sweet spot as a digital medical illustrator.

The Ikigai Intersection

Venn diagram of Ikigai

Tweaking Your Career Path

If you’ve hit a mental wall in your career, you’re certainly not alone. By age 50, the average person has held 12 different jobs in search of the right fit. People change not only jobs, but careers: in 2016 alone, about 6.2 million workers left their roles for work in a different field. If you recognize yourself in these signs, it may be time for a change.

  • You’ve lost your mojo: You don’t feel connected to your job and you have trouble faking enthusiasm. You’re underperforming and letting deadlines slip past you.
  • You don’t feel like you’re making a difference: Your role doesn’t play to your greatest strengths, and you don’t feel your accomplishments make the world a better place.
  • Your job is affecting your personal life: You come home exhausted, you take out your frustrations on those who live with you, or your body shows signs of chronic stress, such as headaches or digestive problems.
  • You fantasize about a new job or career: You feel jealous of your friends’ careers or find yourself browsing job boards. When people ask you what you do, you don’t take pride in the answer.
  • You dread going to work: This clue needs no further elaboration. If you feel this way consistently, it’s time to look elsewhere.

Perhaps you don’t need to step out of the life sciences field, but to find a new career under its large umbrella. If your job as a lab technician doesn’t fulfill the performer in you, maybe a biology teacher will do the trick. Or if you enjoy working on science projects but feel like an outsider in the lab, you could find your groove as a regulatory writer. Don’t ever think of such lateral moves as steps backward: success is measured in personal fulfillment, not in a CV.

CONNECTIONS

The life sciences are as much about people as products. Whether you’re looking for a new job, want advice on writing research grants, or simply enjoy picking colleagues’ brains, you don’t have to be the life of the party to make meaningful connections. You just need to show up where your tribe hangs out.

Go to Industry Events

If you’re in job-hunting mode, networking will take you farther than just about any other strategy. It’s your ticket to the hidden job market—the 70% of jobs that never get advertised to the public. Not just that, but networking jumpstarts 85% of all job offers.

Start by making the most of industry events. The biopharma world runs on a continuous cycle of conferences and summits, many of which include after-hours networking sessions. Even if you feel tired after a long day, resist the temptation to skip them. Designed to help people relax and unwind, these events are networking gold: when people feel relaxed, they connect more easily and organically.

Which brings us to the big networking takeaway: focus on building relationships, rather than making transactions. It’s unlikely that your new connection has a job lined up for you, and a direct appeal may turn them off at this stage. Remember that both of you share the same goal: to build a network of people who can help each other over the course of your careers.

Within a day or two of making a connection, send a quick follow-up note. Avoid making a specific request: instead, thank your contact for the chance to chat and tell them you hope to speak more in the future. Next time you sign up for a conference, ask them if they plan to attend and can meet up with you.

In some cases, a connection may lie dormant for a while before coming back to life again—and sometimes the spark just isn’t there. If you feel you’re forcing it, step back and accept that not all connections will stick. Like many things in life, networking requires a mix of persistence, patience, and rolling with the punches.

Get Social

Whether you love or merely tolerate social media, it’s a networking channel you can’t afford to ignore. Start with LinkedIn, recognized as a top choice for career networking. Make sure your own LinkedIn profile stays up to date, and post articles of interest to your network every few days. Join LinkedIn groups devoted to your area and become an active participant. Also engage on LinkedIn with people you’ve met at live events. Request a connection, comment on their content, and share articles that may interest them.

Hop on Twitter to get industry news and discover movers and shakers in your area. As with LinkedIn, engage with the colleagues you meet on Twitter: follow them, comment on their posts, and retweet blog posts and articles they’ve posted.

At the same time, avoid relying exclusively on social media to build your network. As Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, points out, “Sometimes social media tricks us into believing we have a strong connection with someone when, in fact, that connection only exists in that single plane of existence.” When an opportunity presents itself, Clark suggests taking the conversation off-line. “If you notice that your friend was just promoted or had some other success, celebrate her win by giving her a call or sending her a note.”

Want to volunteer? Do it strategically.
Strategic volunteering means choosing volunteering roles based on the skills you have and those you’d like to acquire. Yes, it’s calculated—and that’s a good thing. For example, if you’d like to boost your project management or business communication skills, consider volunteering for a hospital foundation. Want a crack at leadership or policymaking? Volunteer for a committee in a science organization. For the biggest bang in human contact, help out at a major conference.

