In the past, careers in the bioscience industry were often described (by people in academia) as working for “The Dark Side”. A larger number of postdocs are now considering those jobs. Here are some of the reasons:
Basic Research vs Translational Research
Basic research is important. There’s no doubt about that. Understanding the fundamental mechanisms of how things work is the foundation of virtually every significant discovery, from drugs, to medical devices, to understanding mechanisms of health and disease. There will and always should be commitment and resources for this type of research. Although basic research is a mainstay for many commercial companies, they must also take a directed approach focused on the development of products and services that will make the company profitable and sustainable. On the other hand, translational science provides a clear strategic roadmap for investors and employees alike on how success will directly impact peoples’ lives. More and more scientists are expressing a desire to be part of an effort that gets their science “more directly into the clinic”, and working in an industry setting can provide that opportunity.
Traditionally, an academic postdoc is a training position that focuses on preparing one for a faculty position (tenured or non-tenured). As a result, most academic training programs for postdocs are centered on designing and performing independent research, developing good grant-writing skills, and to some extent, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. While these are all very valuable skills, they are only a subset of the skills that industry values and requires. Teamwork, collaboration, project management, team performance and leadership are the critical skills necessary to be competitive for industry positions, and to grow professionally. These skills will also positively impact the operation of an academic lab. After all, an academic lab can be thought of as a small company with all the demands (productivity, financial stability, strategic purpose) of a real company. Finally, these are life skills that will have an impact in not only your professional life, but your personal life as well.
Many postdocs have families to support which is hard to do on the average postdoc salary. Industry offers more competitive salaries which recognize scientists’ investment in time, effort and training in becoming subject matter experts in their scientific discipline. On top of these more appropriate base salaries, many life science industry positions also come with additional compensation in the form of stock options and purchase plans, bonuses, re-location allowances and other benefits.
The elephant in the room
There aren’t enough tenure-track positions in academia as there are postdocs looking for them. This fact should not be a surprise to any graduate student or postdoc. The numbers range from 7-20% of postdocs getting a tenure-track position, depending on the specific study. Those are worrying numbers for developing a career strategy in academia. While there are some jobs available, alternatives should be considered, with a career in the life science industry being one of them.
Despite the reasons described above, and there are surely many others, postdocs often don’t receive enough information on the variety of jobs available to them. This webinar will give an overview of job opportunities in the life science industry, which skills acquired in academia are useful in those positions and how a better understanding of those skills can help to write a more targeted resume and cover letter in applying for industry jobs. Follow-up webinars (see full webinar list) will go into more detail on resume and interview preparation, as well as on a wide variety of job areas.