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!!!!!!!!!

Why American College Grads Cannot Compete With the Rest of the World

Posted in BioEducation

For the past two decade or so, government officials, business executives and many education “thought leaders” have publicly lamented the deteriorating quality of the American educational system. While K-12 educators and administrators have unduly taken much of the heat for our educational shortcomings, the real problem may lie with the quality of undergraduate education in America. To wit, while a growing percentage of  American high school students are attending college, many of today’s college graduates today are noticeable deficient in communication skills and, perhaps more importantly, in their problem solving abilities. And, unfortunately, this troubling trend is beginning to takes its toll in life sciences graduate programs where a growing number of life sciences PhDs are great technicians but fail miserably as independent science investigators. This is because colleges and university administrators and faculty members are driven more by financial considerations as compared with their obligations as teachers, educators and mentors. Put simply, despite their non-profit status, many colleges and universities act like “for profit” companies where, in many cases, financial gains are more important than the products that they produce! 

With this in mind, Richard Arum, a professor of sociology and education at New York University and Josipa Roksa an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia detail the decline of the American undergraduate education experience in a book entitled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.”  While I have read the book, I did read an extremely revealing and troubling article that the authors penned in this past Sunday’s New Times Opinion section entitled “Your So-Called Education.” 

In the articles, Arum and Roksa describe their findings from a four-year long study in which they followed the progress of several thousand students in more than two dozen diverse colleges and universities. Students were evaluated by taking the Collegiate Learning Assessment test (an officially recognized academic assessment tool). Based on their research a whopping 45 percent of students after two years and 36 percent after four years showed no improvement in learning. Their conclusions:

“Large numbers of the students were making their way through college with minimal exposure to rigorous coursework, only a modest investment of effort and little or no meaningful improvement in skills like writing and reasoning.”

In the past, high school teachers and even the students themselves would have been blamed for their pitiful lack of academic progress. However, Arum and Roksa contend that the problems do not lie not with the students but with college presidents, administrators and in many cases faculty members. For example, the authors note that:

“While some colleges are starved for resources, for many others it’s not for lack of money. Even at those colleges where for the past several decades tuition has far outpaced the rate of inflation, students are taught by fewer full-time tenured faculty members while being looked after by a greatly expanded number of counselors who serve an array of social and personal needs. At the same time, many schools are investing in deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers and expensive gyms. Simply put: academic investments are a lower priority.”

Perhaps even more troubling the authors contend that:

“The authority of educators has diminished, and students are increasingly thought of, by themselves and their colleges, as “clients” or “consumers.” When 18-year-olds are emboldened to see themselves in this manner, many look for ways to attain an educational credential effortlessly and comfortably. And they are catered to accordingly. The customer is always right.”

Finally, a change in federal student loan legislation has contributed to the problem:

“The funds from Pell Grants and subsidized loans, by being assigned to students to spend on academic institutions they have chosen rather than being packaged as institutional grants for colleges to dispense, have empowered students — for good but also for ill. And expanded privacy protections have created obstacles for colleges in providing information on student performance to parents, undercutting a traditional check on student lassitude.”

Although the authors provide a couple of “self help” ideas to begin to address the problem, in my opinion, the only effective solution is to place higher academic standards and demands on undergraduate students and a greater premium on learning as compared with student convenience and satisfaction. Like it or not, the notion that the “customer is always right” should have no place at institutions of higher learning.  Finally, college and university administrators must seriously reconsider what the REAL mission of their institutions is: to place learning ahead of financial gain.

Until next time…

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


Internship Nation: A Critical Look at College Internships

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Ross Perlin has written a book entitled “Intern Nation How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy” that takes a critical look at the role of internships in today’s job market. Perlin, a former unpaid intern himself, contends that American companies are taking advantage of college students who believe that internships, paid or otherwise, are the only way to land a job in today’s economy. He estimates that each year 1 to 2 million persons take “resume burnishing” internships to increase the likelihood of downstream employment.

