Tales and Musings From A Life Sciences Job Seeker: The PhD Industry Career Gap

Posted in Career Advice

Ryan Raver, PhD author of the Grad Student Way blog and formerly of the University of Wisconsin_Madison (my alma mater) posted a piece on his blog about his personal discoveries and revelations about searching for an industrial life sciences jobs.  In my opinion, Ryan’s piece is one of the best that I have read to date that provides a reality-based road map for recently-minted PhDs who want to eschew a postdoc and enter the life sciences industry (he is now working for Sigma in St. Louis, MO)

Ryan has allowed me to reproduce his brilliant piece on BioJobBlog.  Also, I recommend that you visit his blog which is choc full of great ideas and strategies for graduate students considering careers outside of academia.

5 Ways to Gain Valuable Skills Outside of Your Academic Training

November 14, 2013 by 

The PhD Industry Career Gap

We already know that the PhD Market is saturated, and articles that “promote awareness” or point out the PhD-Industry Gap are a dime a dozen. What’s missing from the equation are the solutions.  The reality is that the first job that you obtain directly out of graduate school is the most crucial. It is also the most difficult. Therefore you need to be aware of all of your possible options.

The odds are against you. You look like a science person. You want to go into industry but they look at you as an academic with only one marketable skill: bench science.

The doom and gloom articles aren’t going to help you get anywhere. And frankly, I think we are all just tired of reading them.  Many experienced working professionals are aware of what the market looks like, but as long as they are employed, who wants to think about what they could have faced?

The newly minted PhD is experiencing the hardships right now and searching for answers. The reality is that many just don’t know how to provide real practical solutions and the attitude is that “hard work” will get you to where you need to be. And it’s “good luck” to you because you are entirely on your own.

If you could rewind and go back a few years maybe you wish you knew all this sooner rather than later. Maybe you finally decided to join the 85% club and face reality (only 15% will land a tenure-track position within 5 years). But you need to put the past behind you and move on.

The bottom line is that if you have the right personality, drive, leadership, and strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work well in a team environment, then breaking into a field of your choice is very feasible. You just need the know-how. This ‘right personality’ will be valuable as you work in a team and develop your needed skill set(s) that will carry with you into your future career. Although there is a glut of capable job seekers, do not let this discourage you.

Before we dive deeper, you need to understand that there is no set career path, and everyone’s career path is UNIQUE. Many working professionals stumble into their current career path by accident, chance, change of interests/goals, life situation, or series of occurrences. But hopefully with the advice given, you will find your calling.

If you ask, let’s say an experienced manager in industry, how they got to where they are today-many will tell you that they did not plan on jumping into their field directly from their PhD. That’s because the majority of PhDs don’t really do any career planning. You’ll jump into the postdoc only to leave after you spent X amount of years figuring out what you truly want to do. During graduate school, the focus is on getting the PhD and the attitude is that things will just unfold and work themselves out. This can continue throughout the postdoc position(s).

There is a sense of entitlement among PhD’s. Their ego takes ahold of them. “I worked this hard, therefore I deserve this position or X amount of salary.”  Guess what? You have to pay your dues just like everyone else.  The PhD doesn’t guarantee you the job, and although you may have published a Nature paper, it doesn’t add any value to a company or client (and when you hand your business card to a customer, they see your name, company, your position title, letters next to your name, and nothing else). The real question is can you work well in a team? Can you communicate effectively without putting yourself above others? Once you realize there is a bigger picture than just YOU and how you are just a piece of the puzzle, than you will finally start to see the benefits.  Be someone who under-promises and over-delivers.

There is also a backwards strategy that many PhDs take on during their career search. They focus on the position and match that up to the company. The problem with this is that it takes the focus off how you can add value to a company. It becomes more about you. The point is that if the position that you obtain within the company will add the most value based on your strengths and contributions, then it is the best fit. Therefore, when doing your job searchfocus on the company first, how you can add value, then backtrack to find the correct position. This means you should have multiple roles in mind that play on your strengths and not just one. If you haven’t figured this out yet, here is what you missed earlier.

When it comes to a resume or cover letter, there is too much emphasis placed on these two items. They are simply a tool to get you an interview and nothing else. Once you reach that interview stage, you need to get over what is written on your resume and focus on the value that you can add to a company. Not brag about what you did with your thesis work. No one really cares to hear about your thesis anymore.  A PhD is a training program to help you develop as a scientist and launch your career.

If you are banging your head against the wall that’s probably because you aren’t doing it right. Or you just lack the marketable skills to crossover (which is discussed later in this article). Or it could be a combination of both.

To quote Donald Asher who is author of Cracking the Hidden Job Market, “You get a job by talking to people: You don’t get a job by having a great resume, a good interview look, a firm handshake, or a solid education. You get a job because you get in front of somebody and they decide to add you to the payroll. Most job seekers look for jobs by talking to computer software. It’s faster to talk to people. People are more likely to pass you along than computers are. Computers are picky. People are helpful.”

You can beat the odds. Frankly, you have to beat the odds.

“The United States quit creating jobs more than a decade ago. Then the Great Recession hit, which I date from September 14, 2008, when Lehman Brothers failed. This smacked down workers even more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1999 and 2009 the U.S. economy created only 121,000 new jobs, a growth rate of .01 percent/year. A decade to create 121,000 net new jobs! It takes 125,000 new jobs per month  to keep up with the population growth alone. It will take considerable time to create enough jobs to absorb the 30 million people who are unemployed, underemployed, or discouraged and off the market.”

The economy is exacerbating anxieties. A survey done in 2012 in Nature shows the concerns of many scientists around the world as the global recession squeezes research budgets. The shortfall in grant funding is nothing new, but many will soon realize that industry offers many attractive ‘alternative’ career options.  On the bright side, the unemployment rate for PhD’s is below 4%. But getting a PhD doesn’t mean that you are immune to economic hardships or the struggles of finding a job.

Half of PhD candidates in the life science and engineering field still requireseven years or more to complete their degree. If you have invested all this time and have decided to finish, don’t you want to see a return on your investment without ‘giving up’ even more years of your life? In other words, if you don’t plan on staying in academia, why are you spending 5+ years as a postdoc?

So the question becomes, how can you beat the odds? What can you do NOW as a PhD student or postdoc that will give you the marketable skills to crossover? And when you gain these marketable skills, how can you couple this with NETWORKING so that you are tapping into the “hidden job market”?

Solutions to Beat The Odds

Now that you are aware of the problems and what you will be faced with or are going through, there needs to be solutions that give you an edge.

If you haven’t already, make sure you read the article: “The missing piece to changing the university culture.” The biggest challenge that we are faced with today as PhD students is a culture change:

70% of life science PhDs pursue a postdoc after graduation (based on 2010 data) which means that PhDs are unsure of their careers and/or unequipped for a nonacademic career. 40% of graduate students are indifferent or unsatisfied with their graduate school experience. Current PhD programs will continue to train primarily for an academic career. But this is a ‘false hope,’ and you may be in your mid-30’s until you’ve come to realize this and decided to make a change. It is time that Universities, faculty, and professors stop looking the other way when it comes to fixing the problem.

The Biotechnology and Life Science Advising (BALSA) group was founded in 2010 by a group of dissatisfied postdocs and graduate students. The result is that through their collaborative efforts, they have developed a model where post-docs and graduate students work with startups in the form of 6 to 8 week consulting projects. The result? BALSA has worked with 37 companies and 53 projects. Graduate students and postdocs are coming out with real world business experience.

Even researchers with NO prior business knowledge are making valuable contributions to both early and late stage companies. As a PhD student or postdoc, you are trained to analyze and think critically. The best part is that BALSA’s partnership with Washington University in Saint Louis and the Office of Technology Management has provided Universities and Principal Investigators as a means to commercialize their work.

Although BALSA’s efforts look promising, we are still left with the question as to whether these efforts can be expanded on a national level. Also, are they sustainable? Will Universities and Professors push more for the adoption of these efforts? Only time will tell.

The bottom line is that you aren’t going to sit around and wait for BALSA to come along to your University. So in the meantime, you have to go create these opportunities on your own. BALSA may give you hands-on experience (via projects) with industry challenges, business concepts, competitive intelligence and market analysis, technology due diligence, regulatory affairs, project management, and licensing/business plan development. Does this sound like a checklist of wishful thinking? Well, there is nothing stopping you from gaining some or a combination of these skills and experience during your time as a graduate student/postdoc.

So here are the top 5 solutions to gain valuable skills outside of your academic training and beat the odds once you get your PhD:

1)      Consider Consulting

There are many consulting opportunities available for scientists. These many options span freelance work, working for a consulting firm or even starting your own consulting company. Whichever that may be, I would highly recommend doing freelance consulting work during your PhD. This could shuttle you into a management consulting position upon graduation.

Find a unique skill set that you are good at and offer your services to a company. If you need an example, check out how a graphic illustrator/scientific visual communicator went freelance during and out of graduate school.

Another example is self-taught SEO or social media marketing consulting. Many companies (including start-ups) are blogging and doing digital marketing, and learning the ropes of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. If you are already running a professional blog (all PhD students should!), you have already learned how to effectively run social media and marketing campaigns, and chances are you could do part-time work offering your services. You are also developing your technical writing skills in addition to sharing scientific ideas and making worldwide network contacts.

**Management consulting can be an excellent way to put your analytical and scientific training to use while you develop your business expertise. If you have the passion to innovate, drive change, and help companies be more successful, it might be the career choice for you. You will learn how to lead teams, manage people, and take on challenging and interesting problems. The connections that you make with top business professionals will also open doors to future career opportunities. And, your hard work and efforts could also have a huge impact on the future direction of the company.

Further Reading:




2)      Consider doing a summer internship during your PhD studies or during your postdoc

As mentioned in a previous article, the most practical solution for many is to obtain a paid internship (ideally) during your time in graduate school. Internships are CRUCIAL and I cannot stress enough that graduate students and post-docs should take a summer off (or balance the internship 50% and graduate school 50%) and obtain industry experience. That way you will come out with real-world industry experience and some marketable skills. You need to negotiate and leverage this in any way that you can.

A lot of companies are willing to try you out for a short 3 months. That initial spark will come from their interest in you via informational interviews (see below). Chances are if they like you at the end of the internship, you might also have an offer waiting for you upon graduation at that same company.