Stepping Away From Toxic Relationships
Building your network doesn’t just mean making connections: it means severing those connections that cause more harm than good. If you sense that a colleague or friend is trying to sabotage your career, you could well be right. Not everyone has your back. Attitudes and behaviors like these should set off your alarm bells:

  • Failing to offer encouragement when you clearly need it
  • Questioning whether you’re qualified for a job you have in mind
  • Revealing personal information about you to other colleagues or on social media

If the saboteur is someone you know well, a candid conversation may lead her to mend his ways, but don’t count on it. Sometimes your best course of action is to cut your losses, ideally before the tension escalates to animosity. If you keep getting sabotaging vibes from a friend or associate, step away without guilt. As the saying goes, life’s too short.

And what if the problem lies with your whole working environment? By no means rare, toxic work cultures can sap your performance and your spirit. Signs of workplace toxicity include lack of transparency around projects, passive-aggressive communication, and cliques within departments. If this describes your workplace, consider taking your concerns to someone in the human resources department (assuming your organization has one). A mediated group discussion could help people reflect on their contributions to the bad vibe—and realize that they’re being watched. If nothing changes, look for opportunities to move to a different department, or even a different branch. And update your resume, just in case.

LIFE BALANCE

Balance doesn’t look the same for everyone. To achieve a work-life balance that leaves you fulfilled, you need to know what you value most, both at work and elsewhere, and work toward it. If flexible work hours and creative control top your list, share these priorities with recruiters and hiring managers when you consider new biotech roles. Of course, flexibility works both ways: don’t automatically reject opportunities that meet most but not all of your criteria. Small details can be negotiated, either now or down the line.

Avoiding Burnout

As a rule, life science professionals bring a lot of passion to their work. There’s nothing wrong with working hard—or even to devote most of your waking hours to your work—except when your focus on work strains your personal life or starts affecting your health. A hyper-focus on work also puts you at risk of job burnout—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that erodes your job satisfaction and even your personal identity. Symptoms of burnout also include lack of energy, poor concentration, and physical symptoms such as headaches or digestive problems.

While not (yet) a medical diagnosis, burnout is recognized by leading medical publishers such as the Mayo Clinic and WebMD. If you’re heading toward burnout, you need to insert a braking mechanism into your working life, even if it feels forced at first. Some burnout-busting ideas to consider:

  • Keep one day per week free of meetings
  • Designate certain hours of the evening off-limits for viewing and sending emails
  • Schedule outside time into your day: go for a walk, sit by a lake, or stroll through a botanical garden
  • Schedule activities with family and friends
  • Show up for family meetings and emergencies
  • Plan day trips to nearby towns or hiking trails

Attitude Adjustment: the Joy of Gratitude

Appreciating the blessings in your life doesn’t just feel good: practicing gratitude can improve your sleep and emotional regulation and protect you from stress and burnout. To get the full benefits of the practice, list a few blessings every day in a gratitude journal (or electronic file), post them on a gratitude mood board, or drop them into a gratitude jar. Don’t limit the blessings to big-ticket items such as a promotion or new friendship: the cherry tree you saw down the street or the joke you exchanged with the cashier count, too.

Recharging Your Batteries

In biotech and elsewhere, many jobs involve long periods of physical inactivity and engagement with screens. Over time, this workstyle can drain your energy and lead to health problems. If you recognize yourself in some of these habits, try the science-backed antidotes listed below.

Graphic chart of Stressor and Solution

For a more potent reboot, take that vacation you’ve been putting off. If you’re like four out of 10 Americans, you didn’t take all your vacation days last year. Don’t be that “hero”—today’s employers certainly don’t expect it of you. Successful biotech companies recognize the restorative power of a vacation and encourage their employees to take time off.

In addition to recharging your batteries, vacations can give you a new perspective on your life, including your career trajectory. If crowded airports are not your thing, book a week at a cottage or a campsite nearby.

Holiday Mindset

Official holidays may not coincide with your vacation time, but they offer a further opportunity to disconnect from work pressures and stressors. When the next statutory holiday or holiday season rolls around, take the opportunity to reflect on your career accomplishments and challenges over the past months. Reach out to someone you haven’t seen in a while, whether a colleague or simply a friend. If it’s alone time you crave most, enjoy some guilt-free hours with a hardcover book—or surround yourself with the natural world.

Keeping the Juices Flowing

Have you ever pondered a problem for hours on end, glued to your screen or notepad, and then hit upon the solution after you’ve stepped away to weed your garden or walk around the block? We’ve all had this experience, and psychologists say it’s no accident. As behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenck explains in a Psychology Today article, “if you keep your prefrontal cortex too focused on the ‘task at hand’ then it can’t go searching for interesting combinations of information you have stored in memory. When you take a break (the garden, the walk, the shower, the dishes) then your PFC is freed up to go searching and combining.”