Recent estimates made by the College Employment Research Institutes suggest that as many as three quarters of approximately 10 million American students at four year colleges and universities will complete at least one internship before they graduate. Internships can be found almost everywhere a college student looks for them including; Fortune 500 companies to Disneyworld to Capital Hill to Silicon Valley to Main Street Experiences can range from fetching coffee to cleaning toilets to more substantive activities but almost always at little or no pay. Perlin noted that the number of internships that are “school-like, full-time dedicated training programs is vanishingly few.” Further, he astutely observes that the internship craze has taken on a life of its own and is supported by on-campus career centers, online middlemen and many employers looking for free entry-level workers.

While Perlin sees the value of structured and paid internships he rightfully excoriates academic career centers for offering unpaid internship opportunities to their students. To wit, he wrote: “An overwhelming majority of colleges and universities, as well as some high schools, endorse and promote unpaid internships without a second thought, provide lucrative academic credits that employers wishfully hope will indemnify their firms, and justify it all with high minded rhetoric about situated learning and experiential education” he wrote. Further, he is incredulous that some employers “require not only that their charges work for free, but that they also obtain academic credit, which usually means paying (tuition and fees) to work for free.”

There is no question that college internships once gave students who took advantage of them a “leg up” on the competition. However, the sheer number of available internships has relegated them to little more than a box to check on a job application. In other words, internships are quickly becoming a requirement rather than an option. Moreover, according to Perlin, prospective employers are becoming increasingly aware that “these experiences (internships) can mean just about anything: your parents are well connected, your school required it, your barely showed up at the office. ”That, if you were counting on your experience as an intern to make a difference between gainful employment or not, it may be time to rethink your strategy.”

Because the life sciences companies are almost always behind their non-scientific counterparts, most internships offered by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies continue to be paid, structured and training-minded. With this in mind, many of my former students (primarily those who were motivated and good at networking) were able to transform internship experiences into full-time employment. However, internships have unfortunately replaced many industrial postdoctoral training programs: which may be good for graduate students but not so good for PhDs looking for industrial postdocs to transition from academia to the private sector.

Despite the growing criticism and problems with internships, I still think they are a viable approach for students and postdocs to acquire the “prior industrial experience” that is now necessary for academic scientists seeking job opportunities in the life sciences industry. Needless to say, once the life sciences industry “catches on” to the ways that internships can be manipulated and leveraged to their advantage, they will no longer be the “tickets to employment” at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that they once were.

Until next time….

Good Luck and Keep the Faith!!!!!!!!!


Alternate Careers for Life Sciences PhDs: Some Interesting and Edgy Job Opportunities

Posted in BioJobBuzz

There is no doubt that it is becoming increasingly difficult for persons with PhD degrees in the life sciences to pursue traditional career paths. To that end, Anne Miller of sent me a link to a post that offers some interesting career options that might be of interest to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows training in the life sciences. While not for everyone, some of these jobs are tangentially related to the life sciences and may be worth considering if your current job search isn’t panning out.

The jobs with asterisks connote those where a scientific background may be beneficial.

1. MMO Gold Farmer : Gold farming has little to do with gold mining, as the workers are actually responsible for sitting at a computer for hours on end playing World of Warcraft and other massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) in order to amass a large amount of in-game currency to sell for the real thing.

2. Animal Insemination* : Artificially inseminating livestock is a necessary job if one wants a healthy food supply, but few will deny that it is an extremely unusual line of work.

3. Chicken Sexer* : The idea of a chicken sexer likely brings up a series of giggles and blushes, but in actuality involves deciphering the genitalia of newly-hatched birds and inventorying how many males and females crop up in the bunch.

4. Odor Judge : With strong stomachs and a much stronger olfactory system, odor judges do exactly what their job title implies. Sometimes they even have to jam their nose into a participant’s armpit to see how well their deodorant works.

