Monthly Archives: January 2012

Think “Skill” not “D.Phil”

For researchers thinking of changing career direction, don’t obsess about your qualifications and specific subject knowledge. You have developed a whole wealth of skills from your research which you can translate into the language of new career areas. Employers want to know you have the right attitude, committment and potential to succeed in their organisation. The kinds of skills they look for are invariably quite similar. Depending on the specifications of the job, steer away from absolutes, such as the subject of your PhD, which may not be of interest to the employer. Instead, think transferables, e.g. your initiative, self-motivation, critical thinking.

For example, this table lists the types of activities you may carry out as a researcher which would demonstrate evidence of the skills required for a university project management role:

Job requirements
Convey information clearly and accurately
  • Generate complex datasets derived from multiple experiments which require clear and accurate communication.
  • Able to select appropriate modes of delivery using charts, tables and graphical diagrams. Regularly produce short reports and disseminate results to my research group.
  • Have presented papers and posters at national and international conferences.
Develop networks and contacts
  • Use social media and networks extensively in order to share experiences, information and latest developments with other researchers.   
  • Member of Linkedin groups to which I regularly contribute.
  • Network face-to-face at meetings and conferences which have yielded many new contacts and led to a new collaboration.
  • Member of the department’s postdoctoral association which involves attending events and networking with other staff in the Faculty.
Project management
  • Project manage the planning and implementation of my current research project following on from my PhD.
  • Able to prioritise tasks balancing experimental work with data analysis and communication.
  • Assist in the coordination of our research collaboration which comprises two departmental partners and researchers in three European countries.       
  • Highly self-motivated and always meet deadlines on time or ahead of time.
Working with others
  • Work in a small research group day-to-day and collaborate with colleagues of different disciplines within my research project to coordinate activities and share data.
  • Regularly in contact by email with European and industrial partners.
  • Supervise and manage the work of final year students in the lab.  

The Final Furlong …

I have extended my book deadline to 6th Feb now as I still have a few more crucial things to do such as finalising the example CVs and getting in the last of the career profiles. These will include narratives from PhD-qualified bioscientists who have gone into a range of careers such as research in industry, publishing, journalism, policy, patent work, management consultancy and administration. Here is one example:

Scientific Team Leader, Drug Metabolism and Phamacokinetics (DMPK), Global Contract Research Organisation

The Career Facts:

Job Description
Contract research organisations (CROs) conduct research work outsourced by pharmaceutical and medical companies. As the maintenance of large animal facilities places an increasing financial burden on pharma companies, they are moving these operations out to CROs to conduct their research on new compounds. This includes screening, non-clinical testing, toxicology studies, safety pharmacology, metabolism right through to clinical studies in man with supporting regulatory affairs and final approval.  
As the scientific team leader, I work in a ‘matrix environment’. That is, we operate in pools of expertise from which we source people internally who will fulfil roles along the drug pipeline. Amongst other roles, I act as the Project Manager on early development Metabolism and Clinical studies, and lead the matrix pool of other Study Directors within the company. For my own DMPK study group I design and manage the non-clinical and clinical studies associated with the metabolism aspects of the drug development pipeline. I will meet with the client to agree the work required, after which the study is designed including an outline budget and time-frame. The Study Director then drafts the protocol which is carried through by the operational staff (usually graduate bioscientists). We trace the radio-labelled form of the compound of interest (e.g. potential anti-HIV, anti-cancer, diabetes drugs, etc.) in animal and human subjects following its fate. Excreta samples are analysed to determine routes and rates of excretion as well as blood and plasma samples for pharmacokinetic studies. The structural identities of metabolites are elucidated through metabolite profiling including mass spectrometry. 
As well as running my own research study group, my role is focussed on business development with my primary responsibility being to look after our clients (new, old, current, lapsed, etc.). I need to generate new business and identify new clients primarily in Europe but also further afield in the US and Japan. This involves visiting and hosting clients, liaising with heads of department and commercial groups. In addition, we organise scientific symposia and make presentations at conferences, and are at the forefront of driving new regulatory guidance for the work we conduct.
Following my PhD in cell biology at Sheffield University I progressed on to a three-year postdoctoral position at the same university looking at the effect of statins on cholesterol homeostasis which led me into the field of drug metabolism. However, looking ahead I could see that the metabolism department at Sheffield was moving in a different direction towards protein crystallography and NMR so that within 5 – 8 years I would need to move on. Therefore, I decided it would be better to move sooner rather than later so that I could secure more stable employment early in my career. I was not relishing the prospect of having to move on every three years in academia and knew that tenured positions were few and far between. I applied for quite a lot of jobs in the first instance. Big pharma was booming at this time, but I was more interested in working for a CRO as I considered them to be a more flexible and adaptable to changes (most pharmaceutical companies are now moving to this model). I was offered my first job in a large CRO where I worked as a senior scientist for 5 years. During the last 18 months of this job I learned the responsibilities of a Study Director which enabled me to apply for a Senior Study Director post at a small CRO, where I ended up as Head of the Laboratory and Study Director Group. From there I moved into my current employment within a large global company which, although a lower position at first than my previous one, I consider placed me in a more secure position. I have since moved through grades at my current company and now head the Study Director group responsible for all in vivo pre-clinical and clinical Metabolism studies
The Career Factors:
Seeking stability
My decision to move into industry was not easy at the beginning. I knew that the working environment would be very different to that of a university; I would be more accountable and be working in a bigger group, I would probably have to start at a lower level and would not know anyone. However, my desire for stability and a more secure employment structure prompted me to move out of academia after my first postdoc as I envisaged this would probably be inevitable in the long-run anyway.
Interview process
The interview process for getting into industry is quite different and far more stringent than for postdoctoral posts so you need to be well prepared. Don’t be concerned about ‘commercial awareness’ as employers will be more interested in your laboratory and personal skills. Every pharma company operates Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) adhering to legal codes of practice. Therefore you will need to demonstrate accurate recording of data and excellent chain of custody practices (the chronological documentation of information). In addition, your ability to work in a team and to be flexible will be tested. Most pharma and other large companies operate a ‘Targeted selection’ process which means they will be looking for your ability to apply your skills and knowledge into particular situations. They don’t want people who are rigid and wedded to one specific aspect of research. They need senior scientists who have a positive can-do attitude who can adapt and have the potential for leadership. Interview questions will test applicants’ initiative and positive outlook. See Chapter 6B for interview resources.

John made the decision early on in his career to move into industry even though he knew it would not be easy to begin with. He was used to the university environment having studied and worked within it since he was an undergraduate student. However, although moving away from his comfort zone was a bit daunting, John decided to make the transition early since he was sure that the academic career path would not suit his desire for more stable and secure employment. Transition and change is not easy in many situations in life (see Chapter 7) but sometimes facing up to it sooner rather than later can make the process easier. In many cases you can test out potential new career paths by doing some workshadowing or voluntary work during your research post. For example, if your group is collaborating with an industrial/business partner you may be able to arrange a lab visit.

Further information 
Linkedin: Join groups such as Biotech and Pharma Professionals Network, Pharmaceutical Jobs and Pharma Connections Worldwide, BioCareers.