Nowadays, after starting a new position in a corporate position, I am back to writing stuff about work and productivity. And also about a set of questions which I recently been asked by science undergraduates and graduates:
“WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?”
This is a fairly common question that many fresh university graduates raise (undergraduate or advanced degree students). It is common since many of the students starting their adult education have no idea what they want to do when they grow up and went into the studies because of external inputs were much stronger than internal ones. The truth is that most of the students have not done any thorough internal discussion which aims to generate answers to key and basic questions regaridng their personal work preferences:
- What are the values that drive my actions?
- What I enjoy doing even if I don’t paid?
- What I don’t like to do?
- What is my preferred work environment: Inside or outside? office or lab/facility?
- What is my main preferred interaction: devices/equipment (such as computer or lab equipment) or engage with people?
- What type of action I prefer to do: Taking decision or taking action?
- What activity excites me?
When reaching a “fork in the road” in which you feel that you are not satisfied or unsure of your next moves, it is recommended to do a temporary ״complete stop״ in life and seek professional advice from a personal coach or career advisor. There are several reasons to do so:
- Since most of us don’t investigate our true motives/passions for our career choices, we may enter a career route/field which is not part of our core values that can drive our day to day work in a way that no other profession can do.
- Fresh out of academia, many graduates are clueless when it comes to working in the “real world”, not only from their own field perspective, but also in term of “soft” skills needed to work within a certain position responsibilities.
- Awareness of alternative job options is lacking with fresh graduates as their knowledge comes from other graduates and university colleagues which don’t have the wide scope of the different science-based positions and roles in the industry.
My best recommendation for every decision making event is “Begin With The End In Mind”, the 2nd Habit of Cove’y famous book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. The basic idea is to understand what is your purpose and what you’re trying to achieve. When we can’t answer such a basic question, this is the time to ask the help of a personal coach, that through a series of meeting help the trainee find his/her values and achieve their goals.
As the basic question “What should I do know” is a subjective one, I usually ask many questions to enable me to determine what may be the real passion of the graduate. The first thing to determine is whether you want to pursue a research or non-research position. If you dont know what to choose (if you’re an undergraduate), the best way is to get a student work or volunteer in one of the labs and experience the lab atmosphere, the type of work the researchers conduct. Remember that labs are different from one another as people are different from one and another.
“WHAT RESEARCH POSITIONS ARE AVAILABLE FOR ME?”
Depending on the country you live in, research positions can vary tremendously both in academia and indtusry. In Israel, there are more than 6 universities and research centers and just a handful of multi-national industry research centers (Teva, Perrigo, Intel etc). On the other hand, Israel has over 700 startup, raising almost 6.5 billion dollars between 2013 and 2018. So the major career opportunities lies with startups, which are more willing to accept fresh graduates in comparison to large multi-national biotech and pharma companies, which prefer experienced candidates.
If you hold an undergraduate: you may find basic technicians roles such as preparing solutions, lab house keeping and basic lab techniques.
If you hold a Masters degree: most of the career opportunities lies at this tier, with mostly technician and associate researchers positions. There are also team leaders positions, usually when the candidate brings significant experience in the specific field, but it is less and less common (as these positions are taken by PhD’s).
If you hold a PhD degree (before or after post doc): less positions can be found that require PhD in comparison to MSc, yet here there are more managerial or speciality roles.
Generally speaking, the larger the organization the smaller the candidates contribution to the business, with exceptions of course. In such cases the employee is also exceptional or brings exceptional experience.
The larger the organization the more routinely and organized will be the work. In startups, plans can change several times within a single month or even weeks.
Positions outside of the industry can be found in medical centers and hospitals as well as research centers in which research positions are sought for even though they are not that common and usually the pay is much lower. These are mostly “wet” or “bench” positions, employing researchers across the entire academic ranking.
“WHAT ELSE I CAN DO BESIDE RESEARCH?”
If you decide that research and R&D positions are not for your liking, there are many positions which might suite your preferences. Here are some of the major fields that life science graduates can find job positions.
