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Where do you fit?  

 

andrea.habura
andrea.habura
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June 20, 2019 5:09 pm  

“Cursed is the man who has found some other man's work and cannot lose it.” – Mark Twain

What is your work, anyway? Not your research project, but your work. The sort of job you’re really suited for.

If you got a traditional biologist’s education, you may not be sure. Academia is a remarkably diverse world in many ways, but the kinds of roles it offers are not. Almost all biologists are trained to be researchers and teachers, although many people take on roles as administrators or writers as their careers progress. It can be very difficult to figure out what other sorts of work people make careers out of, or how you might bridge the gap between your training and these positions.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already considering a career shift into the bioinstrumentation business.

To help interested people make the jump, I surveyed a few hundred job listings that bioinstrumentation companies posted in 2014. Collectively, they’re a useful snapshot of the kinds of work you might consider, and what you’ll need to get there.

And no, the obvious answer is not “researcher”. Maybe you actually do belong in R&D (I did, and that’s what I do), but most positions that would be appropriate for biologists are in other areas. Your best strategy is to consider your personality and priorities, so you have a better chance of finding your own work instead of someone else’s.

The first thing you should ask yourself is whether you prefer working with people or things. I’m a mildly eccentric introvert myself, pretty much a “mad scientist” without the fuzzy hairdo or thirst for world domination, so I tend to prefer more inward-facing roles where I’m thinking or writing or tinkering a lot.

That’s a common personality type for a scientist, but I’ve had a lot of colleagues who find long hours in the lab tedious and isolating.

If you’re the sociable type, you can probably find a very happy home in one of the more outward-facing roles. One of my friends, a product rep for a big bioinstrument firm, says that many of her co-workers are former research scientists who were tired of being stuck at the bench, and they seem to do well since they have a high energy and have a strong personality. Some production jobs are a good choice for people-oriented workers as well.

If you’re more of an “interacting with things” person, you should look more closely at positions in R&D, information work, or some of the other aspects of production. R&D people design and develop new products, and the information folks create, protect and curate information. Most people in these jobs either design something the company sells, or make sure the company can keep earning money by selling it.

Marketing, the ultimate extrovert’s job, sometimes makes academic scientists a little nervous. The thing is, in the current research and funding environment, you’re already selling to other scientists. In fact, there are entire books about how to do it. The transition may be easier than you think, especially if you’re working in your own field of scientific expertise, and have an opportunity to develop a long-term relationship with customers.

Some skilled product reps I’ve known actually wind up being a sort of collaborator – they know their technologies so well that they can really improve the science.

Salespeople are the most obvious category of marketer, especially the people who make site visits, but other jobs also have a strong marketing component. Product advocacy is very customer-facing:. You’re taking the new technologies your company produces, and convincing the research community that they’re good and useful.

Tech writers also need to spend time thinking about customers, and the best ones talk to them often. If what you write isn’t clear to the end user, you’re not doing your job properly.

Production people spend a lot of time interacting with regulatory bodies, suppliers, and distributors, so they are also somewhat outward-facing. They also have to meet deadlines associated with marketing campaigns.

Biologists will usually fit into a few areas of production, mostly in QA, process validation, and regulatory compliance.

QA jobs involve making sure that the devices your company manufactures actually do what they’re supposed to. If you enjoy developing rigorous procedures like clinical assays, this is probably the job for you.

Process validation is a broader field. It encompasses designing processes that should yield the desired product, understanding where the processes can go bad, and making sure that the well-designed processes are being followed consistently. An experienced lab manager would probably be quite good at this.

Regulatory jobs involve understanding what regulations apply to your company’s work, and developing procedures and policies that comply with them. In some cases, customers need to buy devices that have compliance certification, so you may also need to work with customers to figure out how you can help them comply with their regulatory requirements.

R&D jobs, surprisingly enough, are often difficult for biologists to get. Most companies are looking for engineers and computer scientists, so a biologist will need to show the company how he or she can fit into the role. Research your target company carefully. You should consider firms where you have some sort of obvious expertise in the specific area they work in. For example, my embedded computing interests were useful for my company, since we build and sell computer-controlled equipment, but I would be pretty useless at an optics firm or one that developed plasticware.

If you know enough about the current state of the field to be able to identify missing equipment, things that the customers need, but don’t have, that will be a big plus.

