Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

What to do with your Ph.D.

So, you are coming to the end of your Ph.D.

You spent some years in Lab (because I know nothing outside of Biology Ph.D.'s, No idea what the rest of you do).

Now what?

I have been asked this question a whole lot recently, as several of the people that were starting as I left school are now finishing. Others that were post-docs are asking about my career path. Etc... Also, I just read this article (continued here), and that got my head to thinking that I should write my own view of the world (being shy that way and all...)

I talked a bit about this before. There I merely point out that finishing is worth a lot of money. Not finishing = wasted time and staying below a certain level UNLESS you punt to totally outside of the Bio world.

SO - I thought I would talk about a few of the career paths that I see for people with Ph.D. 's in the bio realm. There are probably some choices I am missing, but this will deal with the ones I know.

Academic Post Doc:
I won't deal with this one, as you can talk to a lot of them. They work in your lab. My only advice, if you want to do one of these (I didn't) is to go to the best named lab you can. Name matters. Nothing else seems to. Many seem to get hung up on "learning stuff". you will learn stuff everywhere. bigger labs have more money so you can try more stuff more freely. Also - Name counts. Always. Everywhere. No exceptions. The people who say "Name doesn't matter" aren't at top notch places or are weird.

Industry Post-Doc:
I don't have a lot of knowledge about these. You can't do them at my company so I don't see those folks. One friend did one at Biogen and it worked out for her. She learned a lot and made more than an academic. She has gone on to industry, so I can't tell you whether or not she was "blocked" from continuing in academia or was pushing toward industry anyway. *Guessing* that she was predisposed to move toward industry anyway, as that is where she did her post-doc.

Staff Scientist (Link)
This is what you become when you are the equivalent of a PI in academics. You lead a small/large group of 'post docs' or technicins in some direction to make a product/drug/diagnostic test/whatever. You operate under, ultimatly, the CSO (Cheif scientific officer). There are differnt levels of this responsibility, ranging from a small group up to being the CSO. Small companies and large companies will differ a bit in the stability of these positions, and the number of levels of management, but essentially you are doing bench research. I talk a lot more about this in the linked post above.

Tech Support
Ever wonder who answers the phone when you call a company with a question about a product? You probably think they are morons becuase they can't answer your question for the specific cell type you have in the specific environment you have under your specific questions. Your wrong. I haven't worked Tech support, but know the folks over there well. They know stupid amounts of information. We have a broad product line, and they know a lot about the whole thing. This is a good place to go if you don't really know what you want to do next, maybe aren't in to travelling, and want to get exposed to the way a company works. The tech support people have to know everything that has been tried during the development of the product, know the normal questions that are asked, and have to know what we are and are not allowed to talk about (Legal reasons). Also, they have to know the most likely products you use this product with (including our competitors). This gives you a stupendous overview of the entire market, as folks will be asking you about it every day. Many use this job as a springboard off to marketing (the overview of the market helps here) or to field sales jobs (they get sick of reacting and want to push). A few stay here for the long haul. It is a pretty stable job, as the phones have to get answered, so you frequently will live through early rounds of lay-off's in good shape if the company starts to fold. This gives you ample warning to start looking for another company.

Field Appication Scientist (Link)
You probably don't know these people. I was one when I left Grad school, and I had never heard of the job up until the day I interviewed for it. All companies have them, and the role changes a lot by company. I will give the overview here and talk a lot more in depth about these jobs in the follow up posts.

Overall, you job is to be a scientist who supports the sales people. This will range in duties depending on what company you are at. At the first company I was at, we were selling multi-million dollar visualization software to bioinformatics and cheminforatics folks at large Pharma. I worked as part of a team with the sales people. At instrumentation companies, you will be the one who demo's the machine and answers technical questions.

You will travel a lot, and in general people burn out of this job at 2-5 years. The travel is really brutal, but you will see all parts of how business works. You are a "scientist" but you have to pick up sales in a hurry or you will be useless.

For the most part, Academics don't see too many application scientists, although they may see them at meetings giving talks. Mostly these people work the Pharma world where the payoff justifies the cost of sending in two people (Sales and App Scientist).

Sales (Link)
Those of you who have not yet left academics just recoiled in horror. Your wrong. You only see the sales reps who focus on academics. There is a whole OTHER breed that does high end sales, and is totally focussed on very large deals with Pharma. Deal size here is in the millions, and their cut of that is good. Many of them are Ph.D.'s. This is hard to break in to, but you make serious quantities of cash if you do (well over $100K/yr IF you are good.) You have to make sales in order to make money.

Another level of this is like an Affymetrix sales rep (or any other instrument sales rep for that matter). You don't see them too much in academic circles, but many of them have Ph.D.'s as that allows them to understand the customer faster, lets the customer have faith in them faster, and generally closes the deal a lot more quickly.

Business Development (link)
This is what I do, this will also be a follow up post with more detail, but this is a job totally cut out for people with a Ph.D.