The first step to land an internship position is to do informational interviews and start networking. You can read more about informational interviews here. Read: How To Network and Add Value to Yourself and Others to get a good starting point. Just because internship positions aren’t posted doesn’t mean they can’t be created or they don’t exist. Ask around and you’ll be surprised what you will find.

Internships also boost Postdocs’ skills and really add to their marketability. The challenge as any might imagine, is getting your PI to agree.

3)      Consider auditing or taking business classes, participating in workshops, or leading/organizing business events on campus.

If you are a science person, then take a business class and start networking with business professors and MBA students. If not business, find a secondary interest and step out of your comfort zone. Get involved in patent law, tech transfer, computer programming, or entrepreneurial classes. This will come down solely to you and your interests. Many business professors will allow you to sit in their class even if you aren’t taking the class for credit. Entrepreneurial management classes for example, will expose you to writing business plans and doing SWOT analysis, and growing local starts-ups via group projects.

4)      Start a side business, professional blog, develop a product, or find like-minded individuals preferably with an entrepreneurial mindset or business drive.

5)      Network every week. Then network some more.

Step 1: Network to obtain an internship and gain the marketable skills that you need

Step 2: Network to obtain a job post-PhD

Did you catch that? You need to network to create opportunities. Then you network to create more opportunities beyond that. During or after PhD, it doesn’t matter. If you lack marketable skills, you’ll need to network to obtain them or find out what those specific skills are. Even with internship experience under you belt, you will need to network beyond the PhD to land an industry position. Obviously, it is MUCH easier to use the power of networking when you already have the marketable skills to find an industry job versus networking from scratch (i.e. skipping Step 1 and jumping right into Step 2). But whatever stage you are in, it is never too late to start. There is no stopping when it comes to networking and the truth is that it is a lifelong process and requires continual effort.

PhD graduate students and postdocs simply don’t network enough. How can you understand the needs of a company if you don’t speak to people? How can you know the industry, the market, and the customer? Chances are a startup company in your area has a need. What value can you add to fulfill that need?  This ties into #2 above.

There are many more examples. The reality is that it is not impossible to create opportunities, take on an internship, do consulting, and/or run a professional blog during your PhD and come out with a huge leg up upon graduation. Those that do #1-#5 or a combination thereof will stand out from the crowd and will most likely beat out other PhD students who focused on nothing else but getting their degree. Chances are you will land a job in industry and work in a fulfilling career. Gaining the marketable skills to crossover is no easy task, but with hard work, patience, and the right connections anything is possible.

Keep pushing and you will see good things come your way.

Email me with any questions. Future article will be on how to transition into Product Management, Marketing, or Sales.

Further Reading:

Internships Boost Postdocs’ Skills, Worldliness, and Marketability

The PhD Industry Gap

Life after the PhD: Re-Train Your Brain

3 Things PhDs Leaving Academia Should Know About Business

Taking Charge of Your Career

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Seeking!!!!!!!!!

Quertle, a Life Sciences Semantic Search Engine, Wins a National Library of Medicine Award

Posted in BioEducation

In April 2011, The National Library of Medicine (NLM), part of the National Institutes of Health, invited people to show off their apps. NLM challenged people to create innovative software applications that use the Library’s vast collection of biomedical data, including downloadable data sets, application programming interfaces (APIs), or software tools – all of which are free and available for public use. 

One of the winners of the app challenge was Quertle. For those of you who may not have heard of Quertle, it is an innovative website for searching and investigating the biomedical literature. Quertle uses advanced linguistic methods to find the most relevant documents instead of traditional keyword searching, which often returns an overwhelming list of uninformative articles. It is geared to active life science professionals – both researchers and health care providers – and saves them considerable time and effort in finding the literature they need. Quertle, available on the web using any browser, simultaneously searches multiple sources of life science literature, including MEDLINE

The Quertle search engine was created by Jeff Saffer, PhD and Vicki Burnett, PhD mainly because they were not satisfied with search results for life sciences publications and information delivered by conventional search engines. 

Vicki and Jeff will receive their award on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 20011 in Washington, DC. The award ceremony will feature U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer Todd Park as speakers. 

For those of you who may not know, BioJobBlog and BioCrowd have partnered with Quertle in various business activities and it is the search engine of choice for both websites.

Congrats to Vicki and Jeff on a job well done!

Until next time…

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


A New Way Forward for FDA?

Posted in BioBusiness

Last week, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner unveiled a “blueprint” that contained immediate and actionable steps that can be taken to spur innovation in the life sciences. The report’s proposals stem from a review of FDA’s current policies and practices, as well as months of meetings with major stakeholders nationwide, including key industry leaders, small biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device company owners, members of the academic community, and patient groups. Entitled “Driving Biomedical Innovation: Initiatives for Improving Products” the report focuses on seven major actions:

  1. rebuilding FDA’s small business outreach services
  2. building the infrastructure to drive and support personalized medicine
  3. creating a rapid drug development pathway for important targeted therapies
  4. harnessing the potential of data mining and information sharing while protecting patient privacy
  5. improving consistency and clarity in the medical device review process
  6. training the next generation of innovators
  7. streamlining and reforming FDA regulations

The blueprint was issued in response to growing concerns that—despite record investments in biomedical R&D—the drug pipelines at many US life sciences companies has grown exceedingly thin. Not surprisingly, most life sciences companies blame the agency for the thinning pipelines but in reality both side have contributed to the problem. Hamburg’s bold plan seems reasonable. But, it can only be implemented if Congress provides sufficient funding to underwrite the new initiatives proposed in the plan. And, while these funds ought to be allocated, it is not clear whether or not it is likely given the poor economy and the current, unprecedented political divisiveness that exists in Washington these days.