Information jobs mostly include intellectual property and information curation. Tech transfer officers and patent agents are involved with securing intellectual property, so that it can be commercialized. Patent agents are admitted to practice before the Patent Office, but they aren’t attorneys. Patent attorneys are in this category too, but you’ll have to go get your JD for that. Many patent agents have Ph.D’s in the areas they specialize in, and the deep subject knowledge is valuable when evaluating possible claims.

Some bioinstrument companies, especially ones that build information-driven tech like high-throughput sequencing, also need people to manage and curate their information libraries. Informaticians and ontology managers classify information, ensure its quality and reliability, and build logical structures that allow it to be used and understood. People trained in fields like bioinformatics, taxonomy, and museum science would probably do very well.

None of these particularly appealing to you? Or, do you feel like your skills overlap several of these categories? If you can find a company that seems like it would be an excellent fit, you might try proposing a job description to them. Companies sometimes do build a job around a very appealing candidate. It’s more likely to work at smaller firms, where almost everyone switch-hits anyway, but it is definitely worth a try.

Good luck, and please write in if you’d like to share your success stories.


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Dave Jensen
Prominent Maven Moderator
Joined: 11 months ago
Posts: 909
August 2, 2019 5:10 pm  
Posted by: andrea.habura

None of these particularly appealing to you? Or, do you feel like your skills overlap several of these categories? If you can find a company that seems like it would be an excellent fit, you might try proposing a job description to them. Companies sometimes do build a job around a very appealing candidate. It’s more likely to work at smaller firms, where almost everyone switch-hits anyway, but it is definitely worth a try.

Hi Andrea,

I enjoyed your blog, thank you. Lots of good content there. 

I've got a problem with your last paragraph though! Since most of our readers here are younger scientists without a huge history of experience in their fields -- they're just getting started -- the idea of "proposing a job description" to a company may not make a lot of sense. In fact, it could be downright dangerous to a person's job search. 

This is a time for these readers to be conforming to the jobs that are open and available, and "showing their stuff." If I had a talented cell biologist come to me for a client role in the pilot plant doing scale up, even if she hadn't done that work before but I could see her fitting in, I'd recommend her. But if that same talented scientist came to my client with a job proposition, "Hire me and I'll do this for you. I've always been interested in this topic" it would be seen as really WRONG, both by HR as well as by the hiring manager. That's a person who wouldn't get a job offer! Perhaps the company would say "let's see what this person is all about" and invite them in, but if the discussion continued to go along the track of what the company could do for her (instead of what she can do for the company) it would go nowhere.

I think that might be a bit more sophisticated concept than is appropriate for the audience here and hope you might agree after consideration.

 

Dave Jensen, Moderator

Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum


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DX
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Joined: 10 months ago
Posts: 594
August 6, 2019 11:33 am  

Hi,

Been wanting to reply to this post, but priorities.  Replied to others.

Some things I agree and some I don't.  But a decent summary of roles.

Where I don't agree is "interacting with things" vs. "interacting" with people. 

Beyond academia, ALL jobs are about interacting with people whether one sits in R&D or Commercial.  That's fundamental. Don't interact with people, then fail.  As an individual and as a team.   One can work with people within function, say under Technical Operations per say but even that has its cross "sub"-functional teams of Tech-Ops, and increaing roles and responsiblty necessitates eventually working with people in other functions too.  Can't get away without working with people.  

That said, then attention to detail, comes in the form of how operational and tactical or even admistrative one wishes to be, say operating deep within a function,  linkng to lower universe of people one engages vs. how strategic, direction setting, and leading one wishes to be which linkes to higher universe or more people to engage with, baseically coming down to visability.   

I don't agree with extrovert and introvert classifications as a predictor of jobs one chooses, rather subject interests should be driver.  I'm a grade A introvert (ISTJ) ..yet, have been in Marketing and on field-force.  Such label is not a predictor of where one will succeed or not.   Its just preference. 

My two cents.

DX


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DX
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Joined: 10 months ago
Posts: 594
August 6, 2019 12:44 pm  
Posted by: Dave Jensen
Posted by: andrea.habura

None of these particularly appealing to you? Or, do you feel like your skills overlap several of these categories? If you can find a company that seems like it would be an excellent fit, you might try proposing a job description to them. Companies sometimes do build a job around a very appealing candidate. It’s more likely to work at smaller firms, where almost everyone switch-hits anyway, but it is definitely worth a try.

