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Careers Outside of Academia: Summary of SDBN’s August 26th 2013 Event

Submitted by on September 26, 2013 – 1:46 pm

Are you a scientist with an advanced degree, considering careers outside of academia?  The San Diego Biotechnology Network addressed that question with an August 26th event at the Green Flash Brewery in Mira Mesa.  Much networking occurred before and after the formal presentations.  The food was great and the event was well-attended.

Hugo Villar, of UCSD Extension, introduced us to the coursework offered by UCSD Extension, who also sponsored the evening. Hugo pointed out that we go through many career transitions throughout life.  Many of us initially think of work outside of academia as drug discovery.  Positions in drug discovery also include regulatory affairs.  He advocates looking at your skills and what you like to do.

Business development, project management, policy, political science, legal, and intellectual property are just a few of the types of jobs that are out there.

One valuable skill is knowing how to explain science to a lay person—the ability to make very complex ideas simple to understand.

As a professional teacher there are other options out there other than tenure track research.  Also consider non-research universities, community colleges, and secondary education as viable career choices.

Biofuels are presently experiencing rapid growth. Sapphire is a local company that fits into this category.

Small molecules are a promising area of drug development.  The advent of personalized medicine is another hot area with plenty of growth potential.  Especially in San Diego the intersection of medical devices and mobile medicine are a hotbed of innovation.

If you find yourself mathematically inclined consider data analysis, data mining, and biomedical informatics.

The real question to address:  what am I good at, what do I know, how can I adapt this to a job?  What can you contribute to a non-industrial environment?

What are your skills?  PhD’s often neglect to detail one of the things they excel at: dogged pursuit of getting something to work.  They also have a lot of ways of looking at problems.

Raymond Price is presently the Director of Business Development for Bioseek.  Previously he founded the Prices Write. He spoke about writing as an alternate career for scientist.

Using the Venn diagram on slide 5 of the presentation, Ray analyzes the factors that come together to make an ideal career.  Your enthusiasm needs to be tempered by your expertise.  Then there are always external factors beyond your control. Using myself as an example, I value being able to communicate, assisting others in finding a job, and producing information on the web.  My expertise is in molecular biology and I can explain complex subjects to a general audience.  Externally, I have been unwilling to relocate from San Diego and cannot find a job in industry.

If, like me, you find that writing is in the center of Venn diagram, then great!  You’ve found your ideal career.  Even if you are not sure that writing is what you want to do, being a good writer will benefit you no matter what you choose to do.

To develop your writing skills, Ray recommends beginning by working as a subcontractor to become familiar with the field.  As you write for someone else, you can develop your portfolio.  Once you have the experience and examples of your work that you need, then begin to work as a freelance writer.  Subcontracting is good, since you are given your assignments directly.  As a freelancer, you have to work on your own to develop ideas and business leads; however, you get to keep more of the payment for the writing.

Writing business can cover a range of writing types:  business/financial analysis, programming, grant-writing, marketing copy, and graphic design. To position yourself better than the competition, consider combing your skills with a friend, who is a graphic designer, MBA, web designer, or has another area of expertise to complement your own.

Cultivate your network by keeping in touch on LinkedIn, email, and in person.  Sign up for alerts by authors you know.  Be active in local and national chapters of organizations where you are a member; offer to volunteer at registration, get in free or at a reduced rate to conferences or workshops.  Share information with others in your field.  This can be advantageous; don’t think of it as a zero sum game.  Conceptualize it as plenty of work to go around.

To get started, build your resume, by writing as much as you can.  Network, network, network to find freelancing opportunities.  Specialize in a specific genre.  Build your online professional presence via LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.  Utilize organizations the San Diego Biotechnology Network, ScienceOnline, and Oxbridge Roundtable.

Lisa Silverman is a patent attorney with a PhD from Stanford.  She went directly from her PhD program to law school.  Presently, she is an associate at Morrison & Foerster LLP.

A law degree is not required to be a patent agent.  Agents have a BS in science and take a patent bar exam.  Patent agents do very similar work to patent attorneys.  They write patent applications and file patent applications.  Attorneys can move into other fields like litigation, licensing, and contracts.  Patent agents stick to patents.

Both agents and attorneys write patent applications.  If you work with a big client, you work with in house attorneys.  Working for smaller companies, you tend to work directly with scientist; in this case, having a science background can be very beneficial.

