Alternate Careers: How To Become a Clinical Research Professional

Posted in BioBusiness, Career Advice

I am often asked about “hot” alternate career paths.  Sadly, even alternate career opportunities for PhD-trained scientists have waned in recent years. However, there is and will continue to be a rising demand for clinical research professionals. This is because life sciences companies are more keenly focused on drug development (which includes human clinical trials) than they are on drug discovery.

The transition from a basic to clinical research career is not an easy one; mainly because clinical research encompasses a wide and diverse range of skills that are often not offered to most graduate students or postdocs during their training.  That said, those of you who are willing to take the plunge should read a great article  entitled Training New Clinical Research Professionals To Work On The Front Line by Eduardo F.  Motti, MD in the July/August 2013 issue of Pharmaceutical Outsourcing Magazine.

Dr. Motti offers an incisive view of the burgeoning clinical research field and the skills sets and training that are required for persons interested in gaining employment in this field.

Until next time…

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

Fed Up at Work? Before You Quit Consider This

Posted in Career Advice

I know it may appear a little odd that I am writing a post about leaving your current job given the state of the US economy and the dismal job market. However, believe it or not, there are folks out there whose skills are in demand who may have grown weary of their current job situations. With this in mind, those of you who may be considering a job change ought to ask a few questions before taking leap.

Are there opportunities for growth at your current company?

If the answer to this question is yes, then it may be prudent to explore these options before deciding to look for new opportunities at other companies. While you may think you have the skills and qualifications to land a new job at another company, word on the street is that it takes anywhere from 6 months to a year for qualified and in-demand employees to secure new positions.

Is the work that you that perform on a daily basis excruciatingly boring?

If the answer to this is yes, then it may be time to consider your options. However, if you are qualified to do the job that you do at your current company then it is likely that doing the same job at a competitor will also be as boring as your current job. To that end, maybe it is time to consider additional training or education to learn new skills a new trade or occupation. There is a saying in the recruiting business about persons who change jobs “Better pay but the same old crap”

How available are jobs for someone with your skills?

The job market is extremely tight right now and pundits believe that it will not improve for several years. Therefore, it is vital to seriously evaluate the number of job openings out there for someone with your skill sets. For example, there are still shortages of nursing and healthcare personnel. If you are a nurse or physician’s assistant, then it may not be a bad idea to look around and see if you can get a better deal at a new company or hospital. If on the other hand, you are a pharmaceutical employee, I would not recommend any job change at the moment. The market is extremely volatile and leaving your current job for a better opportunity at a competitor company may actually put you at risk for layoff. This is because the last hired are usually the first employees that are eliminated during reorganizations and layoffs.

Does your current job impact the quality of your life?

If you are miserable at your current job, it is likely affecting or hindering your performance at work. And despite your best efforts to hide those feelings, it is likely that others are picking them up. Further, if your job is stressful and interfering with your emotional well being it is also likely that you will not be able to perform at your best (especially if you are not sleeping well or the anxiety is interfering with personal relationships).  This is an extremely difficult situation especially if you or your family is counting on your paycheck to make ends meet. However, if your mental or emotional health is in jeopardy, it is time to start looking around for other opportunities. Obviously, do not quit your job until you land a new one. Alternatively, if you are in a good financial place, it may not be a bad idea to go to HR to ask for a “package” or simply give notice (if a package is not an option). Again, do not do this until you have devised a plan to look for a new job. Also, it is imperative that you take a hard look at your finances to insure that you budget is consistent with your job search strategy.

Is your current job what you want to do for the rest of your life?

It is not uncommon for people to work for years in the same profession and then decide that it is no longer for them. Also, many people have lifelong passions that they want to pursue but were either too afraid or not in a financial position to attempt them. If you know that your current job is not consistent with your long term career goals, then it is time to consider your options. Again, this requires a substantial amount of research, thinking and weighing the pros and cons of a career change. One of the best ways to confirm or rule out the possibility of a career change is to chat with people who are already pursuing the careers that you are considering. It is amazing how much you can learn from these people to better inform your decision about a career change. Once you have talked with these folks, researched the degree requirements and skill sets necessary to land jobs in your new career and chatted with your partner, family etc about the impact of the career move on your life then go for it! There is nothing more rewarding then waking up every day and looking forward to going to work because you love what you do!

