Archive for the ‘Nontraditional Career Options’ Category

Book Review: Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Career Development in Bioengineering and Biotechnology (Series in Biomedical Engineering)
Edited by Guruprasad Madhavan, Barbara Oakley, Luis Kun

The more I learn, the more I realize there is to learn. That became very clear to me as I read through this book. I knew a little about biotechnology, and thought bioengineering was a somewhat related field. But the more I got into this book, the more I realized I know very little about these fields, and there is a whole new, fascinating world out there.

The book begins with some introductory material, defining the various fields, discussing the educational systems around the world, and employment trends and outlook. This provides a nice background for those unfamiliar with the field.

Thee next two sections of the book (comprising almost 30 chapters), are each written by a different person, who talk about their own career paths. They start with very traditional careers such as university professors, research and intellectual property law, then move into “innovative alternative careers” that span the range from healthcare to finance to regulatory affairs to writing nonfiction books (“best thought of as a supplement to your career”) to fashion design! Each chapter includes some personal and some general information, but the ratio of these two varies widely.

The next section of the book deals with “career development and success strategies”. The information in this section applies not only to bioengineering and biotechnology, but really to any kind of scientific career. Futurists talk about what kinds of engineers will be needed – not just topical specialties, but changes in types of thinking and lifelong learning.

The final section is perhaps the most unusual. These 33 chapters talk about “growth and responsibility beyond the profession”. Topics include eliminating hunger, gender equality, sustainable energy, and affordable and accessible energy. While initially surprising to find such a significant portion of a career book devoted to social and humanitarian issues, a large part of biotechnology is about improving people’s lives. There are many predictions about how the world will change, and how careers and technology will have to change to adapt to it. Even more than the preceding section, the discussion of how to use your professional career to improve the world around you applies not only to scientists, but to virtually all careers.

I very much liked the international flavor of the book – not only are the chapter authors from all over the world, but many chapters include discussion of educational opportunities all over the world, and the differences in careers in various countries.

While some chapters are definitely better than others, it’s probably a necessary result of the wide range of experiences and opinions covered. The mixture of data and personal experiences provides a nice balance, making the book both interesting and informative. For those starting out in these fields, or students considering this career path, this volume will provide some new ideas of where they could take their careers.

Careers in the most unlikely places…..

Friday, November 21st, 2008

In these troubled times, there is lots of uncertainty. There is also lots of change, and change always brings opportunity.  It is more important than ever not to write off a particular industry or career as unworthy of consideration.

With that warning, you should not be surprised that I’m going to point out careers in the financial services sector as a place to look, even now. After all, don’t they need as much help as they can get? :-)

Transferring Your Technical Knowledge

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

In these uncertain times, we need to be even more flexible than ever about where we an apply our skills. We also often complain that people “in business” don’t understand how our science works. How about killing two birds with one stone?

People who work in technology transfer understand both technology and business development, and work to bridge the two communities and turn ideas or inventions into commercial products. They need to understand both the potential and the problems of a new idea, and be able to get that idea in front of the people who have the resources to bring that product to market.

This field is still very new, so there are few rules about required education or background.

Check out the recent article in ScienceCareers about several people who have moved in this direction.

Synthetic Biology – an emerging field

Friday, October 17th, 2008

ScienceCareers (one of my favorite resources) has a new issue out today all about careers in synthetic biology. This is such a new field that the definition is still evolving – perfect if you want to put your own mark on something. The issue includes an overview of the current state of the field, tips on how to gain the skills needed for this field, and first-hand stories of how a microbiologist, a mechanical engineer, and a chemist got started in this field. It ends with a list of resources for those interested in learning more.

Check it out!

Why Wait?

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

ABC News recently had an article about many people who reach mid-life, realize they’re going to have to work longer than they thought, and don’t like what they’re doing. The people in the article all made radical changes, to completely different careers that were less lucrative, but the fulfillment of their childhood dreams. All are thrilled with their new direction, and enjoying more personal satisfaction, which more than makes up for the decrease in money.

I have only two comments. First, why wait? If you’re unhappy in your job, find a way to change it now. Don’t wait for a personal crisis or other outside event. You are responsible for your own happiness. You may not need to make this radical of a change, but you should always be looking for ways to improve circumstances, and ways to improve yourself.

So, what bugs you most about your current situation, and what are you going to do to make it better?

