Summer Reading for Science Graduate Students (and Maybe Postdocs!)

Posted in Career Advice

It is officially summer (July 4 was this past Tuesday) and things have slowed down as most people take their vacations during the summer months. Invariably, recommended summer reading lists have appeared in print, in podcasts and on radio shows.

One book that may be an interesting read for science graduate students (and possibly postdocs) is a novel entitled “Chemistry” by Weike Wang.  I heard about this novel on an NPR radio show during an interview with its author.  While I have not read the book (I’m on the downside of my  career and no longer an academic), a recent review of the novel suggests that it may be helpful for science graduate students who may be struggling with career options and future career choices.  As I mentioned above, it may be a good read for postdocs but they may be too far down the career rabbit hole to benefit from it.

The reviewer, Beryl Lieff Benderly (a professional freelance science writer), offered the following critique:

Though Wang doubtlessly does not intend her debut novel as a treatise on the ills and failings of scientific training at high-powered research universities, she poignantly highlights many of the issues that make that process so trying for so many ambitious and earnest young people. Among them is the “common knowledge … that graduate students make close to nothing and that there are more PhD scientists in this country than there are jobs for them,” Wang writes. In addition, there’s the lab member who “strongly believes that women do not belong in science because [they] lack the balls to actually do science.” And these aren’t even close to the most serious of the protagonist’s challenges.

Further she offers:

Wang clearly wrote this book as a character study, not as an academic analysis of the grad school experience. Still, I suspect that reading it could prove useful to academic officials interested in improving grad students’ often difficult lot. The protagonist appears to receive essentially no meaningful help or guidance in her travails from anyone associated with her university, and officials might do well to consider why this is so and what services could have proved useful.

I’m sure that many of you identify with the premise of the novel and may have even experienced some of the universally-recognized  ”ills” and “failings” of modern scientific training. That said, while reading the novel may bring back bad memories or make you think about your difficult current situation, it is always helpful to read about others who have shared your experiences and are intimately aware of your current plight. If nothing else, it helps to remind you that you are not alone and perhaps, more importantly you are not crazy!

Enjoy the book and your summer!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting.

 

Wanted: Applicants with Problem Solving Skills

Posted in Career Advice

There was a very interesting article in today’s NY Times Business Section  entitled “Want to Work for Jaguar Land Rover: Start Playing Phone Games that caught my eye. The article stated that the carmaker would be recruiting 5,000 people people this year. To be considered for employment, prospective employees must download an app with a series of puzzles that they must solve.  Those who score well on the app will be able to progress to the interview stage.  While this may be somewhat unique to companies that are looking for engineers and computer personnel, I think the point here is that the ability to solve problems or puzzles is the single most important attribute that any employee must possess if they want to be hire.  To that point, companies like Marriott Hotels, Axa Group, Deloitte, Xerox, The BBC and Daimler Trucks all use playing games and virtual reality to identify potentially-qualified job applicants.

Companies once relied on job fairs and advertising to court prospective applicants but they have been forced to become much more creative in order to identify the technical skills and business savvy they need.  I will use my son, who graduated from college last month as a case in point.

He applied for a job with a non-profit venture firm. The first thing they asked him to supply was a picture of himself that encapsulated him as a person. After submitting a picture of him and his Cross Country college team after a big meet (and making it to the next round) he was sent a hypothetical and given several days to respond.  He spent an entire day on the hypothetical, submitted it and was subsequently told he would not be considered for a face-to-face interview.

What does this all mean?  Based on my years as a career development consultant, these exercises suggest that while college graduates and advanced degree professionals may have met their academic requirements, there is no guarantee that those degrees qualified  them for jobs in “real life”. Although unemployment is at historic lows in the US, it does not mean that employers are not being selective about who they hire. That said, starting an app company that uses artificial intelligence and virtual reality to assess a candidate’s problem solving ability may be a great idea!

Until next time… 

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!

How to Improve the Likelihood of a Job Offer After a Interview

Posted in Uncategorized

It is interview season for many recent college graduates and veteran jobseekers looking for  new opportunities. To ensure success, there are a few things that a jobseeker can do to improve the likelihood of a callback after a phone interview or a preliminary face-to-face one.  Some of these techniques are well outlined in an article in today’s NY Times Business section entitled  “Had a Job Interview but No Callback? Here’s What to Do Next Time”

While some of these recommendations are fairly obvious, I highly recommend that you review the list of things to do to improve the likelihood of success which is either to get to the next interview level or secure a job offer. Personally, the best advice that I have to offer is to have a positive attitude, exude confidence and do whatever it takes to impress an interviewer so that you can move to the next level. Frequently, many jobseekers have doubts about a job that they may be interviewing for.  In these instances, it is a good idea to forget about those doubts and be totally invested in a winning performance.  Do not tank a job interview because you may not like an interviewer or you have some doubts about whether or not the job is a good fit for you. If a job is not right for you, you can always refuse an offer if one is extended.  The goal of any job interview is to get to the next level or secure an ofter!!!!!!!!

