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Work-Life Balance in Biotech

Work-Life Balance in Biotech

Author: Claire Jarvis

A career in the biotech industry is a dream for many STEM professionals, though it can be a challenging, demanding career. As in all industries, there’s a lot you can do to prevent burnout and enjoy a healthy work-life balance.

Challenges of work-life balance in biotech

STEM professionals seek biotech careers because they want to make a difference to the lives of patients, and they enjoy working in a stimulating environment. Working at a small biotech start-up, where the long-term success of the company isn’t guaranteed, can be stressful, but agile biotech employment also comes with the possibility of greater responsibility and rewards than at a more established pharma company.

While larger pharmaceutical companies may offer better job security, project deadlines mean that employees are always “on” and expected to be reachable via email. However, in return there is usually good compensation and opportunities for advancement.

Remote and flexible working patterns

COVID-19 has disrupted most of our working patterns, and increased the flexibility of most employers regarding remote work. Even as companies are returning on-site, many still allow employees to work from home several times a week. In return, employees appreciate the reduced commute times, and feel better able to look after family.

The benefits of remote working for improved work-life balance are obvious. The downside of remote working is that it’s important to set boundaries, or else the lines between work and homelife become blurred. For instance, employees who work remotely may find it easier to reply to emails on the weekend or in the evenings.

Negotiate for what you value

To reduce burnout and improve your work-life balance, it’s important to decide what you value and discuss this with recruiters and hiring managers as you consider new biotech roles. Your initial allowance of vacation days can be negotiated for, alongside starting salary. If the job conditions are more competitive, it is important that the number of vacation days, flexible working options and salary compensates.

Struggling with work-life balance? Sci.bio is hosting a work-life balance event on April 28th, 2022!  Registration details here.

How to Build Resilience as a Jobseeker

How to Build Resilience as a Jobseeker

Author: Cliff Mintz

There was a very insightful article in the NY Times Science Section entitled “Building Resilience in Midlife.” that I thought was applicable to the challenges that many job seekers face while searching for a new job or pondering a career change. These insights were offered in a book entitled ‘Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges’ by Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York after being shot several years ago by a disgruntled former employee while leaving a NYC deli.

Practice Optimism. According to Dr. Charney, optimism is part genetic, part learned. That said, looking for a job in a highly competitive field without success can easily lead to feelings of defeat, failure and even depression. Put simply it’s normal to feel sad or “down” when things are not going your way during a job search. Rather than succumb to pessimism, Dr. Charney suggests that learning to think positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with optimistic people (there are people out there who ARE really optimistic all the time) can help. It’s easier to think more optimistically if the people around you are upbeat and always putting a positive rather than negative spin on things. I am not suggesting that you jettison all of your pessimistic friends but finding new optimistically-thinking ones will not only increase the breadth and size of your social circle but may also help to elevate your emotional state during a frustrating job search.

Rewrite Your Story. Instead of focusing on your shortcomings or difficulties that you have experienced, it may help to change your internal narrative and focus on accomplishments (rather than setbacks) and things that you may have learned about yourself to this point in your life journey. While this may sound like an existential exercise, changing the internal story that you tell yourself (from a negative to a more positive one), may help you to feel better about yourself and make things easier for you. And believe me–from my own personal experiences– others around you will notice the change; most importantly prospective employers and hiring managers!

Don’t Personalize Your Failures. Everyone tends to blame themselves for life’s setbacks and ruminate about the decisions that they have made to put them in difficult situations. A way to counteract this is to recognize that, generally speaking, other factors and uncontrollable life events likely contributed to the so-called bad decisions that you made. In other words, unexpected, mitigating factors, not simply your poor judgment, likely contributed to the situation that you find yourself in. Recognizing this may help to assuage that nagging tendency to blame yourself for your current situation and may also allow you to “learn from your mistakes” to avoid making them in future personal and career decisions.

Remember Your Comebacks. It is easy to wallow in your failures and feel bad about your current situation. Rather than letting things get you down, try to remember times earlier in life when you were able to overcome adversity and still “land on your feet.” This will remind you that you have the skills and experience to overcome a current “bad” situation. Also, it may be helpful to read about others who seemingly failed and were able to turn those failures into positive personal and career moves. In my experience, failure is a key ingredient to a successful and meaningful career.

