Starting at the bottom rung

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: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

What’s it like to work for a CRO?

Over at ask.metafilter, someone has posed the question “what’s it like to work for a CRO?”

The person asking the question is a university research assistant with a background in cognitive neuroscience and an interest in statistics and applied math.

So far, one excellent answer has been posted. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted: June 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Preclinical R&D | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

BIO Career Fair – June 27

Just thought I’d share this announcement I got in my email recently.  BIO is, of course, possibly the largest biotechnology meeting/conference in North America.

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Posted: June 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Industry associations, Interviewing, networking | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Why job boards are a waste of your time

Posting a resume and replying to ads posted on job boards is a typical job-search strategy. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to start a new career in the pharmaceutical industry, it’s also a tremendous waste of time. Worse, it can put your privacy at risk and make you vulnerable to unscrupulous people who take advantage of the unemployed and desperate. To understand why your efforts aren’t worthwhile, you need to put yourself into the mindset of the employer — and then learn what the boards can do to help move your search forward.

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Posted: February 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Resumes & CVs | Tags: , , | No Comments »

How to write a clinical research associate resume

This post will help you write a resume for clinical research jobs: entry-level clinical research associate jobs, clinical research coordinator jobs or clinical trial associate jobs would be good targets for this advice.

The hardest step to a successful career in clinical research is the first one. Getting your foot in the door takes patience, preparation, ingenuity and a toolkit of supporting materials and behaviors that will make you stand out above the competition.  A well-crafted resume can help you get your chance to shine as a clinical research associate, medical science liaison or other pharmaceutical professional.

There are a million guides out there that will give you good general advice on writing and formatting your resume, and (with one important exception) I’m not going to waste your time by duplicating that advice here. These tips are specific to the clinical research field. If you’re applying for entry-level clinical research associate jobs, the following suggestions may help your resume get noticed. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted: January 29th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Clinical Research Associates, ICH-GCP, Resumes & CVs | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments »