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

Posted in Career Advice

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

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

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

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

Further she offers:

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

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

Enjoy the book and your summer!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting.


Want to Keep Your Job and Get a PhD in the Trump Era? Unionize!!!!!!

Posted in BioBusiness, BioEducation, BioJobBuzz, Career Advice

It should come as no surprise that Donald Trump is anti-union and his recent cabinet pick for Secretary of Labor is clearly not a friend of working people.  Put simply, Trump is on the side of big business and employers. And if he and his billionaire friends can squeeze more work out of employees for lesser pay, then he and his administration gladly propose legislation to accomplish those goals. Also, don’t be shocked when Trump cuts the budgets of federal agencies that offer research grants, fellowships and teaching assistantships to American colleges and Universities.

It’s no secret that graduate students and postdocs are overworked and underpaid and long term career prospects continue to dwindle.  Further, during the course of my career advising graduate students and postdocs about job opportunities, I have heard too many horror stories about PIs who refuse to let their students or postdoc do anything outside of their laboratories to enhance careers or job opportunities.

While the public and private union movement is dying in the US, unions still offer exploited workers to negotiate their fates, working conditions, pay and benefits with employers.  Sadly, we in the academic community have been taught to be anti-union because of the high costs associated with union labor. Ironically, that is the point….why  should graduate students and postdocs not be fairly compensated for the long hours that they work?  Sure, you can say that graduate students will get a degree and postdocs need the experience to get a job but, while a degree and a postdoc in the past meant a good paying job in the end, no such guarantees exist today.  Basically, you are on your own!

Last week, graduate students at Columbia University overwhelmingly voted to unionize. According to a newspaper article in the NY Times:

The union will be the first to represent graduate students since the National Labor Relations Board ruled in August that students who work as teaching and research assistants have a federal right to unionize.


The vote to unionize was 1,602 to 623, according to the United Automobile Workers, which will now represent some 3,500 Columbia graduate students.

While the vote to unionize will undoubtedly upsets PIs, Deans and University Presidents, it is in the best career interests and lifestyles of graduate students and research assistants. For example, unions typically negotiate the salaries for 40 hour work weeks. We all know that postdocs and graduate students work more than 40 hours weekly. Therefore, any time over 40 hours ought to be overtime pay, or to avoid overtime hourly pay, base salaries have to be set a certain levels (according to Federal salary guidelines ) which are substantially more than what graduate students and postdocs are currently paid. Also, unions negotiate with employers about vacation times, benefits (health and life insurance,401K plans etc) and establish guidelines that protect employees from being abused by employers and create rules that guide whether or not an employee can be fired “for cause” (not simply because your employer does not like you).

As I previously mentioned, research budgets and public unions will likely be under constant attack during the Trump regime.  Because of this, it is time that everyone begins to think about ways in which they can protect their jobs and keep their career aspirations alive. I know it won’t be easy but as someone once said “desperate times require desperate measures” (or something like that).

Until next time….

Good Luck and Good Unionizing!!!!!!

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!!!!!!!!!

The “Thing” About Graduate Students and Postdocs

Posted in BioEducation, Uncategorized

During my daily perusal of stuff on LinkedIn, I came upon a promo link to a video report by Dan Rather entitled “PhDon’t!” that was shown on March 5, 2013on  Not surprisingly, the video promo talks about the surplus of PhD-trained scientists and how fiercely competitive the current life sciences job market is for these talented and well trained individuals. Further, a female scientist in the promo declares that “the life sciences graduate training system is broken and in the long run it will do a great deal of harm to biomedical research in the US.

While you can see a promo of the show on YouTube, you cannot see the entire video unless you fork over $3 to download it from iTunes!  This begs the question: Is it worth spending $3 to hear Dan Rather tell most graduate students and postdocs what they already know?  Nevertheless, I bet that a large number of graduate students and postdocs will pay the download fee anyway. This is because the old adage “misery loves company” is true!  Nobody wants to suffer alone and there is comfort in knowing that many others are suffering just like you!  Although this may make you feel better emotionally, it does little to help to correct or solve the problem.

