Propel Careers

Leveraging skillsets when making a transition 

August 20, 2013 
by Lauren Celano 

By Lauren Celano, CEO, Propel Careers

Lauren Celano, CEO, Propel Careers wrote this blog for Bio Careers as part of her monthly contributions. To learn more about Bio Careers, see link:

I am often asked by clients at all levels "how to transition" from one type of role to another. The advice I give is the same regardless of who I am speaking with - a CEO, a head of research, or a Ph.D. in academia looking to move into industry. When you make a transition, leverage your existing skills while you build new ones. This way, you do not venture into a situation where you need to build both functional skills and industry knowledge. Below is advice for a few scenarios such as moving from Academia to Industry, research side to business side, and one industry sector to another.

Academic to industry transition

Academics (Ph.d., postdocs, or other individuals in the academic setting) who successfully move into industry, usually do this by applying their technical expertise, disease knowledge, or other aspect of their background directly to industry related projects. Hands on roles that utilize technical expertise (i.e. microscopy techniques, cell culture knowledge, or proficiency with in vivo dosing) or disease knowledge (i.e. lung cancer development or a specific pathway such as mTOR), allow the individual to quickly become immersed in the company research. As the individual grows in the "hands on role," opportunities typically arise as do new responsibilities (i.e. management of team members or projects).

R&D focused scientists looking to move into business focused roles

Many industry scientists aspire to move into business oriented positions (project management, business development, finance, strategy, operations, etc). To successfully transition to a business role, I advise people to build their interpersonal, communication, team work and management skills to complement their expertise in a specific research/disease area. Many scientists move into project management because their research project advances and they advance with the project. For business development roles, many scientists initially become involved in business discussions due to their technical knowledge of a specific project. Success with these discussions usually leads to additional interactions with the business team. As the scientist builds business skills, a full time transition to the business side can become a reality.

Individual moving into the life sciences sector

Individuals with experience outside of the life sciences sector can bring valuable skills to the industry. Functional skills (i.e. accounting, finance, and IT) are often extremely transferable to the life sciences industry since most companies have accounting, finance, and IT infrastructure needs. Individuals with sales and marketing experience may find that their industry knowledge (i.e. consumer goods, insurance, hospital, etc) can be quickly applied to firms working in their same industry. For example, knowledge of the health insurance market, especially coding and reimbursement, can be extremely valuable to life sciences companies with commercial products. Many of these firms need to have a thorough understanding of the reimbursement landscape in order to receive payment for their drug, device, or diagnostic.

Transitioning takes time and is done best when well thought out. In some cases, multiple transitions may be needed to get you to where you want to be. Be strategic and realistic, and you will achieve success.


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