5. Garbage Bin Archivist : A step up from dumpster diving, some people make money off scouring files and archives retrieved from filthy garbage bins for legal reasons.

6. Fish Liver Sorter* : They sort fish livers. Actually, the job description also entails slicing the organs out before organizing them as well as discarding any that appear sick or spoiled.

7. Organ Procurers* : Organ procurers work for organ banks, helping to seek out donors and transplants for those in need of a new kidney, liver, or other body part.

8. Vomit Collector : Some theme parks employ cleaners specifically designated to mop up puke near rides that tend to inspire motion sickness.

9. Pet Food Taster : Most people would jump at the chance to taste-test chocolate, booze, or ice cream or other snack, but it takes a special stomach, palate, and probably mind to want to nosh on gourmet dog and cat food.

10. Gumologist : Food chemist Jessee Keifer of Cadbury Schweppes is one of the only people in the world paid to develop the perfect stick of chewing gum.

11. Dice Inspector : A dice inspector’s job involves inspecting the little cubes for any flaws that may give an unfair advantage or disadvantage when gambling.

12. Fake Review Writer* : Unethical? Yup. But a weird job is still a weird job, and this one involves professionally writing fake business reviews – positive and negative alike – for consumer-driven sites like Yelp, Citysearch, and Urbanspoon in order to artificially bolster ratings and verbally slam the competition.

13. Gross Stunt Tester : Nobody would eat worms on television for money if the network feared a lawsuit. Before chomping down on a cockroach, though, gross stunt testers and chefs have to whip up the night’s challenge and make sure it is safe enough to stave off litigation.

14. Hand Model : Some models make their money off the runway, appearing in television commercials, print ads, and as movie and show stand-ins without ever even having to flaunt more than a pair of pretty phalanges. There is an entire industry built around feet as well.

15. Citrus Fruit Dryer : All fruits need washing before being shipped off restaurants and grocery stores, and somebody has to be around to towel them off.

16. Furniture Tester : One of the cushiest jobs possible, furniture testers get paid to sit and lounge about on chairs, couches, beds, and other elements of home décor to help manufacturers gauge their safety and comfort.

17. Pet Detective : Real pet detectives help scared owners find their beloved animal companions. Generally, they don’t go chasing after missing dolphins.

18. IMAX Screen Cleaner : Because without the dedicated work of these brave men and women, nobody would ever be able to see the Great Barrier Reef or Mount Everest as the filmmaker intended.

19. Crocodile Wrangler *: One of the most dangerous jobs anyone could have involves wrestling crocodiles, alligators, and other aggressive animals. A simultaneously awesome and insane line of work.

20. Light Bender : Both dangerous and creative, light benders work in extreme heat to bring people flashing neon signs for businesses and home décor (in some circles).

21. Hoof Trimmer* : Cows and horses need their hooves trimmed for their own safety and comfort – really not much different than a dog or cat owner clipping the nails of their pets.

22. Wrinkle Chaser : Anyone who buys a pair of shoes has to send a bit of thanks to wrinkle chasers, who wield their irons with the intent of keeping them smooth and attractive.

23. Worm Picker* : With lighted miner’s helmets and aluminum cans at the reader, professional worm pickers snatch up their wiggly prey from the ground and sell them to local anglers for bait.

24. Ski Resort Illustrator : Glamorous when compared to many others on the list, ski resort illustrators apply their creative talents to…um…what was it again?

25. Fart Sniffer : People actually get paid to smell gas given off by cows in order to determine their diet, hormonal balance, and overall health. There are no words.

26. Pathoecologist* : Oh sure, telling someone you’re a “pathoecologist” at a cocktail party probably sounds all impressive. But have fun watching their expressions plummet when explaining that it involves dissecting and analyzing fossilized feces for a living.

27. Golf Ball Diver : Experienced deep-sea divers sometimes take on second careers applying their talents to retrieving golf balls from the murky depths of lakes.