I agree with the scientist in the promo who said that the “system is broken.”  Everyone already knows that it is broken but nobody seems to want to do anything about it. And, the only folks who are going to be able to change the system are graduate students and postdocs. If you think that university administrators or tenured faculty members are going to fix the system, then you are either delusional or visiting medical marijuana clinics too frequently.

The point I am trying to make is that graduate students and postdocs love to complain about the system but do very little to try and change it.  Sure, every major university now has a graduate student or postdoctoral association and many schools have even formally created Offices of Graduate and Postdoctoral Training. And, there is even a National Postdoctoral Association.  But, what have these organizations done over the past five years to improve the likelihood of finding a job upon completion of your training?  To that point, how many more seminars, conferences, meetings etc are you going to attend to hear about alternate careers, resume writing and job interviewing techniques before you realize that it is not you but the system that must change?

There is no doubt that change can be difficult and extremely risky. But, at this point, what do most life sciences graduate students and postdocs really have to lose?  The choice is simple: continue to complain, feel helpless and accept your plight or come together and fiercely work to change the system (one institution at a time if necessary) to improve the likelihood of employment and a successful scientific career.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting


Fixing the Disconnect Between Academia and Industrial Life Science Jobs

Posted in BioJobBuzz, Uncategorized

Dave Jensen’s article in a recent edition of Science Careers entitled “Tooling Up: The Big Disconnect” aptly and cogently pointed out why it has become increasingly difficult for academically-trained PhD life scientists to find jobs in the life sciences industry.

Dave is spot on in his assertion that most life science hiring managers engage in what he terms “pinpoint hiring”— a practice in which employees are hired based on their extant skill sets rather than long term scientific potential and possible contribution to the success of a company.  In the good old days before globalization, companies would frequently hire the “best and the brightest”, train them and take the long view that well trained employees will ultimately benefit and add value to their organization.  Unfortunately, those days are long gone. Today’s mantra is “what can you do for me today because there may not be a tomorrow.”

As Dave rightly points out, graduate students and postdocs are simply not being trained to meet the needs and demands of most life science companies.  An essential ingredient that is missing from current training paradigms is a fundamental understanding of the life sciences industry and how it works. Put simply, students who lack a basic understanding of the pharmaceutical/biotechnology drug development processes will find it increasingly difficult to land an industrial job; regardless of the number of Cell, Science and Nature papers or where you may have received your graduate or postdoctoral training.

In his article, Dave asserts that determining (as early a possible) that an industrial career is right for you may be your ticket to success. Unfortunately, while conducting informational interviews and landing a competitive unpaid company internship may be helpful, only small numbers of graduate students and postdocs have the flexibility or access to these activities.  More importantly, most academic researchers engage in basic rather than applied research (which is what life sciences companies are looking for). Consequently, while many students view industry jobs as possible employment opportunities, there simply may not be enough PI or mentors who can help to acquire the applied skill sets demanded by most life sciences hiring managers.

By now, many of you may be thinking: okay we know about the problems how about some practical solutions. So, here goes:

First, there are many online biotechnology courses and certificate-earning biotechnology/pharmaceutical/regulatory affairs course at local community colleges that graduate students and postdocs can take. Yes, I know that you are extremely busy and working 80 hours plus in the lab, but it is your career and nobody else can do if for you. These courses will provide graduate students and postdoc interested in industrial careers with a basic understanding of how the life sciences industry functions. Also, these courses can provide a rich lexicon of industrial jargon—when correctly used in a face-to-face job interview — can make a difference between a job offer or not.

Second, graduate students and postdocs can work together to organize career development symposium, seminars and workshops to obtain a better understanding of the requisite skill sets and training required to improve their competitiveness for industrial jobs.

Third, there are a number of PhD programs that now offer joint degrees in science, business and other disciplines. Choosing to enroll in these programs rather than traditional graduate life sciences programs may be an option for students who already know that an industrial rather than an academic career path is right for them.