Until next time…

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

Demand for Patent Agents and Attorneys Continues to Grow

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Times are tough for many in the legal profession these days. However, the demand for patent experts including attorneys and patent agents is skyrocketing. According to an article in today’s NY Times, openings for patent attorneys account for more than 15 percent of law firm job openings while only 3 percent of lawyers in the US specialize in this area. The bottom line: it is a great time to be a patent attorney or agent in today’s tough economy.

Not surprisingly, many patent attorneys (and agents) usually have a background in science or engineering. And, because of the scarcity of qualified applicants many law firms are doubling their recruiting spending to meet the growing demand for specialists in intellectual property (IP) and patents.

One of the reasons for the growing demand is passage of the America Invents Act, the largest overhaul in the US patent system in the past 60 years. The legislation which changes how patents are reviewed and process is spurring competition between firms to higher IP specialist to ease the transition pain. At present, there are over 230 IP openings among more than 1400 lawyer positions nationwide. Many of the openings have been unfilled for over 90 days and more are added daily.

Currently, there are about 40,000 patent attorneys and agents registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In order to register with the USPTO agents and lawyers are required to pass the patent bar examination. While registered patent agents have taken and passed the exam, they are not lawyers who are required to pass state bar examinations to become licensed attorneys. For those of you who may not know, you don’t have to go to law school to take the patent bar exam nor is a law degree required to take individual state bar exams (however, person who are not law school graduate are likely not to pass the state tests). Patent agents can prepare patents and prosecute cases with the USPTO but cannot litigate in court or draw up contracts. There are roughly 1.2 million licensed patent attorneys in the US according to the American bar association.

The greatest demand for IP attorneys and agents is in information and computing technology and the life sciences. Persons with PhD degrees in the life sciences can sometimes find work at IP and patent law firms. Also, you may be able to find work at a patent examiner with the USPTO! PhD degree holders who have passed the patent bar are even more desirable. However a law degree plus a PhD degree will almost certainly guarantee you employment at most IP firms. That said, before you decide to go to law school, I high recommend that you talk with IP professionals or read a few dozen patent applications (they can all be found at in your spare time. If you find the reading interesting or manage to stay awake after reading the fifth application than patent law may be a good choice for you. If not, I suggest that you consider other alternate career options.

Until next time…

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


Grad School Got You Down? You Gotta Watch This Video!

Posted in BioEducation

Adam Reuben, PhD is a molecular biologist who spent seven years@ Johns Hopkins earning his degree. While not in the laboratory pouring gels and analyzing DNA sequence data, he performed a stand up routine at open mike nights at local Maryland clubs.   He crafted the The Grad Student Rap as part of his routine.

After graduating, he got a job as a scientist at a biotech company where he is currently working on a malaria vaccine.  He also wrote a book entitled "Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School" which is likely an enlightening read for those of you who are still struggling with your decisions.  Also, he teaches an undergraduate class at Hopkins on the stand up comic and society (talk about an alternative career path).

Anyway, check out his video….it rocks but is sadly true!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Viewing!!!

Things to Consider When Contemplating a Career Change

Posted in Career Advice

The tough job market and economy have caused lots of folks to consider changing careers to find gainful employment. While sometimes a career change is warranted, it may not be as easy as you think. With this in mind, there was a great article entitled "The Big Switch, One Step at a Time" by Phyllis Korkki that provides some tips and insights to think about before taking the big plunge.

Of course, not all career changes are created equal and there are a variety of things to consider depending upon whether you are starting out or a midcareer person. I think that the best bit of advice that was offered for all persons considering a career change was a recommendation to read industry trades and follow industry blogs; mainly because they are not translated for the general public. That said, if you find yourself reading these publications and you don’t know what certain acronyms mean or you are having difficulty understanding the points that the authors are trying to make, it is a good indication that transitioning into that career may take a little more training and understanding than you think!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Career Hunting!!!!!!!


Alternate Career Options: So You Want to Be a Medical Science Liaison (MSL)?

Posted in BioJobBuzz

One of the new “hot career” opportunities in the life science industry is something called a medical science liaison or MSL. Increasingly, graduate students and postdocs are beginning to mention MSL as a possible career option. Of course, the first thing that I ask these persons is “Do you know what an MSL is or does on a daily basis?” In most cases, most of these would-be MSLs sheepishly admit that they don’t!

