Tips on How Academic Scientists Can Make the Career Switch to Industry

2/25/10

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Myth—Industrial science is not the same caliber as in academia.

Actuality—The science must be good because the success of the enterprise depends upon the quality of the science.

Myth—You cannot publish in industry.

Actuality—There will be many times when your work is reserved as a trade secret but often it is in the company’s best interest to publish. When you do so in industry the internal review process is significantly more stringent but there are many opportunities to publish.

Myth—There is no opportunity to choose your scientific path.

Actuality—There are many ways to use your creative talents within a company. If you have a brilliant idea that is far afield from the company’s core technology you may have to find another company but opportunities for marketing, customer interaction, and business development give you more creative outlets than in academia.

Myth—There is no job security.

Actuality—If you develop a diverse skill set it is common to find a rewarding role by using management, communications, or other skills.

During the Q&A session, a postdoctoral fellow said he was considering joining a startup, but worried about job security. Here were some of the questions panelists suggested she ask before taking the leap:

—Is the company not just financed but well supported by a venture capitalist?

—Is it a great company?

—Is it a great team?

—What is the track record of the investor syndicate?

—Most startups will go through life and death moments. Look at bios of the board members and other companies that they are invested in.

—When is the last time that the company raised money – do you have a year or six months to meet the next milestone?

There is certainly a lot of volatility in startups but the variety of skills that you learn there make you much more marketable. You cannot expect to be in the company 10 or 12 years but if you can make a contribution a startup can be very rewarding even if it doesn’t “make it.” “Keep in mind that overnight success takes about 15 years in this industry,” said Drachman, the vice president of translational medicine at Seattle Genetics.

Here are the highlights of a few other questions from the audience, and a brief summary of how the panel answered them:

Should I look for a job as a postdoc in industry?

It depends upon the nature of the job. Some postdoc positions are just low paid … Next Page »

Don Rule is the founder of Translational Software, a company that aims to accelerate the process of bringing molecular diagnostics from the bench to the bedside. He previously worked at Microsoft for 14 years. Follow @

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  • ed

    I have experience as both a faculty member and in two companies, one a failed biotech and a larger multinational company. I totally agree with the myths that should be debunked. Excellent science is independent of environment and there are good, reliable scientists and “legends in their own mind” in both settings. The biggest difference I experienced is that in academic settings you spend so much time becoming an expert in one particular area trying to discovery novel molecular mechanisms, but in industry you have to find a drug or therapeutic that will work (safely) in everything from a multiwell plate to a free range human. Two very different challenges.