Many are striving to understand what the “career ecosystem” looks like and wonder what it will look like by the time they will have finished their current degree, completed their fellowship, or by the time they are ready to move on to their next job. On your journey, these transitions are the key times you take action and plan on your next steps. When you choose your next step, you need to be prepared for a great deal of change. You will work for and with new people, and you will need to adapt and conform. But on the bright side, you will meet new people and experience new ways to approach various problems and challenges.
The current employment picture is quite rich and diverse for graduates trained in life sciences. Many nonbench careers include communication and marketing, consulting, scientific writing, patent law, commercialization, project management, business development, alliance management, financial investments, and venture capital. Similarly, many research-focused roles exist, spanning several fields, such as research and development, clinical research and data analysis, bioinformatics, biostatistics, regulatory, and medical affairs. These roles can exist in environments such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics, nonprofits, and even some academic institutions.
The image of you that employers see is the image you paint of yourself—and no one else should work harder than you to paint that image. Since employers rarely have the time to allow you to truly showcase yourself, it’s best to be a man/woman of few words. Everyone talks about the “elevator pitch”—a 15–30-second statement—as the best way to market and brand yourself quickly and skillfully using powerful words that best represent you. You should have an appropriate elevator pitch ready to go for different situations. If you are at a cocktail party with people not immersed in your field or at an event with people who share a similar background to yours, have an informative description to which people can relate. Start formulating your elevator pitch by filling in the blanks in the following example, and put it to good work: “I am a [current role] at [current organization] focusing on [field of work]. I will be completing [my current position/training] in [timeline] months and I am seeking a [research/employment role] in a [your choice of environment] in [location of interest].” Remember, it is critical to tailor the level of detail in your pitch to the background of the person with whom you are speaking.
Craft a Strong Resume
Your resume is the single most important document that summarizes all your qualifications. A strong resume tells your story in a clear and succinct fashion. Make it easy to read, and craft it to tell the story you want each employer to hear! If you are seeking a research position, highlight your research experience, skills, and the techniques you master as well as your papers and presentations; similarly, if you are competing for nonresearch roles, highlight skills such as business, communication, writing, and teamwork, depending upon the requirements of the role. Include your complete contact information, pay attention to formatting, and fill in the space wisely! Keep in mind that academic curriculum vitae are different and much more involved than resumes as they tend to tell a more complete story. Proofread to avoid spelling errors—they show carelessness!
Transferable Skills: If You Don’t Have Them, Build Them
Regardless of the field or interests, all careers require transferable skills—most of which are already inherited, thanks to a particular education. Others can be acquired as needed by each individual and his/her career training and goals. A list of transferable skills required for a few different roles and some ways to help you build them are shown below. Remember, you control your destiny—proactive skill development is crucial for successful career navigation.
Job Searching: A Funnel Effect
Many of us find ourselves in one of the three categories shown below; however, we’re not ready to apply for a job until we’ve reached the third stage! During the first two stages, use your time to learn about careers through reading, networking, and informational interviewing. Gain information about the requirements of your desired roles, skills needed, career paths, and other details so that you can proactively plan your career journey.
Seek Advice and Help from a Professional
Propel Careers is a life science search and career-development firm focused on connecting innovative, entrepreneurial companies with like-minded professionals. While its primary service offering is job placement, the networking events, career guidance, and mentorship programs Propel Careers offers ensure continuous growth and relationship development within its network. Its mission is to enable the critical human resource connections required to advance the life science industry as a whole as well as the growth and advancement of the companies and individuals with whom it works. Propel Careers’ vast access to industry contacts, knowledge, and experience working in the life science industry set it apart from other firms and offerings. Its team brings more than 40 years of collective experience working in a range of life sciences business, including start-ups, venture capital, and commercial organizations. As a result, Propel Careers is able to act as a hub, connecting academic institutions, industry, investors, service providers, and talent. Learn more about Propel Careers by visiting their website.
Lauren Celano’s Top Ten Tips to Propel Your Career
- Become self-aware: Know your strengths and weaknesses, what you like and dislike, and the type of environment and culture in which you thrive. Use this information to identify a company and role that fits you.
- Network: Develop and/or re-engage your network so that you have people who know you and with whom you can talk about companies, roles, and career advice.
- Involve yourself in an “industry-relevant organization”: Start with your local Chapter of the IEEE, for instance. Get involved and connect with people who share interests similar to yours.
- Refine your resume: Make sure it tells a story and highlights your experiences in a way that shows where you are going, not just what you have done.
- Build your online presence: Develop/enhance your LinkedIn profile so that you create a “professional” brand. Add details such as publications, technical details, and conferences at which you have spoken so that people who view your profile can learn more about your background.
- Engage in informational interviews: Learn about a company, role, or career path. Use networking to find someone to speak with who can share details about your areas of interest.
- Eat lunch with someone new: Plan to eat lunch with someone new (once a week or once a month, depending on your schedule) to build new connections. You may even gain insight into an area outside of your specialty, which may be useful to your career development.
- Take initiative: If you see something in your current role that can be fixed or made more effective, timely, or efficient, take the initiative and try to improve it. Being the “fixer” or “doer” adds value to your organization and may open up additional opportunities for you to grow. You can take initiative in any of your roles—as a student, researcher, professor, etc.
- Learn something new: Information is everywhere. Don’t get stale in your knowledge. Take a formal in-person or online class to learn the latest bioinformatics modeling technique or clinical research methodology or something else relevant to your interests.
- Give back: Become a mentor to your undergraduate institution, participate on a career panel, and provide an informational interview to someone. Giving back and creating a two-sided network is very beneficial to you as well as the person(s) you are assisting.