To stay creative, you need to expose your brain to a variety of stimuli. Different creative activities stimulate different parts of the brain, contributing to its plasticity over the lifespan. For example, exercise increases growth factors that help the brain form new neural connections, and meditation helps preserve the aging brain. Completing a puzzle or playing a word game doesn’t just help you relax: it’s brain juice. To get the most from the activity, choose the right level of challenge—a bit of a stretch, but not too much—whether it’s the cryptic crossword or the daily brain teaser in your newspaper.

PARTING THOUGHTS

We hope you have found some inspiration in these ideas and will apply them to your own life. Feel free to pop back here to remind yourself of your goals and progress. If you’re wondering whether to accept or decline an offer, or whether to reinvent yourself entirely, keep your focus on your must-haves and your deal breakers. The fine points can always be negotiated. If you’re honest with yourself and with your recruiter, you’ll get what you need. Ω

AI Interview Tools: Yes or No

AI Interview Tools: Yes or No

AI can assist in the search for science talent, but doesn’t substitute for human judgment

Hiring in biotech is not for the faint of heart. You’re looking for a set of highly specialized skills—but so are your competitors. You may get a mountain of applications, but only a fraction of them will match your needs. With so much at stake, pharma and biotech companies are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to help streamline the interview process and find the diamonds in the pile. In the destabilized job market resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, companies offering this technology are reporting a surge in demand.1

Quick definition

A branch of computer science, AI involves programming computers to perform tasks that mimic the human mind, such as problem solving and decision making.2 AI has the ability to process much larger volumes of data than a human could handle, uncover meaningful patterns, and translate them into actionable information.

A tool in the shed

The use of AI in recruitment ranges from algorithms that scan resumes for key words to sophisticated video software that serves as a high-tech bouncer, screening candidates at the front door. During video interviews, AI technology can analyze a candidate’s facial expressions, vocal intonation, and choice of words to help assess job fit.3 The candidate may have no idea that, in effect, a robot is assessing her suitability for a position.

One Australian AI company offers a chatbot that poses open-ended questions to candidates and analyzes their responses to assess personality traits like drive, initiative, and resilience.4 The company is even developing a machine-learning model to predict the likelihood of changing jobs frequently—a propensity that employers naturally seek to avoid in their candidates.4

In theory, AI can also reduce hiring biases that a human interviewer would almost always bring to the table, even if subconsciously. For example, you can configure AI to ignore age, race, gender, and other variables when assessing candidate profiles. AI can also increase candidate engagement through automated chats, assessment questionnaires, and next steps.5

Not a panacea

As it turns out, AI’s alleged objectivity doesn’t always play out in the real world. AI relies on patterns—and these patterns can cause AI to fall prey to bias, just like humans. As explained by Prasanna Tambe, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, “AI systems learn to make predictions based on data, and so predictions are generally more accurate for groups which have more data available.”3 If data on certain groups are scarce, the system won’t have the evidence to put forward candidates from these groups, creating a catch-22 of “no data, no deal.”

Equity concerns aside, some employment experts fear that AI could drive down wages. For example, some AI-based personality tests weed out candidates inclined to press for higher wages or support unionization.4 It also bears noting that candidates prepared to job hop—a red flag for many AI programs—may have more to offer: they know their own worth and have confidence that a competitor will recognize it. An AI algorithm that filters out such candidates may cause employers to lose out on the most creative and dynamic employees, in a case of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

As shown in the graph below, all but 11% of respondents to a 2019 HR Research Institute survey had reservations about using AI for talent acquisition.6 Of note, 30% lacked confidence in the ROI of the technology, maintaining that it delivers too little value for the cost.6

What are the potential drawbacks of using AI for talent acquisition?

Bottom line: while AI can supplement human intuition and judgment, it cannot fully replace these qualities. When you work with an experienced biotech recruiter, you benefit from a wealth of human intuition, experience and expertise—and you can still use AI if it serves your purposes. Reach out to Sci.bio to learn how we can steer you toward the right talent at the right time.

References
1. Wall S, Schellmann H. MIT Technology Review, July 7, 2021.
2. IBM Cloud Education. June 3, 2020.
3. Bishop K. The Observer, March 1, 2021.
4. Hao K. MIT Technology Review, July 24, 2020.
5. Dawson J. Ideal, July 3, 2020.
6. The 2019 state of AI in talent acquisition. HR.com, 2019.

 

 

Networking Tips and Tricks for Scientists

Networking Tips and Tricks for Scientists

As the number of COVID-19 cases drop and social distancing measurements relax, in-person networking events will start returning. For many scientists and science students, their understanding of ‘networking’ is at best a foreign concept with no applicability to their career path, and at worst they think there’s something almost underhanded about schmoozing your way into a job.