Moreover, Mark Senak, author of the Eye on FDA blog, suggests that FDA can improve its effectiveness by learning how to communicate better with its stakeholders. Mark, a social media advocate provides this compelling insight into FDA’s communication problems and the agency’s inability to grasp that the Internet and social media can help to improve its communication skills:

"The extremely long track record of FDA in attempting to figure out the Internet (first public meeting held in October 1996) and social media (first public meeting held in November, 2009) has yielded no guidance, with little transparency into the process.  It is time for FDA to seek outside communications expertise to help the agency better formulate policy on a timely basis."

While I believe that Commissioner Hamburg’s blueprint for improvement is a good one, it isn’t clear whether she will get the necessary support to implement it.

Until next time…

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


The 25 Best Biomedicine And Healthcare Informatics Blogs

Posted in BioEducation

William Hooper author of the HealthTechTopia blog which focuses on biomedicine and healthcare informatics compiled a top 25 list of the best biomedicine blogs on the web. 

While BioJobBlog failed to make the list, BioCrowd was listed at number 14. This is what the HealthTechTopia blog had to say about BioCrowd, the online networking site created by Vincent Racaniello and me.

“So where can you get blog entries from tons of biomedicine enthusiasts? With a stop here. The site was built to help bioscience professionals build relationships, exchange ideas, find jobs, and identify exciting new career opportunities.”

Best Blogs on Biomedicine by an Individual

These experts in biomedicine take it on at all angles.

  1. Biotech/ Biomedical
    Join Dr. Theresa Phillips as she uses her experience to provide her readers with tools, tips, strategies, and information about the industry. She has a broad background in a number of different areas of biotechnology and biomedical research, including having worked for two biotech companies in the environmental remediation industry. Must reads include a career in biotech and six approaches to phytoremediation.
  2. Terry Etherton Blog on Biotechnology
    Dr. Etherton is a Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition and Head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University. His research specialty is the area of endocrine regulation of animal growth and nutrient metabolism. Genetically modified crops and cloned livestock are the latest blog topics.
  3. Eye on DNA
    Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei is a PhD-trained epidemiologist and biotech consultant, as well as a Stanford and JohnHopkinsUniversity graduate. One of her focuses is on how both genome and internet technology are going to change the world. Popular articles include DNA toys and “100 Facts About DNA.”
  4. Gary Rabin
    He is the Chairman of Advanced Cell Technology. They are a biotechnology company that specializes in the development of cellular therapies for the treatment of rare and common diseases that impact millions of people worldwide. The blog often lists their accomplishments as well as related items in biotech.
  5. Building Confidence
    Blogger Russ Altman is also a professor at StanfordUniversity. His writings are a way to share commentary on issues related to his professional expertise, which is biomedical informatics, genetics, medicine, and bioengineering. He also has a quick tutorial on the subject of bioinformatics.
  6. Gene Expression
    Razib Khan’s degrees are in biochemistry and biology. He has blogged about genetics since 2002, previously worked in software development, and is an Unz Foundation Junior Fellow. A standout choice for often integrating pop culture and news items into bio-learning.
  7. Biotech Blog
    Yali Friedman lives in Washington, DC and is the author of “Building Biotechnology” and other books. He is also the founder of DrugPatentWatch and chief editor of the “Journal of Commercial Biotechnology.” Check out his blog for thoughts and news on the commercial, legal, political, and scientific aspects of biotech.
  8. Expression Patterns
    Proving again that biomedicine isn’t just for men is Eva Amsen. She recently moved from research to editing and from biochemistry to developmental biology. In addition to science, she also blogs about the arts.
  9. Public Rambling
    What sounds like a blog for the latest commentary on the latest scandal is actually a scientific one. Pedro Beltrao stops here to write about what he thinks on bioinformatics, science, and technology. Omics was the topic of a recent post.
  10. Science Roll
    Bertalan Meskó graduated from the University of Debrecen, Medical School and Health Science Center in 2009 and started PhD studies in the field of personalized genomics. His blog is now a journey through genetics and medicine. Biomedicine in the news and his reaction are often the topic of posts.

Best Blogs on Biomedicine by a Group

Check out these groups and sites for a collective view of biomedicine and related areas.