Marketing (Link)
Another section that will be a break out follow up post, but these are the folks that you have no idea what do. They are deeply involved in product direction for companies, and are closely tied to the make up of everything that goes out. You only really notice when they screw up, but every time things are just what you need, that is them at work. All the ad's that everyone swears they don't read - came from them. A brief note about the ads... they work, we track it. Everyone does...so although everyone swears they don't read them, quite obviously someone does as they flock to the referenced web site and sales spike in the weeks following...

A lot/most manufacturing Heads are Ph.D. level scientists. They have to figure out how to manufacture whatever has been come up with. Make 1mg of protein is easy. Making 1KG of it is WAY harder, and that is where their trouble shooting and knowledge kicks in. Most of the people looking at the transition from R+D to manufacturing are also Ph.D. level folks.

Note from what I just said. The normal way things go is R+D makes it work. Scale up (has MANY different names) transitions from R+D to manufacturing by figuring out how to make the process scale from bench prep to production lot and works out the QC metrics, then Manufacturing just does the final optimization and makes sure that the same thing spits out the end every time.

I will move on to follow up posts to spell out some of these jobs further, and come back here and edit in links to those posts as I do. I may add more jobs as I go, but these are the main ones that come to mind right now...although that last sentence will be hard to reconcile with edits added...

Continuing edits... I talked a bit about Job Interviews Here.
Update : I talk about follow on degrees here.
Update: I talk about where to put your resume here.


Son Sebree said...

Quite agreed.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lova said...

graduating in 6 months hopefully.
That was very helpful,thank you much

Anonymous said...

This was very helpful. Thank you and keep it up. I will be bookmarking this page for later reference. I am looking to leave academia forever and will take any info I can get my hands into since I am surrounded by academics 24/7...

Anonymous said...

Hi. I've spent a considerable amount of time how browsing your blogs and have been throughly entertained! Thanks!

I'm in my final year of the PhD (neuroscience/physiology) and it is past time for me to leave the ivory tower. I simply have no interest in the (quite flawed) current academic system where (from my perspective) great ideas are formulated and "sold" to granting agencies but are rarely implemented (or are implemented at a ridiculously slow pace). Also, spending another 10 years in medical school/residency/fellowship just does not seem like the best way to spend my late 20's and early 30's. Simply put, I'm tired of being poor and am not SO enthralled with research/medicine that I'm willing to sacrifice the next several years in a lab or in the classroom. I feel that I am very personable and have excellent analytical skills that I believe would serve me well in the business world.

My question is this: if you were in my shoes (single, no kids, 25 years old, finishing up graduate school in the next 12 months, no business experience) looking to break into the business world, would you seek out an FAS type position or would you look to directly enroll in a business school? It seems to be a big financial risk to spend 60-80K on an MBA on the HOPE of picking up a quality job upon completion. Conversely, how long will have to work at the lowest rung of the totem pole before being "qualified" to take the entry level MBA job? Would my career potentially progress faster with the MBA?

Any advice/insights would be greatly appreiated!

yes said...

...to the poster above,

I quoted your whole question and answered it in a new post


Anonymous said...

Do you know anything about patent examiners/patent law? They seem to want people with biomedical PhDs, one company I saw present at a meeting said they pay for their examiners to go to law school at night. Obvious drawback to this is who in their right mind wants to go to law school after spending so much time getting a PhD?

yes said...

RE: Patent examiners... just posting a statement about them.

yes said...

the lawyer comment is here


Anonymous said...

I am in despair, have to relocate to Jacksonville Fl and don't want to do another postdoc. I have a PhD in biological sciences, help

Lana said...

What are the names of Tech Support positions?

yes said...

Anonymous relocating.

not sure what to suggest. Sorry to hear that.

Lana - the positions have a lot of different names. "Inside support specialist" "technical support specialist" "Technical support" "phone based technical support"

are all names I have seen them called. HR seems to like to rename these positions a lot so no matter what I tell you it will be different some months from now. I think they have a secret list they rotate them through just to keep us on our toes.

It will vary by company but most of them will be some play on the above words.

Anonymous said...

Hi, you forgot about non-profit jobs for PhDs..

Anonymous said...

oh, and Science Policy jobs..

yes said...

The Non-Profits and the Science Policy jobs - yep - totally know NOTHING about them I have to admit. I don't even know anyone who does them so can't even ask them questions to put together a post. Any leads? Would be happy to write about it just don't know a thing.

Ruth said...

My committee's advice for me when I told them I wanted to enter industry was to find a postdoc (generic response), but with a PI with biotech ties. Argh! Kind silly of me to realize that my network (and theirs) was largely limited to those in the academic field and am now trying to branch out and explore. Thank you so much for sharing your experience at your blog. It's been very useful and comforting.

yes said...

Glad to help Ruth

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you for this blog, yes. I feel comfortable about going to graduate school now.

Oma Wright said...

It’s true that there are a lot of questions coming from people who are nearing the end of their PhD journey. And I think great thesis ideas can pop up, but some of them actually finding it hard to do something after it. Anyway, this maybe could give them a little idea about what to do after PhD.