Although US unemployment is at record lows-4.3% (lowest in 16 years), securing a new job is still highly competitive.  To that point, my son, a recent college graduate, is on his third interview (phone screen, face-to-face interview and now a skill-based assessment). Put simply, it’s still tough out there to get a new job.  Therefore, it is incumbent on all job seekers to use whatever tools that are available to them to impress interviewers and move to the next level!

Until next time,

Good luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!

 

Higher Ed: Medical Cannabis Courses Are Now Available at US Universities

Posted in Articles, BioEducation, Uncategorized

Back in the day when I was going to graduate school in Madison, WI,  there was no such thing as medical Cannabis (although there was plenty of weed to go around).  But, as the line in that old Dylan song goes “the times they are a changin”

Late last month, the University of California-Davis announced that it would be joining Humboldt State University in offering undergraduate students a course entitled Physiology of Cannabis.  FYI, Humboldt State has been offering courses in medical Cannabis since 2012 (not surprising since the school is located in prime Cannabis cultivation territory).

According to UC-Davis officials the semester-long, three credit course will be aimed at biology students and will cover the endocannabinoid system, the effects of cannabinoids on the human body and the therapeutic value of Cannabis.

Likewise, Sonoma State University announced that it will be offering a one day symposium on March 11, 2017  to members of the healthcare industry in the Bay area. The symposium is entitled Medical Cannabis: A Clinical and it is intended as a workforce development course.  Nurses, physicians and pharmacists can get continuing education credit for the course. Topics that will be covered include the history of cannabis, an introduction to cannabinoids and terpenes, dosing and administration of cannabinoids, legal implication and other medical-related issues. The university is also planning a three day course on Cannabis regulatory issues later in the month.

While these courses are available, there is currently no undergraduate degree program in Cannabis science/medicine offered by any US university or college. That said, don’t be surprised if this major becomes a reality in States where medical and recreational Cannabis are legal.

Until next time…

Good Luck, Good Job Hunting and Happy Trails

The US Job Market: Too Much Technology or Not Enough?

Posted in BioBusiness, Career Advice, Uncategorized

Depending upon your political views, there are two prevailing economic theories on the existing US job market. From a Trumpian standpoint, technology is the bane of the existence of the American manufacturing sector whereas, from a liberal perspective, technological innovation in the US is not growing as much as it needs to sustain the US economy.  Both perspectives are explored in an article by Neil Irwin in the NY TImes Sunday Business section.

On one hand, many Trumpians believe that the US economy has become too volatile and uncertain. According to Mr. Irwin

The economy has become too volatile and uncertain. Perhaps the dissatisfaction is driven by globalization, automation and the decline of employers’ implicit promises to offer workers jobs through thick and thin. These factors have made it harder for people to get good-paying jobs and to hold onto them for decades. High levels of inequality mean many of the benefits of growth don’t accrue for people at the middle and bottom of the pay scale.

All of this has hammered people without an advanced education and left them feeling unmoored and without opportunity, even if by narrow measurements jobs are plentiful and compensation is rising.….In short, one could summarize this set of complaints as the economy’s having become too dynamic for its own good.

On the other hand, the counter argument goes like this:

 A new report from the Economic Innovation Group, a research outfit funded largely by technology executives, suggests that the real problem isn’t too much dynamism but too little.

They cite federal data showing that in 1977, more than 16 percent of firms in the United States were less than a year old, a figure that had fallen to half that by 2014. New businesses have similarly done less to power new jobs than they once did, while the biggest, oldest firms account for a rising share of economic activity. Market concentration increased for two-thirds of industries between 1997 and 2012, the report found. That coincided with a steady rise in corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product, and in a decline in the share going to workers’ wages.

The job market has become less fluid. The proportion of workers who change jobs in a given year has fallen from 12 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2015….

Most startlingly, the creation of new companies has been concentrated in a small number of metropolitan areas: Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. From 2010 to 2014, those five regions created as many net new businesses as the rest of the country combined. If you didn’t live in them, or were unwilling to move to them, you were out of luck.