  1. The Daily Scan
    Part of Genome Web, there are several blogs on biomedicine to choose from. They include entries on cancer and informatics. The main site has more for those interested in biomedicine such as news, careers, and a magazine.
  2. ISAAA
    Click here for the official blog from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. They have a newsfeed that is constantly updated and divided by crop biotech, biofuels supplement, and more. There are also other learning resources offered.
  3. Fierce Biotech
    Get just the news with a visit here. Several stories a day are on all the advancements and announcements in the field. You can also choose by biomarkers, events, whitepapers, and much more.
  4. BioCrowd
    So where can you get blog entries from tons of biomedicine enthusiasts? With a stop here. The site was built to help bioscience professionals build relationships, exchange ideas, find jobs, and identify exciting new career opportunities.
  5. Growers for Biotechnology
    Their mission is to promote and facilitate the research, development and acceptance of biotechnology in agriculture. The news stream has the latest in developments in biology for food. You can also get other biotech info such as why growers use biotech and reports.
  6. BMC Biotechnology
    This is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed articles on the manipulation of biological macromolecules or organisms. Use in experimental procedures, cellular, and tissue engineering, as well as in the pharmaceutical, agricultural biotechnology, and allied industries are also shared. Current featured articles are on glucosinolate engineering and cytokine inhibition.
  7. Biotechnology Journal
    Can’t make it to the library to read the latest issue or shell out a subscription fee? Then click here to get many issues offering free articles as a PDF. There are also other biomedicine items available.
  8. Colorado Bioscience Association
    The CBSA is a not-for-profit corporation providing services and support for Colorado’s growing biosciences industry. Their blog contains news releases, links to articles, and other related information of interest. Maggie Chamberlin Holben of their marketing department has more.
  9. Biomedicine on Display
    This is the blog of Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen. They focus on the display of visual and material culture in museums, laboratories, and clinics with a goal of promoting contemporary biomedicine. Materialism was the subject of the latest post.
  10. BioSpace
    Finally, stop here to get items on life, science, and the community with the biologist in mind. Top breaking news and featured stories are often included. You can also search by biotech, medical, clinical research, and academic entries.

Best Blogs on Specific Biomedicine

Learn more about a specific area of biomedicine below.

  1. The Spittoon
    Get the writings from the pro’s at 23 and Me here. They specialize in using saliva to analyze the nearly one million locations in a person’s genome. Readers of the blog are given a deeper understanding of DNA and related areas.
  2. Genetic Future
    So how will all this biomedicine and such affect us in the future? That is the very question that genome researcher Daniel MacArthur strives to answer. Part of Wired Blogs, he focuses on the fast moving world of human genetics and why companies will sell you info on your own DNA.
  3. OnBioVC
    But can all this biomedicine talk be used to turn a profit? With a visit to this blog, the answer can be “yes.” They specialize in reporting on bioscience venture capital data.
  4. Blog,Bioethics.net
    As with any science, ethics is going to come into play. Get a blog especially for the ethics surrounding biology here. The editors of “The American Journal of Bioethics” use it to inform and discuss more on the subject with the public.
  5. Bioethics Discussion Blog
    Because one view on anything ethical isn’t enough, click here. Dr. Maurice Bernstein is a physician and medical school teacher who moderates the discussion. With entries dating back to 2004, make time for tons of bioethics.

No matter if you are a student studying for a PhD or just a fan of science, there is loads to learn on the above 25 best blogs on biomedicine.


Careers: The Ten Fastest Growing Fields?

Posted in BioJobBuzz

I am not a big fan of top ten lists but I decided to take a look at the list compiled by Cecilia Capuzzi Simon in a recent article that appeared in the April 13, 2011 New Times Education supplement. Entitled “Top Ten List: Where the Jobs Are.” The article was extremely well written and based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of the fastest-growing occupations. 

The Bureau gleefully announced that it expects there to more than a million new jobs by 2018, and a “worker pool that may not be trained to fill them.” While this may seemingly appear to be great news—given the almost 10 percent unemployment rate that has been plaguing the US for the past three years—I was puzzled by appearance of biomedical engineering (#1), medical scientists (#6) and biochemists and biophysicists (#9) on the lists mainly because I know that persons who are trained in these fields are having extremely difficult times finding jobs in the current economy. That said, with most life science R&D being shipped over seas or outsourced, it hard to see that any of these jobs will be in great demand in the US over the next seven years. Maybe the bureau knows something that I don’t? Or maybe, it is the US government’s way of gently nudging people into careers that they anticipate will be highly valued in the future? Whatever the reason, it is going to be tough to convince college freshman to major in these fields if the current job market for these professions is currently so bleak.

What is even more puzzling then the ranking of these three career choices list is the actually numbers of new jobs that are anticipated to be created. The total number of new jobs expected in these fields by 2018 is roughly 65,000 (biomedical engineers-12,000; medical scientists-44,000; and biochemists and biophysicists-9,000). Compare this with the number of jobs anticipated by 2018 for network systems and data communication analysts (156,000), home health aide (461,000), personal and home care aide (376,000) or physician assistants (29,000) and you will get a better idea about the urgency for biomedical engineers and other life scientists.

There is no question that life scientists will command higher salaries and wages than home health aids or possibly a physician’s assistant but life sciences jobs typically require a minimum of a MS or PhD degree. Moreover, the economic theory of supply and demand suggests that it will be much easier for healthcare informaticists or home healthcare aides to find a job as compared with a biomedical engineer or PhD biochemist—even by 2018. In other words, don’t expect the US job market for life scientists to get better any time soon. 

While it is unfortunate that the US is beginning to seriously lag behind much smaller countries in science, math and engineering preparedness, the current demand for these types of jobs is waning and undergraduate college students—who lived through the recent financial meltdown—will likely (and rightly) choose to pursue careers where the likelihood of future employment is greatest. Unfortunately, the life sciences isn’t one of them.