With this in mind, I invited Dr. Samuel Dyer an experienced MSL and CEO and Founder of the Medical Science Liaison Corporation and MSL WORLD to better inform those who may be interested in pursuing a career as an MSL.

What is a Medical Science Liaison?

By Samuel Dyer

The MSL is a therapeutic specialist (e.g. Oncology, Cardiology, Infectious Diseases, Central Nervous System) within pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical devices, and clinical research organizations (CRO) who has advanced scientific training and generally a "terminal D" degrees in the life sciences (PhD, PharmD, MD).  It’s important to note that MSL’s are not sales reps and their function is very different.  The primary purpose of the MSL role is to be scientific or disease state experts for internal colleagues (sales and marketing), but more importantly for doctors in the Therapeutic Area of the Medical community in which they work (i.e. Oncology, Cardiology, CNS etc.).  The focus of the role has changed over the years, but the primary responsibility of the MSL role remains to establish and maintain peer-peer relationships with leading doctors, referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s).

Medical Science Liaison’s (MSLs) were first established by Upjohn pharmaceuticals in 1967 as a response to the need for professionally-trained field staff that would be able to build rapport with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in various therapeutic areas of research. Although originally called Medical Science Liaisons by Upjohn, over the years and today, pharmaceutical companies have used various names for the role including: Medical Liaisons, Medical Managers, Regional Scientific Mangers, Clinical Liaisons, and Scientific Affairs Managers among others.  

Originally, the first MSLs were selected from experienced sales representatives that had strong scientific backgrounds to bring a higher degree of clinical and educational expertise to the medical professionals they were working with to influence sales. Over the years, MSL teams have been made up of individuals with various scientific backgrounds including: “super” sales reps, those with nursing backgrounds, those with various doctoral level degrees or other clinical backgrounds.  However, the required educational and scientific background and purpose of MSL’s has progressively changed over the years since they were first established.  In the late 1980’s, a number of companies began to require those applying to MSL roles to hold a terminal “D” degree such as an MD, PharmD, or PhD degrees.  

Although, historically, the educational standard in the industry did not require MSL’s to have a terminal “D” degree, however, today the terminal “D” degree has become standard in the industry.  Today according to one benchmark study more than 90% of current MSLs hold terminal “D” degrees.  

While the MSL role has received some attention, including a CNN Money article entitled "#1 Job in Pharmaceuticals-10 Jobs for Big Demand-Good Pay”, it remains one of the best kept secrets and one of the most difficult roles to break into.  Few people know about it, and little is written about the role.  In fact, the MSL community is quite small when compared to other professions in the pharmaceutical industry however there has been an explosion in the growth of the position. According to a recent benchmark study, there has been an average growth of 76% of the MSL role since 2005 across the industry in the U.S.

To learn more about the MSL role and find free resources go to

Until next time…

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


How to Improve Employment Opportunities for PhD-Trained LIfe Scientists

Posted in BioJobBuzz

I recently wrote an article that discusses nontraditional career options for PhD life scientists and ideas about how more jobs can be created for these individuals in the the life sciences industry.  The article entitled Nontraditional Career Options for PhD Life Scientists appeared in the May issue of Life Science Leader (LSL). I have been writing for LSL , a B2B publication for life sciences executives and scientists, since its launch two years ago.

Bit and pieces of the article have appeared in various blog posts that I have written over the past few years.  I hear that the article has been well received! 

Just sayin’….

Until next time,

Good Luck and Good Reading!!!!!

Alternate Career Options for Life Scientists: Persons Able to Manipulate "Big" Data Sets Will Be In High Demand Says New Report!

Posted in BioJobBuzz

An article in today’s NY Times entitled “New Ways to Exploit Raw Data May Bring Surge of Innovation, a Study Says” suggests that persons with quantitative skills and a firm grasp of the scientific method will be in high demand in the near future. This is because there is a current data surge coming from “sophisticated tracking of shipments, sales, suppliers and customers, as well e-mail, Web traffic and social network comments.” And, the quantity of business data has been estimated to double every 1.2 years!

According to the report “Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity” put together by the McKinsey Global Institute, harvesting, managing, mining and analyzing “big new data sets” can lead to a new wave of innovation, accelerated productivity and economic growth. And, the place where this may be felt first is the US healthcare system. The report asserts that better management of big data sets can lead to as much as $300 billion in savings. Also, American retail companies could possibly increase their operating profit margins by as much as 60 percent. However, one of the major hurdles to this paradigm shift is a talent and skills gap. The US alone will likely need 140,000 to 190,000 with expertise in statistical methods and data-analysis skills. McKinsey also notes that an additional 1.5 million data-literate manages will be required. Accordingly, “Every manager will really have to understand something about statistics and experimental design going forward,” noted one of the report’s authors.

