Propel Careers

Nov 15th FILS Recap Blog by Ben Leung 

November 29, 2011 
by Ben Leung 

The capstone event of the 2011 Future in Life Sciences Series, held on November 15th, 2011, focused on careers in the finance, legal, and operations sectors. To see pictures from the evening, see link:

Throughout 2011, Propel Careers and MassBio/MassBioEd partnered to expose individuals with advanced degrees to the variety of career paths available in the life sciences. Earlier events covered careers paths in Business Development, Commercialization, Marketing, Clinical Research, Regulatory Issues, Research and Development, Project Management, Bioinformatics, System Biology, Pharmacoeconomics, Patient Advocacy, and Reimbursement.

Over 80 attendees spent a lively evening learning about the professional experiences of Boston area executives, lawyers, venture capitalists, and consultants in the life sciences industry. The distinguished panel included Kevin Bitterman, Principal at Polaris Venture Partners, Irena Melnikova, Director, Prospective and Strategic Initiatives, at sanofi-aventis, Sandra Glucksmann, Senior Vice-President of Research & Business Operations at Cerulean Pharmaceuticals, Marc Recht, Partner, Cooley LLP, and Denise Aronson, President, Safety Partners, Inc. Daniel Young, Patent Agent, Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks P.C moderated the panel.

Similar to many of the attendees, the panel members started their life science careers in academic research labs before moving on to the private sector. While their career paths, functions, and responsibilities in the life science industry differed, they all shared a desire to maximize their contribution to the industry and a willingness to step outside their comfort zone to take advantage of new opportunities. This professional flexibility not only allowed them to survive in a constantly changing industry, it also challenged them to grow and evolve. Now they enjoy the unexpected directions their careers may take.

While operations, finance, and legal specialists have distinct knowledge bases and skill sets unique to their profession, a few commonalities emerged from the panel discussion. First and foremost, all the panelists emphasized the importance of people skills to their professional success and growth. Performance in any business environment is about good teamwork rather than individual glory. In client-driven businesses such as the legal profession and consulting, ensuring customer satisfaction by spotting issues and solving them in an expedient manner is paramount. Everyone stressed the importance of networking for professional success. While serendipity gave some of the panelists their first job in their fields, subsequent opportunities often came through interacting with business contacts and their own networking activities.

Scientists hoping to enter into the business side of life sciences shouldn't worry about their lack of financial acumen--an appreciation of the drug development process is more useful. In the world of finance and venture capital, the most important skill is "pattern recognition," seeing the larger overall picture and knowing where and when value is added in a business plan.

For those looking to move from research into law, the most common route is by becoming a patent technical specialist at a law firm. The firm trains you to utilize your scientific background to help write patents and in some cases, pays for you to attend law school at night. Once you become a practicing lawyer you can become involved in other business transactions handled by law firms.

The panelists also cited networking as an important tool for those attempting to enter into new professional realms. The life sciences industry has matured to a level that companies are less inclined to hire individuals without the right experience, but business contacts advocating on your behalf can help you partially overcome this barrier. To differentiate yourself from other entry-level candidates, substantiate your interest in your new field by taking relevant courses or doing an internship.

Propel Careers, MassBio, and MassBioEd are planning the 2012 Futures in Life Science Event Series and details will be available shortly. In 2012, we will build upon the success of the 2011 series and continue to provide graduate students, post docs, and medical residents insights into the various career paths and opportunities to develop and grow in the life sciences industry. To be updated on the 2012 series, join our mailing list on our contact us page: or check our events calendar towards the end of December 2011, We look forward to strengthening the Life Sciences Ecosystem through the insight we share through these events!

About the Author: Ben Leung is currently a postdoctoral associate in the Neurobiology department at UMass Medical School.


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