Unfortunately for those scientists, networking is critical to securing jobs inside and outside academia. For STEM students and postdocs who are uncertain about their future career path, networking can provide opportunities and insight that academic mentors are unavailable to provide. But the good news is networking doesn’t have to be awkward or embarrassing. In fact, it can be informative and fun.

Here are some tips and tricks that any scientist – or introverted person – can use to help network more effectively.

What is networking?

A common misconception about networking is that it’s all about trying to get a job. Networking is a conversation. It’s about forming a mutually-beneficial professional connection. When defined like that, you can see networking takes place all the time on a large and small scale. A 5 minute conversation with a visiting lecturer is networking, but a 5 minute conversation at a family BBQ can be networking, too! Presenting a poster at an international conference is definitely a networking situation. Research collaborators and colleagues within your department are network contacts, but any people you meet and interact with have the potential to be network contacts as well–you never know who other people know.

Networking rarely yields immediate results: it can take months (or years) for the benefits of networking efforts to show. Recruiters at the mixer you attend may not know of suitable job openings right then, but several weeks later when a job opportunity arises they may – if you networked successfully – remember your name.

Because of this, it’s helpful to begin networking 6-12 months before you finish your PhD or postdoc, the earlier the better. It takes time to build connections and become comfortable networking with others.

Getting the most out of networking events

While a lot of networking can happen organically, dedicated networking events are a great opportunity to meet new people you wouldn’t otherwise encounter within an academic research setting. These events might take place in conjunction with symposia and conferences, or be organized by professional societies.

Before arriving at a networking event, think about your career goals and how other attendees could help you. Are you actively looking for a job? Or still trying to figure out what you want to do? Distill your objectives into a couple of sentences and get comfortable explaining them.

“During my first networking event at a career fair, I was nervous and not quite sure what to expect or talk about. After a few interactions I realized that all I had to do was introduce myself, have a candid conversation, exchange contacts, and then I had a networking connection.” Carter Lewis, Sci.bio Recruiting Associate

Despite the fact you need a game plan, it helps to go into networking events with an open mind. Everyone in the room has the potential to help you meet your career goals, or introduce you to new opportunities you hadn’t considered. Show the same level of interest and courtesy to everyone you meet, and find out what you can about their job. What do they enjoy about their work? How did they get into the field? What advice would they give to someone looking to break into the field? While you may not be interested in biotech consultancy, perhaps a labmate is considering such roles and would benefit from any insights you can relay.

As scientists, we tend to be very detail-orientated and thorough when talking about our work. In networking situations, people may not be familiar with your field and could be pressed for time, meaning you must be concise. Develop a ‘high-level’ elevator pitch that describes your work quickly in broad strokes. If the other person wants to learn more, they’ll ask follow-up questions.

When talking to someone new, avoid monopolizing the conversation. Pause and ask questions. It doesn’t sound like much, but simply seeming interested in other people is one of the best ways to leave a good impression. Don’t forget to think about what YOU may be able to offer THEM; networking and building connections goes both ways.

The great thing about networking events is that everybody who attends wants to have a conversation with you! Even if you’re naturally more reserved, there are many people in the room, such as recruiters, who enjoy meeting new people and are experienced at navigating these kinds of social interactions.

Business card and follow-up

“Thanks, it’s been great talking to you – here’s my contact information.” You don’t have to devote a lot of time to any one person at the networking event. If it seems like you don’t have much to say to each other, it’s fine to politely bow out of the conversation and look for someone else to talk to. Be sure to collect the other person’s contact information and share yours. Business cards are the traditional hallmark of networking, but some people generate QR codes that link to their LinkedIn profile or online CV. At virtual events all you need to do is drop your contact info in the chat. Most people who attend networking events are open to connecting electronically afterwards. You can also send a short email the next day thanking them again for their time and re-emphasizing how much you enjoyed talking to them.

“Even if [recruiters or my new connections] didn’t have an immediate job opportunity for me, I still had someone that I could reach out to in the future.” Carter Lewis, Sci.bio Recruiting Associate

As mentioned above, networking doesn’t immediately bear fruit. You want to cultivate your network over several months; interacting with new connections on LinkedIn (e.g. commenting on their posts) and keeping your name fresh in their minds without becoming a nuisance or spamming them. Maybe this new contact knows one of their contacts has a job vacancy, or perhaps they can help you with something unrelated to your job search? Either way, you won’t know until you’ve made the connection!

Networking can appear daunting, but recruiters at Sci.bio are happy to help you expand your circle of contacts and take your career to the next level. Get in touch with us today.