Below is the Blog write-up from the March 19th Futures in Life Sciences Event focused on Commercial Career Paths in the life sciences sector (Marketing, Product Management, and Business Development).
On March 19, 2013 Propel Careers, MassBio, and the MassBioEd presented the third installment for 2013 in the Futures in Life Sciences career exploration seminars targeted at the graduate degree holders in life sciences (and related or intersecting fields). The seminar's topic was commercialization, encompassing the business development, product management and marketing career paths for life sciences graduates. A picture video of the event is at the following link: http://video214.com/play/33el4xoPcdN2eh4zUrI0Kw/s/dark . To register for the upcoming event focusing on life sciences career paths in Research and Development (in an industrial setting), on April 16th 2013, click here: http://fils42013-eorg.eventfizz.com/
The companies represented by the panel speakers were smaller and mid-sized companies, Pronota, a Belgian biomarker discovery and development company; SciFluor Life Sciences, a company focusing on fluorine chemistry technology to generate small molecule drugs with improved pharmacological profiles; the T1D Exchange, a nonprofit hub of industry, medical and patient resources for people touched by type 1 diabetes; and ARIAD, a local mid-size oncology biotech company. Many of the panelists previously worked at larger companies so they were able to share their insight and experiences working in this environment also.
The moderator for the event was Lauren Celano, CEO of Propel Careers, and the speaker panel consisted of Tiffany Burt, Associate Director at ARIAD Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Arthur Hiller, CEO of SciFluor Life Sciences, LLC; Carol Greve-Philips, Chief Business Officer at Pronota; and Imran Nasrullah, Head of Strategic Alliances at the T1D Exchange. A common characteristic of this seminar's panel is that the majority of speakers were seasoned veterans of the industry, possessing, on average, over 20 years in the industry, and an impressive set of credentials, through numerous senior roles in the biotechnology and pharmaceuticals space. Below is a summary of the topics that were discussed and the speakers' thoughts and advice for the audience.
Question: What do you typically do at work on a daily basis?
All panelists described their work activities as containing an element of business development (find business partners, find interesting technologies, connect with people relevant to business interests), strategic planning (analyze your position versus the competitors' in the field, think about how your company's products meet the target market's needs, devise agreements needed to support partnerships with other companies or organizations) and commercial perspective analysis (think about future trends in the industry, create platforms to support either the disease or the company's product as a long-term approach, think about your brand in the marketplace). Ultimately, all these activities involve a lot of research of the current market status, a strong element of connecting with your target audience (patients and/or the research community) and constant thinking about future trends and possibilities for your company and your brand.
Question: How do you build your contact network?
All panelists agree that networking is crucial to the business world, and particularly to commercialization roles. As you embark upon a life sciences career, it is important to start building relationships with the industry: join professional organizations, meet peers and senior people in the target field at conferences and seminars, develop a professional social networking profile, starting with LinkedIn , keep in touch with industry news, and pass on relevant information to the people in your virtual network. Some useful tips about maintaining good networking habits are to periodically devote a specific amount of time for networking (for example, 1h per week), to update your LinkedIn profile regularly, and to participate in industry group discussions and forums.
Question: What are the top three skills you need to be successful in your role?
The speakers stressed the importance of excellent communication skills, emotional intelligence and being able to see the big picture to perceive industry or future technology trends, as three crucial abilities for people interested in commercialization. Communication skills do not just include the ability to reach others, interact, listen and explain various facets of industry work, but also the ability to write well, clearly, succinctly and grammatically correct. Emotional intelligence is important in understanding the intentions, motivations and desires of other people, to enable effective management and to successfully interact with them (persuade or negotiate). The ability to build trust in all your interactions with your connections is an important emotional intelligence skill. Finally, seeing the big picture is important for the strategic aspect of commercialization. This helps to be able to see opportunities the competition is missing, and also to make the needed investments in technology and/or human capital for tomorrow's success.
Question: What are the differences and similarities between working at small versus large companies?
Large companies offer huge resources, lots of expertise, experience and opportunities, while small companies offer versatility, nimbleness in adjusting to market changes, and the opportunity to try a lot of things in a short amount of time. A large company can easily maintain course and growth without having to take additional risks, but a small company must take risks in order to move forward and grow. If you want to work for a small company, you have to be comfortable with the idea of risk, and to be able to juggle many responsibilities. On the other hand, if you are just starting your career in business and want to first test the waters, joining a larger company can provide an opportunity to learn about a specific functional area and build experience, through a more formal training process.
Question: What top three things should you look for when considering a fit with a role or company?
The top three considerations when analyzing your fit with a new role or company are: (1) the company/team's culture – how well does the work environment mesh with your personality?; (2) the technology, the skills, the mission – are you interested in what the company does and why? Is the job description appealing to you in terms of the skills you'd be developing?; and (3) the opportunity to grow and to learn new skills – are you going to develop a career from this initial starting point?
Question: What important trends do you see happening in the near future in the life sciences field?
The panelists indicate that the important trends in the field point to bigger patient involvement in product development and treatment options, a move towards even more personalized medicine, and an increase in the use of evidence-based medicine to choose a drug for a particular disease. Finally, there will be an increased reliance on "Big Data" and the analysis of patterns of use and success can lead to new breakthroughs in disease management and better drug development. From the audience: How do you stay competitive in a field that changes fast (even before you graduate out of school)?
Polish your transferable skills (in commercialization, those are the three skills needed to succeed discussed previously), and learn how to recognize an opportunity to develop a career. Take risks, stay open to possibilities, and know when you need to evolve (before your job becomes obsolete). Remain adaptable.
Question: How do you transition from academia to a sales and marketing / business development role?
There are many roads to business development, but most panelists have had some experience with sales. If you want to start in a commercialization role directly from a PhD, ask managers interested in hiring PhDs what they find valuable in such a background, and then highlight those strengths on your resume and cover letter. Conduct lots of informational interviews to build your resume in the desired direction/format, and learn to market yourself.