As far as jobs for scientists in the healthcare realm are concerned, the report suggests that

“….the biggest slice of the $300 billion gain is expected to come from more effectively using data to inform treatment decisions. The tools include clinical decision support to assist doctors, and comparative effectiveness research to make more informed decisions on drug therapy.” That said, life scientists with backgrounds in statistical analyses, bioinformatics, genomics, public health, epidemiology and quantitative analysis will be ideal candidates for these new job opportunities."

While these types of jobs (mainly health informatics) are certain to available in the future, it isn’t clear how soon. This is because the big-data trend has just begun and, according to economists, it may take years to recognize its financial advantages and benefits. In any event, it is something for life scientists who may be considering alternate career options, to think about. To that end, if you begin to train for these opportunities now, you may find yourself in the right place at the right time in the not-to-distant future.

Until next time….

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


Is There a Glut of Life Sciences PhDs? A Commentary

Posted in BioEducation

Last week’s special issue of Nature Magazine “The Future of PhDs” contains no fewer than six independently written articles assessing the value, importance worth etc of a PhD degree in the life sciences. All of the articles are extremely well written and insightful. The opinions of the authors range from maintaining the status quo to questioning whether a PhD degree is important for life scientists to completely revamping the requirements to obtain the degree. While I think that Nature’s decision to devote an entire special issue to problems facing PhD students and postdoctoral fellows is courageous and laudable, I can not help but ask “What took you so long?” That said, there is no questions that the proverbial “cat is out of the bag”—there was an article in last Friday’s USA Today



which means that the American public (maybe) is now aware of the “problem.” Rather than immediately react to the plethora of posts, LinkedIn discussions and comments from bloggers and recruiters, I decided to take some time to organize my thoughts and offer some of my own insights and ideas about the issue.

For the past seven years, I, along with a few fellow career development experts, have been outspoken about the diminishing career and job prospects for PhD-trained life scientists. Like the authors of the recent Nature papers, we had determined in the early 2000s that career opportunities and job prospects for life sciences PhDs and postdoctoral fellows were rapidly declining in both academia and industry. And, more important, that there was an emerging “glut” of life sciences PhDs (mainly basic researchers) on the job market. Not surprisingly, many of the hundreds of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists—who we counseled during career development sessions at various national scientific meetings—were finding it increasingly difficult or nearly impossible to find jobs in their chosen fields of endeavors. While we were able to advise them on how to write a better resume/CV or provide them with alternate career options, we all knew that their prospects for gainful employment were severely limited. I cannot tell you how difficult and emotionally-wrenching it is to tell extremely talented graduate students and postdoctoral scientists that their prospects for gainful employment are bleak.

Yet, despite a rapidly deteriorating job market and our best efforts to alert those “in charge,” graduate training programs recklessly continue to annually “mint” as many new PhDs as possible. While the reasons for this are obvious—graduate students and postdoctoral scientists are sources of “cheap and reliable labor”— the conscious decision to continue to produce as many PhDs as possible flies in the face of basic supply and demand economics. While I can go on and on with finger pointing and assessing blame, it is not productive or helpful; nor will it help to solve the bleak employment prospects facing many PhD-trained life scientists. However, there are a few strategies that, if appropriately implemented, can help to improve the job prospects for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists.

First, graduate and postdoctoral programs could create career development programs and experiences for their students and postdocs. These programs could include seminars on alternate career options, job counseling, resume writing and interviewing clinics, internship opportunities and even annual career fairs at attended by local or national prospective employers. While many PIs will complain that this will take graduate students and postdocs out of the laboratory and impede their progress, I submit that career development activities will reduce stress and anxiety and allow persons to develop a career plan or roadmap. This, in turn, will allow them to establish goals better budget/manage their time and be more productive in the lab. Moreover, it will likely shorten the time to earn a PhD degree which will provide PIs with more employee turnover and allow them to take larger numbers of new students into their labs.