Finally, organize and then talk college administration to demand that changes be made to existing graduate training paradigms to improve job preparedness. To that end, it would not be unreasonable to request that alternate career training courses (regulatory affairs, medical writing, project management etc be) be offered to all graduate students and postdocs who may be interested. Also, it may be appropriate (depending upon geographical location of an institution) to request that formal industry-focused company internships are established to allow interested and qualified graduate students and postdocs to participate. And, last, request that all faculty members be required to engage in career development counseling to help them to better understand the job market realities that their graduate students and post docs are currently facing.  While this may sound like an odd request, it is important to remember that tenured professors are guaranteed a “job for life.” Consequently, most of them are not particularly concerned about whether or not their PhD students or postdocs find gainful employment after they leave their laboratories. Sadly, many of them (and perhaps rightly so) believe that finding a job is not their problem but yours!

Until next time…

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



Why Many Scientists Have A PR Problem!

Posted in BioEducation

I apologize in advance for this rant but I have been participating in an almost six month long thread on LinkedIn discussing whether or not PhD-trained scientists lack the social discipline and knowledge necessary to favorably interact with the lay public. Not surprisingly, a majority of participants contend that most PhD-bearing life scientists lack social graces to the point where they come off as being aloof, condescending and enamored with their own intelligence and projects that they choose to work on.

While I tend to generally agree with this characterization, I contend that the lack of social discipline exhibited by many graduate students and postdocs is not a result of personality defects but can likely be attributed to the attitudes and behaviors learned from their mentors and PIs. Put simply, graduate students and postdocs would likely learn to behave differently in social situations if they were trained differently by their PIs and mentors.

Now: the reason for the rant. In yesterday’s Science Times, there was an article about a Princeton-based writer, Jeffrey Eugenides, who decided to write a novel using a life sciences researcher as its main character. Mr. Eugenides, who previously wrote a well received novel entitled “Middlesex,” does not possess a scientific background nor has he spent any time in a research laboratory. In fact, despite living in Princeton a bastion of life sciences research, he had no friends or even acquaintances who were scientists. His closest connect to science is his wife, an artist who spent a winter in Cold Spring Harbor (but not at the research center). Nevertheless, creating a main character who is a scientist required that he do a lot of internet research to learn about scientific research and what makes “scientists tick.” To that end, he read peer-reviewed yeast genetics papers to better understand the focus of the main character’s research—yeast mating genetics. It took him many years to collect the information necessary to write the novel. And a scientist—whose research laid the foundation for work described in the novel—was astounded that Eugenides got it exactly right!

Because Princeton University is home to one of the world’s leading yeast genetics programs, Eugenides decided to chat with yeast geneticists actively engaged in basic research to get an idea of what actually goes on in a research laboratory. To accomplish this he turned to one of the world’s leading experts on yeast geneticist at Princeton to ask for help. Although the geneticist thought that Eugenides needed an explanation of the research described in the novel, Eugenides simply wanted to spend a day in his laboratory and interact with “real” scientists. After hearing this, the geneticist handed Eugenides off to his laboratory manager and left the lab.

When interviewed for the story in the NY Times, the geneticist quipped “I never heard of the book, and I don’t remember talking to the guy.” Taken at face value his comments are not intentionally pejorative or demeaning. But, they do suggest an air of arrogance, indifference and most importantly disinterest. I suspect that this is because the visit had little to do with the geneticist’s work and, in the end, there was not much in it for him—so why waste his time?

Sadly this is exactly the attitudes and behaviors exhibited by many scientists. Is it any wonder why many lay people think that most scientists are arrogant, self absorbed and indifferent when it comes to social graces? Although the scientist mentioned in the post is world renown in scientific circles, he did not come off well (to me anyway) in the article. That said, he created a PR problem for himself.

While in the past it was convenient for academicians to “live in the ivory tower” the recession, an increasingly lousy job market for PhD-trained scientists and the advent of social media suggests that we have entered into a new age. Like it or not, social skills are absolutely required for gainful employment in today’s world. I think it is time for academics to realize this and change the way in which they train their graduate students and postdocs.

Until next time….

