This post was prompted by some conversations I’ve had recently with recent PhD graduates at industry networking events. These kinds of events are great opportunities to meet people working in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. You can learn about the day-to-day reality of the industry, get insight on recent developments, and sometimes get leads on new opportunities.
However, I’ve met a few people at these events who make a terrible impression. They pout and complain about the challenges of the job search, and generally appear shocked that biotechnology companies didn’t knock down their doors with fabulous offers after they graduated. It’s an attitude of entitlement that is very off-putting.
Look, I get it. You’ve spent years of your life, and probably tens of thousands of dollars in real and opportunity costs to earn a specialized, rarefied degree that places you among the elite of the educational system. You’ve worked incredibly hard, spending long hours in the laboratory and developing advanced skills in technically challenging fields. You’ve managed complex projects; you’ve published in prestigious journals; you’ve presented at conferences with leading experts. You’re self-directed and motivated. And then, when you get that degree and walk out of the lab, looking to put your smarts to work away from the bench… employers aren’t interested.
It’s a shock to the system to realize that after spending years developing your skills, managers consider you unseasoned and inexperienced. If you’re lucky, they will offer you something with entry-level responsibilities — and a salary to match. It’s a blow to the ego — and frankly, feels insulting. It’s especially toxic when you compare yourself to successful new lawyers and MBAs, or to the lucky few PhDs who manage to step from the lab into high-paying roles, such as medical science liaisons. Believe me, I know — I’ve been there.
My advice is: Get over yourself.
There’s no shame in starting at the bottom rung — and employers are right: the business world is very different than academia. There are different stakeholders, different pressures, and different priorities. Getting your feet wet at the entry level gives you a chance to learn those differences and then prove yourself. All those skills and personal strengths you developed in grad school — project management, determination, perseverance and communications — will let you advance quickly once you’ve had a chance to adapt. The thing about post-PhD careers in the pharmaceutical industry is this: getting in is the hardest part. Once you’ve opened that door, you will have the opportunity to follow a very satisfying trajectory.
Don’t settle for something terrible — but don’t let your ego stop you from taking a first step, either. You may have earned a PhD, but in the business world, you’ve still gotta pay your dues.
Good luck in your search.
Posted: July 15th, 2011 | Author: Headhunter | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: entry-level, leaving the bench, PhD, transition | 5 Comments »