Second, training programs ought to develop and formalize alternate career tracks for their graduate students and postdocs. For example, if a student is interested in medical writing rather than a traditional academic research career he/she ought to be encouraged to take some medical writing courses or be allowed to do a medical writing internship as part of their training. If a student is interested in business, then it may make sense for the student to be able to take business courses or enroll in an online biotechnology training programs. In fact, several institutions now offer a joint PhD/MBA degree option. The bottom line here is that providing students and postdocs with alternate exit strategies will incentivize them to be more productive so that they can “get on with their careers.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, graduate training programs need to limit the number of PhDs that they train and produce. This means, admitting fewer graduate students each year until the demand for PhDs begins to rise again. While this is the easiest and most cost effective solution to the problem, I suspect that it is the one that will meet with most resistance and objections. After all, fewer graduate students means fewer postdoctoral scientists which translates into fewer bodies to do the research necessary to win grants and publish peer-reviewed papers. However, it is important to note that the increasingly competitive and challenging job market for life scientists has already taken a toll on US preparedness in science and engineering. To that end, fewer American undergraduate students are majoring in the life sciences than ever before. In fact, the most popular undergraduate major in the US today is business. Further, over the past 20 years or so, fewer American students have entered graduate school in the life sciences. A quick perusal of the rosters of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists at almost any major US research institution will reveal that a majority are foreign born nationals! New research reveals that many US-trained foreign nationals are going back to their home countries to work and in many instances, compete with American life sciences companies.

There is no longer any question that “something” must be done to improve the career and employment prospects for American life scientists. Regardless of the solution, it will likely be painful. However, this is no longer a problem that can easily be “swept under the rug” or consciously ignored by the “powers at be.” Failure to adequately and seriously address the issue may not only have serious consequences for the current American life sciences training paradigm (don’t be surprised when academic tenure is eliminated) but also may affect the future competitiveness and economic well-being of the US.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!


On Becoming a Project Manager in the Life Sciences Industry

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Project management (PM) is growing as a career option for life scientists. This is mainly because life sciences companies have begun to realize that team projects with professionally trained PMs at the helm (as compared with research scientists lacking in PM skills) are conducted more efficiently and cost effectively.

Because of the “newness” of the PM option, in the life sciences industry, there is no formal training or a direct pathway to become a PM. However, Bruce Fieggen, Vice President of Project Management and Training at QPharma— who has over 25 years of experience as a project manager (and trainer) in the life sciences industry—offers some ideas and insights on how to become a PM.

On Becoming a Project Manager in the Life Sciences Industry

By Bruce Fieggen

By now you have probably worked as a team memberon several projects and may be thinking that a career in project management may be right for you. So, how does one become a project manager in the life sciences industry?

The best first step is to obtain some formal training in project management (PM). There are many courses designed as evening programs, university classes or three day workshops. You can take them in person or online. While some of these training options may not be as comprehensive as others, it will help interested persons to determine whether or not a career in project management may be right for them. Once you have obtained some formal training, the next step is to take an honest look at your personality. Are you an extremely introverted person who feels uncomfortable talking with others on a regular basis? Do you fear speaking in public? Are you a good listener?  

If the answers to these questions are a resounding “no” or maybe, then PM may not be a good career choice. However, if the answers are yes, then volunteer to run a small project or a sub-project of a larger team effort. Be prepared to learn from the mistakes that you undoubtedly you will make. And, also be prepared to do other people’s work in order to get your small project finished on time! Once you have exhibited some aptitude as a PM, you may be asked to take on larger projects and if you are successful you may be on track for a lifelong career as a PM.

People become successful project managers from almost any discipline or field. In my almost 25 years as a PM (and PM trainer), I have seen PMs hail from jobs in R&D, manufacturing, marketing, purchasing, engineering, quality, and regulatory affairs. No particular group produces better PMs than another. That said, all successful PMs:

  • Are great communicators and know how to listen
  • Know the process of managing projects and can show you the schedule, scope and budget at any time
  • Are rarely at the extreme introverted end of the extraversion – introversion continuum
  • Understand how to motivate people to work for them when they don’t actually report to them
  • Implicitly understand that the project (not their egos or kudos that they may receive), takes precedent over everything else

To learn more about a possible career as a PM, I highly recommend that you join and attend monthly meetings at a local PMI chapter. Network with fellow PMs and learn from them. Pretty soon you’ll be in the thick of things and understand what being a PM is all about! 

Please check out my Round Table Project Management blog for additional information and feel free to contact me.

Until next time…

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