With the biotechnology industry poised to grow significantly over the next decade, more and more scientific researchers, particularly PhD or post-doctoral students, are considering making the leap from an academic position to an industry job. But sometimes, the transition from academia to industry can be a challenging one to negotiate.
Are you a good fit for the industry?
While the quality of your work and research is still the most important thing prospective biotech employers will consider, the business world has a somewhat different checklist of criteria for prospective employees than academia does. When thinking about whether you’re a good fit for the biotech industry, you’ll want to make sure you consider the following factors:
Your soft skills
Soft skills are all too often downplayed in academic environments, but they are a hugely important part of working in any industry. Today’s biotech companies want people who are able to effectively communicate what the company and its work are all about to a variety of audiences, from industry experts to the general public. Employees should also be outgoing enough to handle networking, presentations, and public speaking and be comfortable with multitasking and coordinating a number of different projects at different phases simultaneously. Additionally, companies are searching for people who cope well with pressure and easily manage high-stakes deadlines, and who are enthusiastic and positive about where their work is leading.
Your approach to teamwork
In an academic laboratory setting, you may have had the opportunity to pursue your research relatively independently, with minimal input from colleagues or supervisors, but teamwork is a critical element of biotech industry work. Making a new product—whether it’s a new drug, a new wearable medical device, or a new type of biofuel—requires collaborative input from a number of different departments, including R&D, operations, production, and marketing, so you’ll need to be comfortable with plenty of back-and-forth discussion regarding your work.
Your learning style and speed
The learning curve can be steep in the biotech industry. The work is extremely fast-paced, the pressure can be high given the amount of money and effort that is often on the line, and colleagues and supervisors aren’t usually able to spend much time training and orienting new employees. Therefore, the best biotech industry recruits are people who are comfortable with learning on the job and who can quickly understand a protocol and get on with their assigned work without the need for much extra training or supervision.
Your sense of entrepreneurship
Whatever their size, many biotech companies are entrepreneurial at heart. They are working to carve out a niche for themselves in an extremely competitive and difficult market, and while innovation is highly prized, commercial success is often the ultimate goal for most enterprises. This can be a sharp contrast to some academic settings, where research purely for the sake of advancing knowledge, without necessarily having any immediate practical application, is a permissible goal. If you have difficulty applying this entrepreneurial frame of mind to your own research, the biotech industry may not be the right environment for you.
Your attitude to change
In the fast-paced, constantly evolving biotech industry, change is happening all the time. If you choose an industry position, you can expect frequent changes to where you work, the team you work with, the people you report to, and the procedures you must follow in doing your job. People who prefer consistency in their work environments might not be ideally suited to this rapidly changing industry.
Tips for job hunting and interviewing
If you have made the decision to pursue a job in the biotechnology industry, these tips can help you search for potential employers and prepare for interviews:
Do your homework on companies that interest you.
One of the most common reasons why biotech employers reject interview candidates is that they didn’t demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge about the company. If you have identified one or more biotech companies that you are particularly interested in working for, make sure you do your homework: research what their major focus areas or departments are, what projects they currently have in development, what products they have launched recently, and any notable previous successes or challenges, prominent new hires, or conference presentations.
Be able to articulate why your research is relevant.
Biotech industry employers will want to see that you are an expert in your research field, but they’ll also want to see that you’re able to look at and understand your research within a wider context. In other words, it’s important to be able to explain the details of your research in an interview, but it’s equally important to be able to convey what impact your work is or could be having on broader trends within biotech, and why the expertise you’ve gained in your research is particularly relevant to the work the company is doing.
Know what you need to improve (and work to improve it).
Whatever your current employment or research situation is, take the opportunity to identify significant gaps in your skill set or your CV and work to fill those in. For example, if you’ve never led a research team, see if there is an upcoming project in your laboratory that you could spearhead. Or, if your knowledge of scientific concepts is excellent, but your skills in using specialized software are less so, boost your competencies with extra courses or practice sessions.