Propel Careers

Blog entry for the Futures in Life Sciences Research and Development Career Paths Event 

July 22, 2013 
by Lynes Torres 

Blog entry for the Futures in Life Sciences – Research and Development Career Paths Event By Lynes Torres

On April 16, 2013, Propel Careers, MassBio, and the MassBioEd presented the 4th installment (of 8) in the Futures in Life Sciences career exploration seminars targeted for graduate degree holders in life sciences (and related or intersecting fields). The seminar's topic focused on Research and Development career paths to provide the audience with the variety of options available in industry. The panelists came from large, small, and mid-sized companies and work in different areas of research including bioanalytical, biology, chemistry, toxicology and pharmacology. A picture video of the event is at the following link: To view all events in the series, click here:

The event was moderated by Joleen White, a Principal Scientist, at Biogen Idec and the panelists included Kenneth Oliver, Senior Director of Toxicology at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals; Andrew Taggart, Senior Investigator 1 at Novartis; David Proia, Associate Director at Synta Pharmaceuticals Corp; and Andrew Fraley, Director of DNA Programmed Chemistry and Technology at Ensemble Therapeutics. Below is a summary of the topics that were discussed and the speakers' thoughts and advice for the audience.

Please describe your role in more detail.

All of the panelists devote much of their work hours to communication. Since each panelist has a number of direct reports, they spend a lot of time touching base with those individuals. They also spend time consulting with colleagues, from chief medical officers to chemists, with whom they strategize. Outside of communication, the panelists work heavily on project development (managing collaborations, evaluating the efficiency of projects, fielding prospective employees, ensuring industry standard performance, financing research, etc).

Was there a defining moment that pointed you towards your current profession?

Although their paths were distinct, all of the panelists envisioned their trajectory to be different than what came to be. All shared a passion for science, but over the course of their careers they had experiences and mentors that nudged them towards the bench and then towards industry. Interestingly, some defined their paths as serendipitous while others described them as more purposeful.

What skills are essential for success?

Aside from good technical and analytical skills, the panelists stressed the importance of good communication skills as well as knowledge of the various functional areas needed for drug discovery and development. They encouraged identifying your strengths and weaknesses within this soft skill. Above all, they advised improving communication skills and knowledge of functional areas by, for example, meeting as many people within your company as possible.

When it comes to company size, what are the pros and cons?

Several of the panelists highlighted the virtues of beginning careers within smaller companies. They described it as a wonderful opportunity to learn how life science companies operate, all within an intimate setting. Smaller companies cultivate individual growth but can be very demanding because of the extra responsibility shouldered per person. Larger companies have the reputation of focusing people to specialized tasks, but the panelists made a point of saying that focusing can occur in any sized company. Ultimately, they advised demonstrating initiative and making the best of the experience regardless of company size.

What advice do you have for current graduate students?

First and foremost, the panelists advised graduate students to network because networking uncovers career options. Networking cultivates persistence; once you identify your interests pursue them without fear, even if that entails contract work. Some of the panelists landed their dream jobs immediately while others did so methodically, but most agreed that success at the graduate level was integral to their ultimate success. The panelists had bits of advice for landing a first job which included utilizing job search engines, starting the job search process a year in advance and utilizing mentor-facilitated connections.

How closely did your skill sets line up with the desired skill sets of your first job?

Since many of the panelists are involved in the hiring process and have written job postings themselves, they had valuable insight on how to interpret the desired skill sets listed on postings. First, the skill sets list is long to be inclusive rather than exclusive. They do not always expect to find one person with all of the listed attributes but rather a range of people with select skills from the list. If you find that you meet most of the immediate skills needed for the position but are shy a year or two of experience, then by all means apply. Do not apply to a job that requires five years of experience you do not have. Your eligibility will only come off as clearly as your resume is so edit your resume well. Details such as a poignant objective statement or summary of qualifications can make your resume stand out from a stack of fifty. When you land the interview, be poised to demonstrate an intimate understanding of your project.


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