Janet Wolfe is founder and CEO of Wolfe Laboratories. She is passionate about drug discovery and development and is very thankful to work with colleagues and clients who are committed to improving human health and having fun while they do it.
Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with a very accomplished scientist who will soon earn his doctorate from an elite academic institution. He is trying to figure out his next career step and how it will influence his career trajectory. Having “What am I going to do with my new career?” conversations with remarkable frequency is not surprising, since I have the privilege of working in the contract research organization (CRO) industry.
Ours is a healing industry. It is a high calling to contribute to the noble goal of improving human health. We get to work with some of the brightest and most passionate people on earth, as together we strive to develop drugs that save and improve people’s lives. Our industry is a beacon, drawing young people to immerse themselves in the sciences, with hopes that their eventual efforts will contribute to alleviating disease and suffering. But as they finish their education, there is the practical issue of getting a job that will utilize and hone their fledgling skills: “What is the right job for me? Where does the first job fit into an overall career plan? What should be my immediate priorities to best enable this career trajectory? Is there a career path that will allow me to be as passionate about my work in 30 years as I am now? How can I find that job and avoid time-consuming missteps?”
In this post and a series of posts that I will write in 2014, I will share the collective wisdom of mentors, colleagues, and advisors regarding issues that new doctoral candidates should consider as they transition to that all-important first job. It is my hope that readers will benefit from these blogs so that they can pursue their passion and contribute to improving human health.
It’s a new world order, at least in the biopharmaceutical industry! Pharma has changed its way of working. No longer is all research and development done within its walls; rather, pharma leverages an assortment of external organizations to fill, develop, and commercialize its pipeline. In the pharmaceutical sciences, this means that jobs are now scattered across a plethora of organizations, so newly minted Ph.D.’s must expand their mindset and develop a career trajectory strategy that will enable them to identify and land that “perfect” first job. Is it in a specialized CRO or a general CRO? In a start-up biotech? In an established biotech? In pharma? academia? Or the government?
So many choices! In the good old days, almost all of the drug discovery, development, and commercialization functions were inside of pharma, and as new Ph.D.’s landed those plum first jobs, they could identify career options within that organization over the course of time. The luxury of having that time to develop a career trajectory while establishing technical skills was just that: a luxury. In today’s day and age, a few things have changed, and the new Ph.D. really needs to think strategically about career opportunities.
Not only does the job quest require a lot of hard work, but it also first requires a lot of hard thinking. It’s analogous to that truism we’ve all heard: “A day in the library will save six months in the lab.” So consider the following points, even before you search that first job board.
Luck favors the prepared mind. It’s a succinct expression that emphasizes the importance of understanding the current and future situation and figuring out a plan. It is not about luck. In fact, all who know me know that I do not subscribe to “luck” at all. One needs to prepare, plan, observe, and flexibly revise plans based on observations, all while adhering to ones’ career and life goals. In other words, if you don’t know about the various organizations that constitute the biopharmaceutical industry (see paragraph #4), then you need to educate yourself. You need to know how the biopharmaceutical industry is shaping itself for the future.
To thyself be true. From what do you get great satisfaction? Identifying a problem and developing/executing a plan to solve that problem? Is basic or applied research more appealing to you? Do you prefer to work independently or as a part of a team? Do you like to follow well-defined processes or do you prefer exploration of various options to meet a defined project goal? How do your personal life goals fit into all of this? Self examination is a worthwhile exercise. Think about who you are as a person and as a scientist, and what you want to do with your life and career. It all needs to fit together, and it definitely is possible to make it work, but it requires some introspection and planning.
To thy future employer be true. After you figure out the biopharmaceutical landscape, and you understand what you want from your career, the Great Job Hunt begins. You want to have a good fit in your job, where you are most able to meet and exceed the job expectations. This is the way you create your career trajectory because you become invaluable to your employer, so much so that career development opportunities begin to bud and blossom all around you. It’s the proverbial win-win situation, the upward spiral, the self-fulfilling prophecy! In this extremely competitive job market, you are likely feeling pressure to take whatever job offer comes along, but this is a mistake for everyone. Employers invest heavily in developing their team, so seeking or accepting a job about which you are not sincerely passionate or capable is definitely something to avoid.
Love what you do. Do what you love. You will never work a day in your life. This expression may be overused, but only because it is true. How good it is to wake up each morning with a sense of purpose and clear tasks to accomplish, all of which contribute to overall life and career goals.
In future posts, I’ll muse on Biopharma’s Evolution; Aspirations, Attitude, Aptitude; Scientific Frontiers in the Pharmaceutical Sciences; and other topics that are germane to creating a career trajectory that is enormously satisfying now and in the future.