Put simply, the US economy and job market is not dynamic enough.

Irwin offers two different remedies to address either idea:

If you look at globalization as the main problem, you might see some Trumpian renegotiation of trade deals and arm-twisting to get companies to keep jobs at home as being in order. But you could also argue for a more generous social safety net and government funding for retraining.

If you believe that increased market concentration is a central problem, you might consider tougher antitrust enforcement, a favorite of liberals, but also explore conservative arguments that complex regulation creates an unfair advantage for big companies that can employ scores of lawyers.

Finally, Irwin concludes:

Of course, the too much versus too little dynamism diagnoses aren’t mutually exclusive; there are probably elements of truth in both. Maybe the economy really isn’t working for many Americans because globalization, automation and changing labor practices have thrown them to the wolves. But maybe there are also deep-seated structural shifts preventing communities and individuals from tapping the great opportunities the modern economy offers.

The point here is, that the American economy/ job market change rapidly and jobseekers must learn to quickly adapt to remain employed.  Further, contrary to Trump’s simple minded rhetoric, there is no quick fix for the US job market. To that point, saving a few corporate jobs here and there and threatening companies who move manufacturing outside of the US may sound good, but in the end, it is no substitute to a coherent well-thought-out job strategy to help displaced workers get the jobs that they so desperately want and need.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!

Trump, Drug Prices and Deregulation

Posted in BioBusiness, BioEducation, BioJobBuzz

Donald Trump met with pharmaceutical leaders and their lobbyists yesterday. At the outset of the meeting he castigated executives for the high prices of prescriptions drugs in the US. Then, he mentioned that he thought that the regulations guiding new drug approvals by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are overly complex and are interfering with discovery and development of new life saving molecules for the American public.

While pharma execs may have cringed at the mention of high drug prices (Republicans never think that drug prices are too high), a majority were emboldened by the mention of loosening FDA regulations for new drug approvals. Drug makers have historically complained that overly aggressive FDA regulations drive up the costs associated with new drug development. What they fail to mention is that the regulations imposed by FDA on drug development are necessary to ensure drug efficacy and public safety.  And if you look at the overall track record of FDA for new drug approvals over the past 40 years the agency is clearly doing its jobs (less than 3% of approved drugs have been recalled from the market). Prior to implementation of modern FDA regulations and current good manufacturing practices (CGMP), the efficacy and safety of new drugs could not be accurately determined or guaranteed.

Now let’s talk about new drug discovery and development prices. Current estimates suggest that it takes  $1.0-2.0 billion to bring a new prescription drug to market. While the actual costs may vary, what the drug companies do not tell you is that included in those cost are the manufacturing, marketing and sales of the drug once it is approved. That said, the actual discovery and development of the drug is much less costly. Nevertheless, the high costs of discovery and development is the explanation that pharma executives give to justify high drug prices. Also, they frequently justify high prices because the high failure rate of new molecules i.e. we spend a lot of money on drugs that we want to advance but since so many of them fail we have to charge high prices for the ones that successfully garner regulatory approval.

While these arguments may be compelling let’s take the example of Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowing drug that has been on the market for about 20 years.  The graph below shows the sales history of Lipitor from 2003-2015.

As you can see the return on investment by Pfizer for Lipitor far exceeded the $1.0 billion development costs of the molecule. Also, the graph shows that Lipitor sales drastically fell off in 2012.  This is because Lipitor lost patent protection in 2011 and several generic competitors appeared on the market. Yet, despite the appearance of low cost generic alternatives, Lipitor sales were almost $2.0 billion in 2015.  Of course, you can argue that Lipitor is an extraordinary example and there are not that many $1.0 billion drugs out there. However, you would be wrong

Next, let’s consider how drug companies determine their retail price for the drugs that they sell. For those of you who may not know, the US government including its agencies, FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (the largest provider of prescription drugs in the US) are not legally allowed to negotiate drug prices with their manufacturers. That right….you heard right. Instead, drug companies are required to tell FDA how much they plan to charge and then it is up to insurance companies/third party payers to determine whether or not they will reimburse patients costs for those drugs.  Put simply, the drug companies and insurers set drug prices in the US. This is in marked contrast with the rest of the world (possibly excluding New Zealand) where governments negotiate with drug companies to set drug prices that are affordable and consistent with the economic realities of their countries.

You may be asking what does all of this have to do with Trump and his news conference yesterday?

First, Trump essentially put drug companies on notice that he thinks US prescription drug prices are too high. Second, Trump also acknowledged that overly aggressive FDA regulations are responsible for the rise costs of prescription drugs in this country. Therefore, according to Trump, the best way to lower drug prices in the US is  to lower the regulatory requirements for new prescription drug development and approval. Theoretically, lowering regulatory requirements ought to help reduce drug discovery and manufacturing costs which, in turn, should translates into lower prescription drug costs. However, as previously mentioned, the government has no leverage over drug companies when it comes to drug prices. That said, less than mandatory price controls would have no noticeable or little effect on containing rising prescription drug prices in the US.

Ironically, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is lowering drug prices by holding drug manufacturers more accountable for the drugs that they develop and try to bring to market. To wit, based on certain provisions of the ACA (which have nothing to do with the retail insurance part of the Act) drug manufacturers must meet certain clinical and safety benchmarks before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services will reimburse its patients for approved prescription drugs. To that point, the ACA stipulates that the government will not reimburse patients for new prescription drugs unless they demonstrate quantifiable improvements to clinical efficacy or safety!  In other words, the government will not pay a higher price for new prescription drugs if its efficacy or safety is not markedly better than existing cheaper alternatives.  Not surprisingly, these regulations have forced drug makers to think more strategically and to only advance drug candidates that are superior to already existing drugs. 

So, what does this all mean?  First, if the ACA is repealed or modified it will weaken the ability of the federal government to prevent drug prices from rising.  Second, if FDA regulations are relaxed or reduced, it may lower drugmaker’s overhead costs but it will not necessarily lower drug prices (remember drug companies set drug prices and government cannot approve or not approve drugs based solely on price).  Third, before FDA modernized itself in the late 1930s the US drug supply was not safe and there were many drugs on that market that offered no clinical benefits). Consequently, deregulation may be good for drug companies but not necessarily good for the American public.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!! 

Publish or Perish: Dealing With the Pressure

Posted in BioBusiness, BioEducation, Career Advice

The “publish or perish” principle of academia is certainly not a new one and is likely as old as scientific research itself. And, while persons who choose scientific research as a career are often motivated by curiosity and the desire to improve the human condition, they soon find out that academic research is highly competitive and oftentimes dominated by overly ambitious and egocentric individuals. I’m sure that most of you have been told that in order to excel your research must be published in the highest impact journal possible.  This, coupled with diminishing research funding can place enormous pressure on individual researchers to gain a competitive edge via less than ethical (and possibly illegal) behavior.

To that point, there was an article in this Sunday’s NY Times that described a postdoc who intentionally sabotaged the efforts of a rising star in a cancer research laboratory at the University of Michigan. While this is only one incident, I do not think that it is the only example of intentional sabotage taking place in academic research laboratories. In fact, this recent incident brings to mind a candid discussion that I had with a prominent academic researcher many years ago.  He confided to me and a colleague that he intentionally sabotaged a fellow postdoc’s work because he did not like his competitor and did not want him to get recognition for a discovery (BTW, this discovery led to a patent that made the researcher a very wealthy person).

There is no doubt that in present times, working in an academic lab can feel like working in a pressure cooker that is about to explode. That said, it is important to realize that you are not alone and that learning coping skills can be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety about future career opportunities and employment.  However, there is never an instance, when cheating, fabricating data or intentionally sabotaging a competitor’s experiments is acceptable.  In fact, any researcher who behaves in this manner ought to be called out, censored and disciplined for their actions.

We are living in uncertain times in which hypocrisy, lies and alternate facts are acceptable to large numbers of people. As scientists, we are responsible for facts and  ”the truth.” Any deviation from this obligation is unacceptable. In the end, people always look to scientists and researchers for answers, solutions and hints of the truth. It is important that we do not succumb to today’s economic and political pressures and continue to be the purveyors of facts and “the truth.”

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!

Resume Writing Made Simple?

Posted in BioBusiness, BioJobBuzz, Career Advice

The first step in any job search is to ensure that your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) is ready for submission to prospective employers. For those of you who may still be struggling with the difference between a resume and a CV, a resume is usually a 1-2 page synopsis of who you are, where you have been and what you have done. In contrast, a CV is a much longer document that does the same thing as a resume but in much greater and granular detail. For most scientific positions a CV is the preferred document style. However, in some cases, employers may request a resume so pay attention before you submit your application.