Sales & Marketing – if you’re more into interacting with people rather than with tubes and pipettes, this avenue maybe more suited for you. Sales are abundant across the industry, whether it is materials, lab equipment, medical devices and disposables and in this role the scientific/technical parts are relatively limited. Usually sales rep will be preferred to have an advanced degree as most of the interaction is with researchers which hold an advanced degree and its very helpful that both sales/marketing reps can talk at the same level of their potential customers. This position is taken by all levels of science education though it mostly occupied by bachelor and masters degree holders.
Business Development – while many will understand the scope of sales and marketing roles, the role of “Biz Dev” is different from one company to the next, basically intersecting on marketing, sales and technology/science aspects with the role emphasized on one or two aspects of these triangle. From a classical point of view, business development seek future business opportunities and pursue closing contracts that will lead to new and profiting activities. This role requires a macro or strategic view of the business, ability to identify potential business opportunities and the ability to initiate interaction with those business opportunities. Many times the interaction is with other Business development personnel or senior management staff (internal and external). Universities have commercial offices that deal with commercialization of inventions and product developments, also known as Tech Transfer Office or TTO. Much of the work is of Business development to identify, attract industrial partner and setting a contract in place. This position is taken by all levels of science education though it mostly occupied by masters degree and PhD holders, preferably with additional MBA education (even though its less important compared to on-the-job experience).
Intellectual property – this field deals with capturing, filing and leveraging the intellectual assets of the human resource in the organization. Intellectual property or IP is one of the most valuable asset an organization can hold to promote its business or increase its cash flow and can be roughly divided into patents (inventions), copyrighted material and trademarks. Scientists can work as patent attorneys (usually post PhD/post doc studies) or patent managers/paralegals (usually master or bachelor degrees) in which the former case must be preceded by a 2-year training on the job. As patent attorney, you will not only earn a nice salary, but you will be exposed to the novel ideas across a wide range of topics. This is especially true to practicing attorneys in patent firms, less so in corporate legal departments, where a company is more limited with their research and development investments. This position is taken exclusively by PhD holders, without the need to have a law degree (though that this can give the candidate an edge in certain positions).
Regulatory affairs – regulation, in its wide sense, deals with the aspects of legislation and ruling practiced by different government agencies and the means to comply with these dictation. Through the scientific perspective, regulatory affairs or RA role is on the one hand to lower the legislation barriers and increase sales in target countries while on the other hand maintain the on-going compliance of the business with regulatory framework. Regulatory affairs can be relatively simple and straightforward or tedious and complex, depending on the regulatory framework (Pharma, medical devices, dietary supplements, pesticides, automotive etc) and the target country. For this kind of work advanced degrees are a plus though in this case experience will be more valuable and sought for as this field requires on the job training. This position is taken by all levels of science education though the edge will be given to on-the-job experienced candidates.
QA and QC – Quality assurance and Quality control deals with different aspects of R&D and production processes. QA responsibility is to lay down procedures to be followed by the entire organization employees and that will create a quality system in the company.The role of the QC is to verify that production batches (on-going, raw materials) are within the specification that they were decided upon according to the QA, R&D and regulatory affairs. While QA focuses on procedures, and thus are dealing with paperwork, QC focuses on the analysis of the products and thus is revolve around routine benchwork. This position is taken by all levels of science education though mostly occupied by bachelor and masters degree holders.
Medical Scientific Liason (MSL) – a profession that intersects medical understanding and clinical trials, medical training and education, market understanding, interaction with key opinion leaders (KOLs) and marketing (more information can be learned here). Its partly a field position with significant interaction with medical professionals that supports both the marketing and sales arms in the company. In the past it was exclusively occupied by MDs but as the field is ever growing, many PhDs are also taking this role.
Science writers – bringing complex scientific ideas and jargon to the simple and yet accurate science publication is a challenging work. Mostly this work can be found as freelance writer and in large corporation also as a position or even a department, depending on the scope of scientific/medical writing demand. This position is taken by mostly masters and PhD degree holders but the edge will be given to writing capabilities and prior experience.
Whatever your choice will be, give it a try and be open minded to the experience.
Have I missed anything? Please comment if you found this useful or if you want to suggest or ask a question.