Take Stress Breaks. Stress is a fact of life that nobody can escape. Rather than succumb to life’s constant unrelenting stresses, it is important to take breaks to regroup and push forward.  For example, take walks, have lunch with friends, go to the gym or even meditate. One way that I relieved stress as a graduate student and postdoc was to play intramural softball as much as I could and then drink beer with teammates after the games. Putting your “head down” and pushing forward will not relieve stress or eliminate anxiety in your life.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone. It is easy to continue to do the same thing even if that thing is stressful or hurtful because you are comfortable (despite assertions to the contrary) with what you know. However, doing the same thing over and over again  because you’re familiar with it will not improve your current situation or change how you feel on a daily basis. Perhaps, taking yourself out of your comfort zone and placing yourself in new challenging positions may help to overcome those feelings of “being stuck.”  For example, if you don’t want to do laboratory research for the rest of your career, learn new skills (that may have always frightened you) to help find a non-laboratory PhD job.

While doing the things that Dr. Charney recommends may not materially improve your current job situation or career choice, they may help you to look at the world in different terms, feel better about yourself and provide some clarity/insights into future career directions or job choices.

 

Dream Job or Dream Boss? Choosing the Best Manager

Dream Job or Dream Boss? Choosing the Best Manager

You’ve landed the biotech job of your dreams: ideal location, great compensation package, the perfect match between your qualifications and the job description. What’s the catch?

Well, reporting to a bad boss can turn a dream job into a nightmare you dread each morning. And on the flip side, a job that looks dissatisfying on paper could – with the right boss – be something that brings you years of happiness and fulfilment.

The hidden costs of a bad boss

A bad boss can – literally – suck the life out of you. A 2009 study of 31,000 Swedish workers found that employees who worked for bosses they perceived as unfair, inconsiderate and mercurial were more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, despite differences in employee education level, social class, and how often they exercised. Even more concerning, the longer an employee worked for a bad boss, the greater their risk of a heart attack.

A bad boss can stifle worker productivity, slow your ascent up the career ladder, and drive you from a job that is otherwise ideal. Have you ever heard the expression “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”? Yes, a manager can make or break your experience at a company!

How to recognize a bad boss

Your supervisor or line manager doesn’t have to be a villain to count as a bad boss. A bad boss may be a poor communicator who gives unclear directions on a project before changing their mind, or admitting after the fact they wanted you to do something else.

A bad boss could be too hands-on, interfering in your work and tripping you up every step of the way, or swing to the other extreme and be inaccessible and vague with their instructions.

A bad boss could lack emotional intelligence and struggle to admit their mistakes, or seem constantly negative and critical of everyone. You may find it hard getting constructive feedback from them, or feel constantly stressed and fearful of triggering their displeasure.

The point is, “bad bosses” are subjective and one person’s ideal supervisor could be another person’s nightmare. Even a boss with good intentions and many positive qualities could still be the reason you dread getting out of bed on Monday.

It might be possible to adjust and work around a bad boss – in the best-case scenario you’ll be able to have a discussion with them about working styles and setting expectations, and they’ll make adjustments. However, you should never assume your supervisor will change. When faced with a bad boss, your options are most likely going to be transferring to another team within the company (which might not be possible) or finding a new job.

Choosing the Best Manager

How to screen future bosses

Yes, it’s another thing to worry about as you’re interviewing for biotech positions…but it is possible to identify good and bad bosses during the recruitment process before you receive a job offer. After the initial interview, many biotech companies will set up interviews with prospective supervisors or team leads who can shed more light on the team culture.

Recruiters who have worked for several years with a particular biotech company often have great insight into the personalities of the hiring team and department culture, which they will be happy to share with job candidates beforehand. They may also have feedback on what personality traits or soft skills would help someone be successful in a particular team. Allison Ellsworth, Sr. Recruiting Partner and Director of HR at Sci.bio, explains that “it is easy to overlook whether a role is a good personality match, especially if the job and company seem perfect on paper. But taking the time to think critically about what you personally need to be successful can help avoid disappointment and a repeat job search in 6 months”.

When the interviewers ask “do you have any questions for us?” this is the perfect time to ask potential supervisors about their leadership style and the qualities they value in their direct reports. You’ll get a sense of whether these supervisors are a good match for you, and the general workplace culture. Potential colleagues are another great resource to learn more about the culture and how leadership interacts with team members. It is also important to ask why the position is open; this can give you insight into what sort of attributes are valued or a red flag if there is high turnover.

Interviewing for a new job is a good time to get to know yourself better too! Think about your own communication styles and the type of supervision you benefit most from. Be honest: nobody likes to be micromanaged, but do you truly work well 100% independently or is more frequent feedback and clear guidance important to you? How do you like to structure your workload? All relationships are two-way streets; it can be challenging or stressful learning how to “manage up”, but knowing what works for you personally and what you need to be successful is helpful knowledge to bring to the table.

At the bare minimum, you want to look for a line manager who doesn’t take their stress out on others. Basic respect goes a long way. What other factors and managerial skills are most important to you?