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


Statistics and Job-Related Facts You Should Know About Careers in the Life Sciences

Posted in BioJobBuzz

Fewer and fewer American college students are choosing to major in Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). This has been an ongoing trend in the US for the past two decades. However, within the STEM majors, the life sciences are faring the best. While I believe that the US needs more life sciences majors to remain competitive with the rest of the world, there are a few things you ought to know before you take the life sciences plunge.

  1. More than 86,000 American biology majors graduate each year
  2. About 58% of all bachelors’, masters and doctorates in the life sciences are awarded to women (who continue to earn substantially less than their male counterparts)
  3. Entry level salaries for biology majors range from $40,000 to $50,000 per year (computer and engineering students start at salaries of $55,000 to $65,000 per year)
  4. PhD degrees in the life sciences take on average six years to complete
  5. Postdoc starting salaries range from $37,000 to $40,000 per year
  6. More than a third of biologists are still working as postdocs or in other non-tenure track jobs six years after receiving their PhD degrees
  7. Only 14% of PhD-trained biologists win tenure track positions within six years of receiving their degrees
  8. Because of tighter funding for government jobs and the loss of 300,000 pharmaceutical jobs in the past decade, many newly-minted PhDs are forced to become serial postdocs (supported by soft money) or help senior scientists set up and run their laboratories waiting to see if they can win permanent academic employment
  9. Fewer tenured life sciences professors are retiring because of the financial downturn

If you still want to be biology major after reading this post, then I think that you know what career path you ought to pursue! Just sayin’……

Until next time…

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


Emerging Job Opportunities in the Life Sciences Industry

Posted in BioJobBuzz

I just returned from the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) meeting in Washington DC where I gave three talks about biocareer development strategies. One of the talks, "Emerging Job Opportunities in the Life Sciences Industry" was reported on (see below) by a writer from Fierce Pharma.  While I don’t usually "too my own horn." about my achievements, I thought a Number 2 ranking in the publications daily top 10 list was certainly worth a mention.  

New job opportunities emerging in Big Pharma
October 26, 2011 — 7:24am ET | By Maureen Martino

Since 2001, 300,000 pharma employees have lost their jobs, primarily in R&D and sales. That’s according to Clifford Mintz, the founder of BioInsights, which develops and offers bioscience education and training. Mintz spoke at a session on new job opportunities in biotech and pharma at the annual AAPS meeting in Washington, D.C. While the losses have been steep, they’re balanced by emerging, in-demand careers in the industry.

The industry’s struggles are well-known: Many companies are facing loss of exclusivity on their biggest sellers but have little in the pipeline to pick up the slack. Productivity is dropping as the cost of bringing a new drug to market soars. Government and payors want more effective drugs for less money. The list goes on.

Developers are looking to new markets and new technologies to address these issues. But how do these trends play out for the pharma job seeker? Many people, particularly Ph.D.s, may have to consider getting additional training if they want to land their dream job. "Companies used to be willing to just hire smart people. But with the economic downturn and global competition, companies can no longer afford to invest in people who have promise. They need to see proven skills," Mintz explained. With the right blend of skills and experience, however, there still some pharma jobs that are in demand.

Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs

"Clinical research is the lifeblood of the industry," Mintz said. As developers expand in emerging markets, there’s a particular demand for people to manage and organize overseas clinical trials. "There’s a huge need for clinical research professionals worldwide," he said, noting that most Phase I and II trials are conducted outside of the U.S.

Another one of the industry’s perennial needs is regulatory affairs professionals. "Regulatory affairs experience is a skill that all companies large and small would die to get their hands on," explained Mintz. The increasingly complex and uncertain world of FDA regulation–particularly when it comes to new technology and science–means that companies are always on the prowl for individuals with solid regulatory knowledge and ability to interact with the FDA. You can read more about the demand for clinical research and regulatory affairs jobs here.