Moving Outside the Box

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

I recently talked with a colleague I’ve known for years. About a year ago her company was bought by another, and her job duties changed significantly. She had been getting more dissatisfied over time, so last January she took early retirement. She knew she didn’t want to be a lab technician any more, but didn’t know what she did want to do.

Since money was not a pressing issue, she traveled a little, then started to look around. After a few months, she started a weekly volunteer position. She continued looking, and was even offered a position or two, but couldn’t bring herself to accept anything.

Nine months later, she is working as a substitute receptionist, has put in applications to be a dog-walker and at a gourmet food store, and is studying for the test to become a driver for a florist or caterer. She has finally realized she wants to get away from science, and do something that makes people happy (like bringing them flowers).

It took her a long time to realize this, and even longer to come to terms with it. She had thought of herself as a scientist for so long, she was unable to think of herself as anything else – even when being a scientist was no longer making her happy. It took her over 6 months of being away from the bench, and actually starting regular work in a completely different field, to allow herself to break free from the scientist mold. Even then, she likens the process to mourning a loss – the loss of her identity as a scientist.

Now that she has moved through the mourning, she is starting to be excited by the possibilities. She is exploring all sorts of things, and looking forward to what the next stage of her life may bring. She is looking for that career that will excite her, where she’ll GET to go to work, instead of HAVING to go to work.


Friday, September 26th, 2008

Tonight was the last night of my speaking tour (yeah!). After my presentation, one of the professors came up and told me the most wonderful story about one of his PhD students. I just had to share it.

She went to an on-campus interview with BigChemicalCompany, and had a great conversation for over 15 minutes, after which she started talking about her research. The interviewer said they weren’t really interested in hearing about her research. When the student asked why not, it turned out the student was in the wrong interview – she had been given the wrong room and time, and was interviewing with a law firm, not a chemical company.

Since she had developed such a great relationship with the interviewer, the student asked what was the job she had been interviewing for. Cut to the end – she accepted the job with the law firm, is now a patent attorney and absolutely loves it.

This has to be most serendipitous career change I’ve ever heard of!

Opportunities Along the Way

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

The speaking tour I’m on involves spending each day driving to the next city, and giving a talk each evening. Some of the drives are shorter, leaving time to explore the local area. Today I got in with almost 6 hours before my scheduled talk. I decided to head out and look for a local shop with supplies for one of my hobbies, to see what they carried.

As I was following my directions (thanks Google Maps and my iPhone!!!), I passed another shop that I had not seen in the local phone book. Even though it was only peripherally related to my hobby, I quickly pulled into a parking spot and went inside. I spent an enjoyable 45 minutes wandering through the store, and picked up a couple of unique products I hadn’t seen before.

I then went on to find the store I had originally been looking for, only to find that it had moved. A local gentleman was able to tell me where it had moved to, but when I got there I found it was not at all what I had expected, and in fact had nothing of interest to me. After a few minutes I returned to my hotel, to catch up on some work before my presentation.

It occurred to me on the way back that this was a good analog for the path a career can take. You’re going along towards a particular goal, when something else interesting comes along. Do you take the detour and see where it leads, or pass on the opportunity and keep towards your goal? Either way, you may reach the goal (a degree, particular job….) and find out it’s not all you thought it was going to be. What do you do then?

Hopefully, you’ve taken time to explore some of your options. The more you know about what’s out there and available, the better prepared you will be to turn where you are into where you want to be. And sometimes, that means being not being afraid to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. You never know what great things you will find!

Program Officer – a career in and above science

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Science Careers has a new issue out talking about careers as a program officer.

The first article, Working as a Program Officer describes the basic responsibilities, in both the US and Europe.

A more detailed description is given in Steering Science from a High Altitude, which talks about how program officers use their broad understanding of a scientific field to provide opportunities for scientific growth.

There is no standard way to get into this field, and Become a Program Officer Your Own Way tells the story of three program officers and how they got there.

Finally, In Person: A European Career Tour, From Research to Research Management provides a detailed and personal description of one program officer’s career path and current job responsibilities.

If you have any interest in public program or policy work, this issue is a great place to check out!

Marketing Resource

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

I recently found a new blog – The Alternative Scientist. It appears to be written by a group of scientists, talking about nontraditional careers.

One recent post in particular caught my attention Marketing: The Good, The Boring, and the Ugly. One person’s perspective on what a job in scientific marketing is really like.