On March 20th 2012, over 100 graduate students, post docs and medical residents joined us at Genzyme Center in Kendall Sq Cambridge for the 3rd Futures in Life Science Event of 2012. To view a picture video from the event, click here: http://video214.com/play/NhVWW108Sbi20irU03SPQw/s/dark. Below is the blog writeup from the event.
Many people involved in academic medicine and research are interested in shifting to more business-oriented positions in the private sector. However, the path to such careers is unclear. How do you convince prospective employers of your qualifications in a discipline with which you have limited experience? The March gathering of the Futures in Life Sciences Career Panel, presented by Propel Careers, MassBio, and MassBioEd, discussed these questions and more. It concentrated on Marketing, Product Management, and Business Development careers. The panel included Catherine Thut, Ph.D., Director, Strategic Alliances, Ophthalmology, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Eric Olson, MBA, MS, Senior Associate, Genzyme Ventures, Frank Deane, Ph.D., Founder, Lumleian, LLC, and Maude Tessier, Ph.D., Licensing Manager, Technology and Innovation Development Office, Children's Hospital, Boston. John Hession, J.D., Partner, Cooley LLP, contributed his wealth of experience to the discussion as well as moderated the panel.
The answer to the primary question, "How do I get into a business-related position from academia?" is in short, networking. While there are many jobs posted on the Internet, a significant number of the desirable ones are not. Getting an interview "cold" by simply submitting a resume online is difficult when you are qualified, but as an academic with limited business experience it is even harder. A "warm" connection through a personal referral is much more likely to get your resume the attention you want. For hiring managers a referral reduces the burden of choosing amongst similarly qualified applicants. It also indicates that a candidate has the basic interpersonal skills necessary and motivation to navigate the business world. It is worth keeping in mind that networking is not only about finding potential job leads; it is also about meeting potential mentors or advisors or future colleagues. Conversely, as part of a network you should endeavor to "pay it forward," by offering assistance wherever you can.
Another common question for academics looking to transition to business roles was "How do I get the business experience that hiring managers want?" Taking classes in a business school is one possibility, but there are more informal avenues to gaining knowledge. Seminars offered by the MassBio committees on finance and business development are one route. John Hession is in the process of organizing a "Business Development for Scientists" seminar series through MassBio that will begin this May. Another method for academics to obtain some relevant experience is to intern at your institution's technology licensing office.
Are there advantages or disadvantages to working for smaller startups vs. larger, more established corporations? Simply put, the tradeoff is typically opportunity for stability. Since younger/more entrepreneurial companies operate with only critical staff, there are opportunities to assume responsibilities outside your experience level. At a larger company you may not have as many chances to expand your competencies and upward mobility may be slower, but you are more likely to receive formal training and guidance. Alternatively, choosing to work for smaller divisions at a large corporation may provide some of the experiential advantages of a startup. For your career development, try to get involved in projects that involve many different internal groups to maximize your exposure to different business aspects and build your network within the company. Regardless of your organization size, it is important to understand how you add value to the greater enterprise. Do not just focus on your assigned responsibilities, but try to see where you can make the greatest contribution overall.
While technical competency is important in business positions, "soft" people skills are even more important. Every panel member affirmed the importance of being able to understand people's needs, listen, empathize, and communicate with others to execute their responsibilities. Business is a human enterprise, which means you need to convince people of your viewpoint and build consensus in a group.
The next event in the Futures in Life Sciences Series, on careers in Research and Development, will be held on April 17th at the new MassBio offices in Kendall Square. To register, follow this link: http://fils42012.eventbrite.com/