The pharma industry’s interest in biologics remains strong–just look at Sanofi’s buyout of Genzyme, or Roche’s purchase of Genentech. They’re lured by disease-altering biologics that are less likely to face generic competition than traditional drugs. As a result, there’s been increased demand for professionals who can navigate the complex world of biomanufacturing. Those with a background in upstream and downstream processes, large-scale protein purification, fermentation technology and bioengineering can make the transition to biomanufacturing.

Healthcare Information Technology

The rise of bioinformatics and genomics coupled with the push for electronic medical records has created jobs in healthcare information technology. Health informatics–the intersection of healthcare and IT–is ideal for people with expertise in genomics, bioinformatics or software that understand how to work with and manipulate large data sets and databases. The Obama administration has made EHRs a priority, and there’s a need for software engineers and biologists who are comfortable working with medical information.

Medical Devices

"The medical devices industry has been experiencing explosive growth for the past decade," Mintz said. Regulatory hurdles in the medical device industry are much lower than they are for biologics or small molecules, making the industry a more stable alternative to biotech and pharma. The demand for devices, which address problems that can’t be treated with medicine, will continue to grow as the population ages. Job seekers with strong backgrounds in bioinformatics, genomics, engineering and translational medicine are best suited to this field.

Medical Communications

Medical communications–which includes medical writing, editing, graphic design and science journalism–continues to boom. The demand for these jobs has risen because companies need a slew of communication materials to send to patients, physicians, researchers, investigators and the general public about their products and business.

Patent Law and Technology Transfer

Recent changes to U.S. patent laws have increased the demand for patent agents and patent attorneys in the life sciences field. Pharma’s growing reliance on basic research from learning institutions means that there’s a need for technology transfer experts. These experts manage the patent estate and intellectual property of universities and colleges that may engage in licensing deals with the industry. A law degree is a must to compete in this field.

Until next time…

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

An Academic Perspective: Explaining the Current Glut of Life Sciences PhDs

Posted in BioEducation

For the past several years, I have been trying to convince anyone who would listen that the reason for the dismal job prospects for most PhD-trained scientists is a simple supply and demand issue. To wit, there are too many PhDs and too few jobs for them! 

While I intuitively understood that this was the case, nobody had ever substantiated the veracity of the claim and consequently I was beginning to think I was wrong. Imagine my joy after reading William Deresiewicz’s piece in this month’s edition of the The Nation magazine. In an article entitled “Faulty Towers: The Crisis in Higher Education,” Deresiewicz elegantly and aptly sums up the situation facing today’s newly minted PhDs:

"At Yale, we were overjoyed if half our graduating students found positions. That’s right—half……..You’d think departments would respond to the Somme-like conditions they’re sending out their newly minted PhDs to face by cutting down the size of their graduate programs. If demand drops, supply should drop to meet it. In fact, many departments are doing the opposite, the job market be damned. More important is maintaining the flow of labor to their domestic sweatshops, the pipeline of graduate students who staff discussion sections and teach introductory and service courses like freshman composition and first-year calculus. (Professors also need dissertations to direct, or how would they justify their own existence?)

Further, he asserts:

“……the PhD glut works well for departments at both ends, since it gives them the whip hand when it comes to hiring new professors. Graduate programs occupy a highly unusual, and advantageous, market position: they are both the producers and the consumers of academic labor, but as producers, they have no financial stake in whether their product “sells”—that is, whether their graduates get jobs. Yes, a program’s prestige is related, in part, to its placement rate, but only in relative terms. In a normal industry, if no firm sells more than half of what it produces, then either everyone goes out of business or the industry consolidates. But in academia, if no one does better than 50 percent, then 50 percent is great. Programs have every incentive to keep prices low by maintaining the oversupply.”

Finally he concludes with an eye-opening but sadly accurate observation:

“How professors square their Jekyll-and-Hyde roles in the process—devoted teachers of individual students, co-managers of a system that exploits them as a group—I do not know. Denial, no doubt, along with the rationale that this is just the way it is, so what can you do?”

I am glad that somebody else perceives the problem the way that I do. At least, I now know that I am on the right track! Do any BioJobBlog readers have any suggestions, ideas or insights into how to fix this obviously broken system? 

Let me know!

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!!!!!!!!!