While most people believe that a resume or CV is simply a list of your education, skillsets and experience, there is a preferred style, format and way to write a resume/CV that will enhance the possibility of securing a interview for the position. That said, it takes many years of resume/CV writing to perfect the process–something that many of you may not have time to do.  If you are unsure about how to write a resume/CV or have not updated your “paper” in many years, the quickest way to being applying for jobs is to hire a professional resume/CV writer to do it for you.  Generally speaking, this will cost anywhere from $200-$500.  Sadly, many graduate students and postdocs don’t have the money to invest in resume writing and in many cases are unable to craft a job winning resume/CV.

If you are unable to hire a resume writing professional, I came across a DIY solution called Scientific Resumes. Apparently this service company exclusively caters to graduate students and postdocs looking for resume/CV writing help.  In addition to their automated self-help products, they offer resume proofreading services and I suspect customized resume/CV writing too.  I have not used or carefully evaluated their products but it may be worth a visit to their website.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!

How to Find a Job in the Legal Cannabis Industry

Posted in BioBusiness, Career Advice

According to a recent report by the Cannabis website Leafly, America’s legal cannabis industry now supports more than 122,000 full-time jobs in 29 States and Washington DC. I

A recent article by Bruce Barcott entitled “How to Find a Job in the Cannabis Industry” offers some insights on the types of jobs that are available and how to land one.

He offered, like most industries the best way to land a job in the Cannabis industry is to network yourself into one. Also, working with a recruiting firm can be helpful.  Interestingly, recruiting firms and staffing companies that specialize in Cannabis jobs are popping up daily in many states where medical and recreational Cannabis are legal. However, before you take the plunge it is important to educate yourself to determine what is out there and whether or not you are a good fit for a Cannabis career.

So what do we know?  Most of the open jobs are in the Western states, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona with a growing presence in Minnesota and Massachusetts. There are a smattering of jobs emerging in New York, Connecticut, Maryland  and Washington DC.  While 40 percent of open positions are specific to the Cannabis industry, roughly 60 are jobs that exist in other industries such as executive assistants, human resources specialists retail operations directors bookkeepers and staff accountants.That said, there are a number of Cannabis business operators who are looking for pharmaceutical sales representatives, or in horticulturalists from large commercial plant growing operations.

So question is: are there are any jobs in the Cannabis for the average Bio Job Blog reader?  The answer is YES!!!!!!  Here are a few examples: Laboratory chemist, operations manager, analytical chemist/production manager, software developer, food productions manager, and my favorite professional joint roller.  Of course there will be many more opportunities as the industry continues to grow (pun intended). That said, relocation is likely required but then again if you are qualified and possess the skills the company may offer a relocation package.  There is a ton of money being made in the industry!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!

 

The Trump Effect? Macy’s to Shed 10,000 Jobs and Close Stores

Posted in BioBusiness, BioJobBuzz

Over the past few weeks, President-elect Donald Trump has taken much credit for saving several hundred US manufacturing jobs in Indiana. Also, he has excoriated car marker executives ranging from General Motors to Ford to Toyota for planning to build manufacturing facilities in Mexico. While it is not clear how many jobs Trump actually saved or whether his twitter rants prevented car manufacturers from setting up production plants in Mexico, it is clear that he cannot or will not save large numbers of American jobs in the retail/service sectors. To that point, Macy’s, last week, announced that it was shedding 10,000 jobs and closing 100 stores to cut costs to improve its bottom line.

You may ask why saving a few hundred air conditioning jobs at taxpayer expense more important than saving 10,000 American retail jobs? As you may recall, in the summer of 2015 Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren  said that he would stop selling Donald Trump’s clothing line in all of its stores.  Lundgren decided to take this action because then candidate Trump said many Mexican immigrants were rapists or murderers. Shortly after Lundgren announced his decision, Trump called on his supporters to boycott Macy stores.

While it is unlikely that the Trump boycott was responsible for Macy’s decline (all department stores are are getting hammered by online retailers), I do not expect Trump to help Macy’s (like he helped Carrier) save any of the 10,000 jobs that will be lost.  This is because Trump is a vindictive and hateful man who will not help anyone unless they shower him with adulation or do as they are told. Further, he likely considers Terry Lundgren a “loser’ because his business is failing. And, if Donald was in charge,  Macy’s would be a HUGE and GREAT success. Put simply, Macy’s got what it deserves for dropping Trump’s clothing line and not reinstating it after Trump was elected President. And, as for Lundgren, he said

“We made our decision about a year and a half ago, and stand by our decision,”

It’s going to be a rocky ride for the next 4 years.  So buckle in and hold on for your life!

Until next time…..

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!!!