Hi Andrea,

I enjoyed your blog, thank you. Lots of good content there. 

I've got a problem with your last paragraph though! Since most of our readers here are younger scientists without a huge history of experience in their fields -- they're just getting started -- the idea of "proposing a job description" to a company may not make a lot of sense. In fact, it could be downright dangerous to a person's job search. 

This is a time for these readers to be conforming to the jobs that are open and available, and "showing their stuff." If I had a talented cell biologist come to me for a client role in the pilot plant doing scale up, even if she hadn't done that work before but I could see her fitting in, I'd recommend her. But if that same talented scientist came to my client with a job proposition, "Hire me and I'll do this for you. I've always been interested in this topic" it would be seen as really WRONG, both by HR as well as by the hiring manager. That's a person who wouldn't get a job offer! Perhaps the company would say "let's see what this person is all about" and invite them in, but if the discussion continued to go along the track of what the company could do for her (instead of what she can do for the company) it would go nowhere.

I think that might be a bit more sophisticated concept than is appropriate for the audience here and hope you might agree after consideration.

 

Dave Jensen, Moderator

IN ADDITION to my above post, I'll agree with Dave.

So called Job Creation is generally not in the realm of those early stage career.  In early career its about conforming to a job description and selling on how one would bring value within the remit of that job description. 

Later on, it can be about Role creation and generally it happens within an established role where there are identifed gaps (read my post on being in smaller companies, where there is more opportunity to identify and create value vs. pure execution). Some cases, a job description can be suggestive of role creation particularly in the establishment of a new function or new role that didn't exist before where a part of the interview process includes alignment on the candidates vision and top level provision on how they'd achieve that vision, but that comes later on, with tenure, and with establishe experience. Not a discussion for early stage career folks in general.  In those cases, still the candidate does not show up with a job description but rather an idea.

Personally, I don't believe in job descriptions. My experience tell me they're quite useless.  Usually put together half-assed, putting as many things as a possible to give a flavor and serve as benchmark for recruitment and  discussion point  - they're useless by the time one sets objectives and even then, objectives can be long changed before year end.   I've come in to so many roles in companys with one job description, only to find ....I have no job description; most cases expected, only a few times un-expected. And 6 months later whatever job description I had was useless. See my point about job creation. In my current role, I came in with one set of responsiblities, today, I sit with a whole different set...it will change again probably in 3 to 6 months.  This is pharma. C'est la vie.

DX


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PG
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Joined: 11 months ago
Posts: 397
August 9, 2019 9:47 pm  

As DX also said I think almost all jobs are about interacting with people. Regardless of what you do you will need to report and present your work, get funding, time or other resources  for things that you want to do and other things. Importantly interacting with people is a skill that can be learned regardless of your personality. I am more introvert than exovert but I also have a very good confidence and know that I can add value to various topics so I dont hesitate to speak.

I currently lead a development team of 40+ people and am active in our management team meaning that interacting with people is now almost the only thing I do at work.

I remember that in an early position I was asked to support sales as well as to help with investor presentations. In one of these occasions I was travelling to an investor together with our CEO. When the meeting started I helped setting up the visual equipment etc and it was clear that the investor at this point looked at me as the help. In the end of the meeting the investor asked a question that our CEO started to answer when the investor interupted him and said that he wanted to hear my opinion instead. It just shows that if you know your things and dont hesitate to speak at least about facts (which is relatively easy also for an introvert) you will get the opportunity to communicate and with experience it becomes easier and your confidence goes up.


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Dave Jensen
Prominent Maven Moderator
Joined: 11 months ago
Posts: 909
August 9, 2019 10:21 pm  

That's a great example, PG. I've had that situation as well. As a recruiter, I am often thought of as the "low man on the totem pole" when discussing positions with candidates at meeting and so on. At one meeting this year, I was talking to a fellow about a job with my client and he treated me like some kind of salesman. Then, later in the event he approached my client directly, and asked about the role. I was very pleased that the client sent him back to me and chided him a bit to stick to the process. You're right . . . communicate the best way you know how, stay professional, and it will circle back to you when your confidence is added to your message. 

Nice thread!

Dave

Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum


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