Monthly Archives: February 2015

Working in industry – Scientific Services

Many science researchers say they would like a job working in industry, but which type of job do they mean? As part of my book, Career planning for research bioscientists, published in 2012, I interviewed 20 former postdocs, many of whom had left academia to work in industry. I wanted to show readers some examples of non-academic jobs, so they could compare them and decide which might be best suited to their particular skills and interests.

One former postdoc I interviewed was Petra, a scientific adviser working in a protein interaction services company. She gave an account of her role and, more interestingly, demonstrated a very creative way of finding jobs and making useful contacts.

The job
“In my role as scientific adviser for customer projects I am primarily office-based and offer advice to our customers face-to-face, over the phone and by email on the best strategic approaches to take for their protein-protein interaction projects. Customers are based in industry, government or academia conducting basic or applied research ranging from plant science through to cancer science. Working in a small team of 3 – 4 people we discuss results, interpret data and relay information between our lab technicians and research scientists. I handle between 30 – 50 projects at any one time which are at different levels and stages of progression. Therefore, it is essential to be organised and to remain calm under pressure as well as being able to multitask.”

Transitioning into industry
“Following my PhD in Molecular Biochemistry on the technical development of protein-protein interactions in Lausanne, I knew I wanted to continue on to a postdoctoral position. In Switzerland you can apply for a one-year fellowship when you complete your PhD so I contacted one of our research collaborators in Paris. I knew he was hiring postdocs to run his proteomics operation and I wanted to change to the more applied end of my field. Although this was not my specific area of expertise I convinced the group at interview and during my presentation that I would be able to contribute fully to their research programme. The project extended a further year during which time I decided I wanted to move into industry as I was not confident that the academic set-up would suit me.  I applied for a number of jobs by targeting company websites – some were advertising posts and others I wrote to speculatively (in this case I looked up the company on PubMed Central to see who was publishing and I directed my CV to the last author who is, by convention, the lead scientist). Although my applications yielded no results to start with, some months later at the end of my postdoc, I received a phone call from one of the companies who was starting to hire but not in research, in the service sector. I had not thought of this side of business but, in fact, it turned out to be exactly right for me. Having made a presentation and been interviewed (in a very similar way to my postdoc interview) I was offered the job and started two weeks’ later.”
What’s different about the job from working in academic research?
“Your work is never finished in service jobs like mine as there are always projects in various stages of completion. However, you no longer have to experience experiments that go wrong! In addition, you don’t have ownership of projects as you work in a team and are providing a service rather than conducting new research. It’s fun having different things to do and I enjoy the variety and versatility of my job. I have contact with lots of people and also attend 3 – 4 conferences per year to promote the company to delegates. The hours are more regular although I do put in longer hours from time to time if required. It’s interesting that having once been afraid of leaving the lab I am not missing it at all. In any case, even if you pursue an academic career you are nearly always bound to leave the lab eventually as you progress.”
Unlike scientific careers in research institutes and universities, where the majority of posts are research-centred, industry provides a whole range of roles for scientists. Depending on your skills, interests and personality, you will find different jobs more interesting than others. Look at job descriptions and see what matches you best. Review what you do and what you enjoy in your research and this will give you clues to where you might want to go next.
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