When filing patent application, Patent Office usually says that there is already a patent covering the area of your submission.  To refute this, you have to use scientific knowledge and legal arguments.

Attorneys with PhDs can also work on patent portfolio management, assessing how patents will fit into business goals for a company.  They can also assist with due diligence:  licensing or acquiring another company; how worthwhile are patents.  To address these questions, you search papers and see what is out there, evaluating whether or not something new will be patentable.

Law firms are willing to train people with strong technical backgrounds; do not necessarily have to go to law school.  Think strategically to position yourself for a particular job. Good communication skills are important to talk to clients on phone, strong write good patent applications, respond to request for information from the patent office.  Attention to detail is critical; there are many very specific rules and deadlines.  You need to be able to pick up new scientific ideas quickly and discus them competently.  These skills that can be honed while a student.

One advantage of being an attorney (and not just a patent agent) is that you can move in to other fields such as litigation, licensing, and contracts.

Lisa loves her job.  After working in the same project for 5 years on her doctorate, she enjoys the new technology and clients.  She works with clients at an interesting stage of development, where their companies have a potential patent.

Dr. Jennifer Grodberg
is the Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs at Trius Therapeutics.  She is heavily involved with American Medical Writer’s Association (AMWA).

In brief, someone in regulatory affairs does everything and then some.

Regulatory affairs (RA) professionals provide strategic, tactical and operations direction and support for working within the regulations to expedite the development and delivery of safe and effective healthcare products to individuals around the world.  RA people play a role throughout the healthcare product life cycle from concept (drug discovery) through product obsolescence.  They monitor evolution of health care, general economics, and legislation, bridging the gap between regulatory functions and organization business activities.

As a RA professional, you are involved with a product from premarketing, post-marketing, interfacing with different areas inside the company, and strategic planning, as seen in slide 14 of the presentation.  Your work encompasses business, clinical lab work, quality (QC/QA), and scientific research.  You facilitate these processes, giving counsel, but not making the ultimate decisions.

As a project manager of sorts, you herd cats coordinating document preparation.  You generate and edit documents that include:  meeting requests and background materials, investigational new drug applications, pediatric plans, and requests for FDA/comments/waivers.

Jennifer got into regulatory affairs to do something different.  She was interested in the later stages of the drug development process and had gone through her 3rd lay off.  To transition into this new field, she took writing courses from the American Medical Writer Association.  There are also a variety of courses offered through UCSD Extension for alternate careers.

To land a job, Jennifer reorganized her resume listing her coursework and transferable skills first.  She sought out ground level positions to gain experience.  And as always:  network, network, network.  Her words of encouragement are that there is “no one way to land the job” and that “You don’t necessarily land the position you want from the get go”.  For example, she presently is using temporary workers to organize files for an FDA audit.  There workers are gaining familiarity with key FDA documents.

Raymond Clark is a Project Manager for Global Health at San Diego State University and is the founder of the National Postdoctoral Association.

He assists in giving public policy to politicians.  Science policy is that area that deals with the public, determining how science can best serve the public need.  Setting public policy is a powerful tool:  it can free a field or shut down initiatives.  More scientists are needed to help guide science policy.

Most of public policy is conducted inside the beltway in Washington DC.  Congress funds science.  The USA invests more in science than any other country in the world.  Setting science policy is crucial as this controls the funding for research.  Policy will be made whether or not the money is there to fund initiatives.

Congress has no non-partisan advice.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sponsor think tanks to provide opinions to the government.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the gold standard for just such an NGO.  They give training to individuals and place them in agencies. American Chemistry Society offers Policy Fellowships.  National Academies of Sciences also offers fellowships.

To work in public science policy, you need to work with government.  This does not have to be on the national level, as states are also entering the arena.  The California Counsel on Science and Technology one such example to this.

How do you get into science policy?  Need to know more about it; read policy articles on policy, ethical issues, nanotechnology, problems, pressure points, Nature, Science, and websites. Many professional societies offer fellowship programs to work in Congress.

Specific training to do this—start your own course for this, engage people with seminars; volunteer.  Take something you have worked on, network with people doing science policy at conferences.  Look beyond the bench.

Offer assistance to local lawmakers on setting policy, rules, regulations, etc.  Approach them with the question, how can I help you make better decisions.

There is no one route to working in science policy.  Consider working in a think tank.  Get involved in science policy because it affects you and your country.

What can we do about sequestration?  Congress gets so little done, hard to say.  Science becomes a pawn to politics.

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