Until next time…

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


Life Scientists: Tweet Your Way To a New Job or Career

Posted in Career Advice

There is no question that Twitter is the new social media tool of the moment. And, it should come as no surprise that scientists and other bioprofessionals have been slow to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. While the jury is still out on Twitter’s effectiveness as a research tool, there is a growing body of evident that suggests that it can be a valuable tool when conducting a job search. 

To that end, Miriam Salpeter, the owner of Keppie Careers wrote an incisive piece on leveraging Twitter to find a job or jumpstart your career. I excerpted relevant parts of the post that originally appeared as “Older Job Seeker: Want to Tweet Yourself to A New Job?”  While originally aimed at older employees, much of what is presented in the article is germane to life scientists of all ages who are seeking new job opportunities! 

Want to Tweet Yourself to A New Job?”

by Miriam Salpeter

Would you believe that you can tweet yourself to a job opportunity 140 characters at a time? It’s been done! Statistics show that job search networking is much more effective when you make “loose” connections – touching base with people beyond your immediate circle whose networks and contacts are much different from your own. With over 200 million users, Twitter offers an unparalleled opportunity to create an extended network.

Not convinced that Twitter is actually a high-powered job search tool? Read on to learn how Twitter can uniquely position you for job-hunting success!

What Can Twitter Do For You?

1. Afford access to other professionals in your field. When you follow industry leaders, you’ll know who spends time with them, what conferences they attend (and what they think of the speakers!), what they’re reading and what is on their minds. This is great information to leverage for your search.

2. Provide exposure and credibility as well as personal and professional relationships when you connect to others in your industry.

3. Offer you a venue to demonstrate your expertise and share information in quick, pithy bursts of wisdom. This is perfect if you don’t have the time or energy to create a blog.

Unique Aspects of Twitter

1. It is casual and immediate and a great place to “meet” informally.

2. You’ll find an array of people on Twitter, including CEOs, top-level executives, hiring managers, recruiters and everyone in-between! It’s one-stop shopping for your networking needs. You’ll be surprised to find that stars in your field (mentors) may follow you if you reach out to them!

3. Unlike Facebook, where it is kind of creepy if you start trying to “friend” people who are connected to your contacts, it is acceptable (and expected) to follow people on Twitter because another friend or colleague does.

4. It forces you to be brief. Coming up with your “Twit-Pitch” – what you have to offer in 140 characters or less – will help you clarify your value proposition. Remember: less is more!

What To Do First?

1. Brand yourself professionally. If you are planning to use Twitter for a job search, set up a designated profile and account. Choose a professional Twitter handle using your name or some combination of your name and profession that sounds good and is easy to remember. For example, JaneSmith or MarketingExpertJane.

2. Take time to create a professional profile that will attract your target market. If you don’t have a website, link to your LinkedIn profile.

3. Before you follow anyone, start posting some tweets! Don’t succumb to the temptation to share your lunch menu…Tweet about an article, an idea or share a link of professional interest to your targeted followers. Do this for a few days. It may seem strange to be tweeting when no one is following, but you may be surprised to gain an audience before you even try. Once you have a great profile and a set of interesting tweets, start following people in your industry. Aim high! Follow stars – some will follow you back.

4. Continue to build your network by using Twitter Search and Twitter’s Find People tool. Manually review profiles and use Twubble to help you find new people to follow. Use directories such as Twellow and TwitDir. Grow your network slowly – you don’t want to follow 1000 people and have only 30 following you. That makes you look spammy, not professional.

5. Give, give, give! Think about what you can do for others. Don’t blatantly self-promote. Instead, help promote others. “Retweet” (pass along information someone else shared, giving them credit) – you will earn followers and friends this way. Those who know (and like) you will become part of your network and will be willing to help you.

Sustain Your Twitter Network

1. Twitter doesn’t have to be very time-consuming, but if it’s going to be part of your job search strategy, make a point to keep up with it by sending out something useful every day.

2. Read what other people write and respond. Join conversations and start your own.

3. Don’t be afraid to send a message directly to a star in your field. Simply address your tweet to @their Twitter name, and they should receive it. (Be aware that Twitter isn’t 100% reliable, so feel free to try again if you don’t hear back or have reason to believe your message wasn’t delivered).

4. Use the direct message feature if you have a private or personal note. Remember that the recipient may respond publicly, though.

5. Feel free to tweet that you are looking for an opportunity. (See below for a success story!)

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Tweeting!!!!!!  (@biojobbblog)


Everything You Need to Know About Informational Interviews

Posted in Career Advice

I first heard about informational interviews two years ago at the Annual Biomedical Research for Minority Students (ABRCMS) at which I was reviewing resumes and offering career advice. I asked the student who mentioned the interviews exactly what they are. And, much to my surprise, I learned that the process involved approaching a “professional” to set up a meeting to discuss possible career paths at a company that a jobseeker was interested in. 

At first blush, it sounded like a terrific idea to me. Unfortunately, the concept presupposes that jobseekers have done their homework and identified prospective companies that seem “like a fit” for them.

Second, it also presupposes that job candidates have a clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities of career options available at prospective companies. For example, several years ago many scientists who wanted to get out of the laboratory frequently mentioned business development as a possible alternate career options. In response to the question, I always ask “Do you know what business development professionals do on a daily basis and what skill sets are required to be successful at that job? Not surprisingly, the most frequent response to the questions was no! 

