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 organisations, 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 afterwards.
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!).
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.