28. Professional Sleeper* : As amazing as sleeping for money sounds, it also serves an excellent medical purpose. Professional sleepers help scientists and doctors figure out the mysteries of insomnia and other disorders.

29. Livestock Masturbator* : Similar to the animal inseminator, individuals who masturbate cows and other barnyard animals in order to acquire the body fluids necessary for conception play an integral role in the food supply.

30. Ocularist : These specialists create custom false eyes for individuals in need of one following an accident or degenerative disease.

31. Oyster Floater* : Before finding their way to consumers, oysters need to be floated in specially attuned water in order to remove any impurities.

32. Ostrich Babysitter* : Some kibbutz workers pass their days keeping an eye on ostriches to make sure they do not wander off, get into fights, or end up stolen.

33. Gum Buster : Littering is bad and all that, but if nothing else it at least means that cities and sanitation businesses create jobs specifically for cleaning gum and gum stains off the street.

34. Snake Milker* : Chuck Norris is so 2007. Snake milkers are the real tough guys, farming venom from the poisonous, slithering reptiles to help cure people of their bites.

35. Fortune Cookie Writer : Most little blips on the fortune cookies served at Asian restaurants comes not from some wise ancient sage, but rather a man at a desk being paid to crank them out.

36. Paper Towel Sniffer : A paper towel sniffer is responsible for letting manufacturers know if their products harbor any unusual smells before, during, and after use.

37. Lipsologist : Like a cross between a handwriting and palm analyst and a fingerprint archivist, a lipsologist claims to be able to read and identify a person’s personality based on their unique lip prints.

38. Neck Skewer : In spite of sounding like a line of work disconcertingly attractive to Leatherface, neck skewers actually pin the neck meat of beef halves to keep things more compact for transport.

39. Potato Chip Inspector : This delightful job entails looking through a conveyor belt full of potato chips for burned or unappetizing specimens.

40. Safe Cracker : A couple notches below James Bond exists safe crackers, who have to bust open locked boxes using their ears and fingers as tools.

41. Knife-Thrower’s Assistant : There is no way that any insurance company would offer a policy to someone who lets people throw knives at them for a living – but it probably makes for some great stories all the same.

42. Smoke Jumper : Smoke jumpers are extensively trained professionals sent into devastating wildfires on mountains, in brush, and other wide expanses to keep the environment and humanity safe from as much harm as possible.

43. Citrus Fruit Dyer* : No relation to the citrus fruit dryer, the citrus fruit dyers pop bright colors onto lemons, limes, grapefruits, kumquats, and other delights to make them seem more appealing to consumers.

44. Stand-In Bridesmaid : Eerily obsessive brides scouring over every single petty detail of their weddings and under the impression that the day would be absolutely ruined without a certain number of attendants (spoiler alert: it won’t) can actually pay women to stand in the ceremony to fill out the ranks.

45. Professional Whistler : Professional whistlers lend their talents to television shows, movies, commercials, and other media to add delightful music to their listeners’ days.

46. Turd Burner : Everyone who’s anyone loves fire, but not everyone is cut out to maintain equipment that burns human waste for a living.

47. Hair Boiler : Animal hair gets poured into giant vats of boiling water in order to make it curl up – and somebody has to stir it. Why does that sound eerily like the opening scene of Macbeth?

48. Phone Cord Sorter : Phone cord sorters (who, thanks to the advent of cell phones, are a rare breed these days) have to root through piles upon piles of the electronic components to weed out any that appear damaged or frayed.

49. Condom Tester : Before any boys in the audience drop out of school to pursue this career path, be forewarned that it actually involves stretching the prophylactics over a machine to test their strength and durability.

50. Cheese Sprayer : The powdered cheddar (or reasonable facsimile) on popcorn and other wonderfully salty, greasy snacks that wreak havoc on the heart and waistline has to get there somehow.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting (try it you may like it)!!!!!!!