Further, while corralling a so-called profession at a meeting or conference to chat about possible career options at his/her company or institution is a possibility, asking the same person to take time out from their busy daily schedules to have the same discussion with you becomes increasingly difficult.

Finally, the notion that most professionals want to help others achieve career success is unrealistic and pretty much not the way things work.

As you may have guessed, I am not a big fan of informational interviews. And, I suspect that most professionals who are asked to participate are not either. Nevertheless, these types of interviews are growing in popularity and apparently are de rigueur. That said, the purpose of this post is help folks who participate in informational interviews to manage expectations. To that end; will an informational interview result in the possibility of getting hired at a particular company—probably not. Will it provide jobseekers with valuable new insights and information about possible career choices? Maybe; if you ask the right questions. Will the interview be worth the time that you took out of your day to participate? Possibly, but you don’t know until you try it. 

For those of you who may still be interested in informational interviews, I found an article that provides readers with a step-by-step approach to informational interviews (see below)

Open a Door With an Informational Interview

What is an informational interview? An informational interview is a meeting between you and a professional. The purpose is to help define your career options or research a company where you want to work. It is NOT a job interview. Do not expect anyone to make you an offer.
What is my role? You are the interviewer. Prepare plenty of questions to keep the conversation moving.  Include questions about the occupation or business, but ask about other things too: Do they enjoy their work? How do they spend their day? Open-ended questions are best to avoid yes or no answers. See a list of sample informational interview questions.

How do I set one up?

  1. Find people ask everyone you know for potential contacts in a field, company or job that piques your interest.
  2. Make contact Pick up the phone and make contact. Possible phone script:

"Mrs. Smith, Brad Johnson suggested I speak with you. My name is Steven Olson and I am interested in the ________ field. I could use advice from someone who is in this field. Do you have any time this week when I could meet with you? I know you’re busy, so I only need about 15 minutes of your time. I would really like to learn more about your company and the ________ field from someone like you."

What else should I remember?

  • If meeting in person, dress and act professionally.
  • Make a good impression. This person may provide additional leads or referrals that could lead to a job.
  • Keep it short. Limit your initial interview to 15 to 30 minutes based on how the conversation is going.
  • Feel free to schedule the interview with someone without hiring power. They often know more about day-to-day activities and have more specific information for you.
  • End the interview with an action plan. Ask the interviewee if you can contact him or her again.
  • Remember to send a thank-you note after your interview!

Until next time…

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


BioCrowd and Quertle, a New Biomedical Literature Search Engine, Ink a Deal

Posted in BioBusiness

BioCrowd (www.biocrowd.com) and Quertle (www.quertle.info) announced today that BioCrowd has enhanced its site by embedding Quertle’s semantic biomedical search engine. BioCrowd is an online networking site for bioprofessionals that offers it members discussions, blogs, podcasts, job searching tools, and research product reviews. With the addition of literature searching capability via Quertle’s new generation biomedical search engine, BioCrowd has evolved into a one-stop site for persons involved in biomedical research.

Quertle’s search engine uses advanced linguistic methods to find conceptual relationships, not just query terms scattered throughout a document. Searches yield highly relevant documents instead of the long lists of sometimes incomprehensible results offered by other literature search sites. Quertle’s pioneering approaches, including Power Terms™ – which represent entire classes of related concepts such as "diseases" – provide its users with a means to quickly get answers and make discoveries through literature searches.

By accessing Quertle through BioCrowd, community members will now have full access to a gamut of web resources routinely used by life scientists. "Embedding Quertle in BioCrowd adds the best literature searching capability to an existing tool chest of key web resources," said Professor Vincent Racaniello, a virologist at Columbia University School of Medicine and a BioCrowd co-founder. "There is no longer a need to visit multiple sites to gain access to the tools and functionality demanded by life sciences researchers." Clifford Mintz, PhD, BioCrowd’s Chief Business Officer added, "We talked to a variety of biomedical search engine companies and Quertle’s product surpassed its competitors."

About BioCrowd

BioCrowd is an online networking site exclusively designed for bioscience professionals. It was started by Clifford S. Mintz and Vincent Racaniello, two longtime bioscientists, who recognized a need for junior and senior scientists to network with one another and other bioscience professionals to realize and achieve professional or career goals.

About Quertle

Quertle is a biomedical search engine focused on delivering informative results to biomedical researchers using advanced linguistic technologies and an in-depth understanding of the biomedical field.


Quertle: A Powerful, New Search Engine that Make Biomedical Literature Searches, Smarter, Easier and Less Time-Consuming

Posted in BioJobBuzz

In 2009, I posted an article that described the salient and beneficial features of many of the biomedical search engines that had been developed for life scientists conducting laboratory research. While attending the Experimental Biology Meeting earlier this year I discovered a newly developed biomedical search engine called Quertle. After, watching Quertle in action, I was convinced that it was one of the best innovations to hit the life sciences field since the introduction of plasmid purification kits (yeah I know I am dating myself).                                    

