Typical college majors among biotech professionals include chemistry, biology, physics, biochemistry, bioengineering, among many others. You can also get an undergraduate degree in bioinformatics. Potential employers span across government, private industry, and academia.
That pretty much covers most of the employment universe, so you may well feel bewildered about how to proceed.
A lucky few understand themselves early enough to have clarity on these issues while still in their teens. If you are one of those and feeling a bit smug, rest assured that, although you have an edge on your colleagues, the work world you are heading into is more complex than it was just a few years ago. Universities are increasingly looking to leverage the intellectual capital of their researchers to land licensing deals with the private sector.
Since much research is funded by the Federal Government (in other words, your taxpayer dollars), the Feds have an incentive to see some of that money get recycled in the private sector economy, through goods and services that can improve the lives and standards of living of ordinary Americans.
Thus, most universities have technology licensing offices that help its scientists set up licensing and entrepreneurial deals with the private sector. The idea is to commercialize the science into products, devices, processes, and products that are useful to consumers. What this translates into is increased revenues for private sector companies, which in turn increases the tax base for the Federal Government. From the private sector’s perspective, venture capitalists are looking increasingly to late-stage research that’s just about ready to be commercialized.
That shortens their period of investment, which means they can cash out faster and invest limited partner dollars into the next promising project. Academic researchers whose work fits those criteria are attractive candidates.
This is because someone else (the Feds) picked up the tab for that uncertain early-stage phase when there is great uncertainty as to whether anything practical will come out of a research idea. Funding from private equity can now go right into creating the practical from the theoretical.
The upshot is that, whatever sector you choose to work in - government, private industry, or academia - you are likely to forge links with people in other sectors.
A passion for biotech
How do you get hired? The most important thing to remember is to know what really excites you, since, as biotech recruiters point out, the most successful candidates exhibit “passion about the work,” and are willing “to work hard and do what it takes to succeed, since many companies are lightly staffed.”
To get hired, you also need to express an abiding “desire to make a difference in the health and well being of others.” But the more challenging part of getting hired in biotech is that educational requirements and work experience are among the most specific of any industry.
That’s because the science on which biotech companies are based is still relatively new and the number of graduates from biotech-related programs in higher educational institutions relatively few. That actually works to the advantage of younger people, who can tailor an academic program to what the industry needs.
It’s worth repeating that “biotechnology” is a set of technologies that are applied throughout several industries. So when making a career choice, review the main areas of application discussed in The Scoop: healthcare, agriculture, food processing and industrial processing.
If you are still in college, know you like the life sciences and are contemplating a future in either discovering or promoting new treatments for hitherto genetically based diseases, then you’ll want to consider carefully the kind of education and other credentialing we discuss here.
A word about scientific leadership
As financing pressures shorten the timelines needed to bring a product to market, a new profile of scientist and a scientific leader is emerging, according to top industry recruiters. The business of developing drugs three factors must come together - management, science and people. “Scientists in today’s environment need to do more than good science,” says a top scientific recruiter.
“They need to have more accountability - i.e., to enable the team to meet milestones or identifiable timelines that in turn generate revenues and additional capital. We need the brilliant minds who also understand that the company has to earn revenues.”
Broadly speaking, “we are seeing a shift in the philosophy of scientific management from one focused purely on science to one that compensates people for meeting business goals in addition to creating great science. “The leaders that will emerge will have both sets of attributes - the ability to lead teams to meet management goals and to create great scientific results.
The key for scientific leaders is to know when the let go and cut out unpromising avenues of research. This shift will create efficiencies, as more capital becomes available to explore more promising leads. It’s all about understanding the scientific bench work in a business context.”
What this means is that, for those aspiring to a career as scientific leaders, it is essential to broaden your perspective earlier than later, so that you will be more effective in the positions of responsibility you will eventually land.