Unlike most of its competitors, Quertle uses semantic-driven text analytics to find conceptual relationships between documents—not just query terms scattered though out a document. For example, suppose you want to find information on diseases of aging. Your query "diseases of aging" on other sites might find an article where "disease" is in the first sentence and "aging" is in the last sentence, perhaps even in the references. Consequently, a large number of the results will be irrelevant. In contrast, Quertle’s smart relationship-based search finds and presents those documents where the author has asserted a relationship between "disease" and "aging", such as "disease associated with aging". This gives you the results that are truly relevant, with the important facts nicely highlighted (Try it). Then, Quertle takes it even further; its proprietary Power Terms and algorithms that automatically identify key concepts in the documents allow users to quickly conduct highly targeted, relevant literature searches and intuitive ways to explore them (Try this Power Term search and check out the list of diseases found). 

Quertle’s powerful easy-to-use searching covers all of PubMed, an expanding collection of full-text articles (including BioMed Central and Open Access articles in PubMed Central), biomedical news, and even whitepapers and reports from different companies. The most recent Quertle software upgrade added TOXLINE and NIH RePORTER databases to it search repertoire.

Recognizing that access to full-text journal articles is of paramount importance to all literature searches, the latest version of Quertle now supports link resolver systems. By using Quertle’s new, displayed “My Library” link users can easily and seamlessly access their institutions’ library holdings. Recognition of individual users’ academic institution is accomplished by identifying user IP addresses (provided by the library) or through special Quertle links offered to the different libraries. Interested librarians can contact Quertle to get their institution added to the Quertle list.

Quertle’s developers are veterans of the life sciences field and understand the rigorous challenges facing laboratory researchers. Their goal was to make literature searching easier, more powerful and less time consuming. Check it out and let me know what YOU think!!!

Until next time…..

Good Luck and Good Searching!!!!!!!!!!



Musings about the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS)

Posted in Career Advice

I just returned from the 2009 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) that was held in Phoenix last week. I attended ABRCMS for the first time last year and decided that it was a meeting not to be missed in 2009. Once again the students (mainly undergraduate life sciences majors) were outstanding, knowledgeable and exceedingly professional—something that is frequently missing or absent in their non-minority counterparts. Like last year, every major academic institution, professional society and research organization attended the meeting to recruit minority students to their programs. However, despite the similarities to last year’s meeting, there were several noticeable differences that are worth pointing out.

First, the number of women undergraduate life sciences major who attended the meeting was substantially greater than the number of men in attendance. This shift is indicative of enrollment changes that are taking place in medicine, law and life sciences graduate programs where women now outnumber men. Second, many more students were seeking career development counseling and resume critiquing this year as compared with last year. This likely has much to do with the ongoing financial crisis and rising unemployment which now exceed 10% nationally. Third, many more students I talked with this year were interested in attending graduate school rather than medical school. This shift may have something to do with anticipated changes to the US medical profession that may result from healthcare reform. Alternatively, more minority students are interested in research as compared with medicine and related healthcare professions. 

Finally, the conference keynote address offered by Mae C. Jemison, MD a former astronaut and life science entrepreneur was one of the most inspirational and informative talks that I have ever heard about career opportunities in the life sciences. Dr. Jemison clearly articulated her belief that society ought to stop differentiating between artists and scientists. Further, she added that the two professions are not mutually exclusive from one another! This is likely because, she, in addition to her medical interests, is a professional dancer/choreographer and also a fashion designer. Coincidentally, earlier that morning I was talking with several female scientists who also happened to be life long dancers and choreographers.  I urged them to continue to draw on their dancing experience to channel that creativity to their research. It was humbling to learn that someone as successful and talented as Dr. Jamison shares many of my beliefs and ideas.

On the plane trip back to New Jersey, I happened to sit next to a young assistant professor from Princeton University who will likely earn tenure next year (he was invited to apply for an early decision). Like most other scientists, he initially challenged my notion that PhD students and postdoctoral fellows ought to be offered courses— or at the very least some information about non-academic careers—before they complete their training. After all, only about 10% to 15% of US life sciences PhDs are able to land tenure track positions upon completion of their training. Initially, many of his remarks were expected: “If you want a job you should go to medical school or law school or do something else…nobody said that getting a PhD would help you find a job” and “we train students for academic jobs because it is a way for us to ensure and preserve our legacy as scientists.” It was a good thing that I had my seat belt on at the time because I almost bolted out of my seat after hearing that!  I tactfully (which isn’t easy for me as those who know me will tell you) suggested to him that that kind of thinking is blatantly self-serving and extremely egotistical. Further, I suggested that it is ethically and morally disingenuous for tenured faculty members to continue to train students for jobs that they know don’t exist anymore.  Luckily, he is young and open minded and ultimately conceded that the system is kind of broken and perhaps things need to change. He also offered that he, (unlike most of the people who I trained with the exception of my PhD advisor) discusses career options with his students (some of whom aren’t interested in academic careers) and helps them in any way he can to realize their goals and dreams. Finally, I suggested to him that offering students and postdoctoral fellows some formal courses or training in alternate career options will likely have better performance and outcomes for students and faculty members as compared with continuing to keep them in the dark about career choices and job prospects.

While there is still much work to be done, it appears that younger faculty members are finally recognizing that traditional academic training paradigms may be anachronistic and changes may be necessary for the US to continue to train the best and the brightest!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!