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

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Transition help: BioCom in San Diego for postdocs to industry

I don't think they had this when I was doing this, but here is something for the San Diego folks. I am sure such things exist elsewhere.... I have been to several BioCom events and they have all been good so I don't know of any reason this wouldn't be as well.

"Transition to Industry" Career Symposium for Graduate students and Postdocs

Discover what San Diego's life science industry has to offer and how to get there...

When: Saturday October 28, 2006

Where: Biogen Idec

5200 Research Place
San Diego, CA

Registration Time: 8:00-9:00 AM

Symposium Program: 9:00AM-5:00 PM
Networking Happy Hour: 5:00-7:00 PM
Registration Fee: $20.00

Join other local graduate students and post-docs to learn about:
The local life sciences industry,
What it takes to transition from academia to industry,
How to market oneself to industry, and.
Have the opportunity to interact with and seek out information from local companies.

Click here to register.
For more information email biotech@workforce.org

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Grumbling post docs, industry, and options

So last post I put my words in Bills mouth.

Bill was good enough to reply and put his own words in his own mouth in the comments.
Yeah, that's a pretty good interpretation of what I was saying. To be fair to some grumbling postdocs, though, it isn't necessarily simply a matter of knowing one's options, as there are lots of experienced postdocs who would love to work in industry (at least from what I hear). But they are trapped because they can't get a job there either. So I can understand their anguish.
He had previously asked, offline and when he was asking if this site was me (CAUGHT!) about this same subject. Essentially "how do I get in to industry bench". Many do an academic post doc knowing they don't want to be there, is essentially Bill's point (and...his dilemma).

Way back at the beginning of this blog, I talked a bit about this. Now, I have actually asked a bunch of people stuff and have a 1/2 way coherent thing to say on the matter.

Much to my surprise, ALL of our directors at the R+D level did academic post docs. About 1/2 of them did 2. All of the people right below the directors did at least 1 (and sometimes 2, although many fewer of them). I was, bluntly, blown away. This has taken awhile, as I started asking people at other companies. N kept increasing but the percentages didn't change. They all do academic post docs.

On the business side, I found that for those with Ph.D.'s the number of postdocs was many fewer. No 2's that I ran in to, and maybe 1/3 of the folks with even 1. Most of us, myself included, totally skipped that step.

We have one friend who did an industry post doc, so I don't really know how you score her. She essentially was working in industry, but becuase she called herself (and was in a program that called her this) a postdoc -> she got paid less. I didn't really understand how that worked for her. Totally understand how it works for the company!!!

SO - To stay at the bench you have to do postdocs. Who knew? (well a lot of people....)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Disruptive Tech and the Post Doc grind

In my previous post, I mentioned that I thought disruptive technologies would tend to come from academic groups.

Then I got to thinking about it. Two examples come to mind.

RNAi - which started academic ( and they just got Nobel prizes for it)
PCR - Came from the commercial side. Kary Mullis worked for industry.
miRNA's - academia, and I don't know how disruptive they will be yet. Much smoke any fire?
Tumor supressors - academia, but from a long time ago when there was no industry.

PCR came from the time of not much industry as well, so it is an even bigger anomoly.

The tools companies have a bunch of stuff that no one thinks of as creative, but on the other hand they didn't come up with it either. Promega has all the TnT stuff. Stratagene has QuickChange. Invitrogen has TA cloning. All of these required a massive amount of basic biology research to be done. It is hidden by deceptivly simple ideas and kits, but at the end of the day is very creative stuff.

I don't claim to have any knowledge of "who is more creative", nor do I actually think that is a question with an answer. No idea how to measure that. No real idea of why you would try. My point is that there are really bright people doing really cool stuff in all corners of research. There are really dumb people in both academia and in industry. There are great projects in both as well.

When folks feel they are trapped, as FemaleScientist does right now, then they get depressed. When, in that depression, they throw out huge numbers of options with little to no knowledge about those options, I get annoyed. I probably shouldn't as I don't know her or what she works on, but all the same.....

One of my other friends (hi Bill!) who figured out who I am after reading her site said, and I paraphase, "She is just like all the other old timer post docs around here. Bitter at being stuck but not able to take a break and figure out what she wants to do". By not able to take a break he meant "she couldn't see a way NOT to go to lab and stop and look at the world around her". I have put a few words in his mouth, but not too many. The second half, stopping and getting away and reassessing, is the critical part. When you are in it and doing what she is doing right now there is no way for you to come up with a plan of how to move forward. Everything is lab lab lab lab lab lab lab. It is not "what do I want to do in a few years and what choices exist?" I would also add that I think you are doing crap science right then. You don't have the ability to actually think about what you are doing. There is no analysis and you make stupid errors. Just my experience from watching...

Graduate school has to be done in academia. Everything after that is your own path. Choose from knowledge of choices not from what you can wedge in between two gels. Regardless of what you think, you do have the ability to take a couple of days off and clear your mind enough to make a plan.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Industry Science, and why we aren't all morons.

This post is partly in response to this post over on YoungFemaleScientist, but is mostly driven by several conversations I have had with several of my friends individually that that posting started. They are all still post-docs, most in the boston area, and are looking at their next steps. Industry or academia? Can I have a family and become a PI? What if I actually want to see my partner? Kids?

The major question is "what is it like to work in industry?"

YoungFemaleScientist does a very good job of showing the stereotypes of what academics who don't know anyone on the industry side think goes on in industry. She makes it pretty obvious that she doesn't actually know. I don't know how she would know, so that isn't really her fault. People in industry can talk about it, as I have done here, and 1-1 can tell people stuff. Occasionally, as happened with at least two folks previously here (Phd Dropout and Dapi) they can ask someone questions and get some answers. They were focussed on the career path I have chosen, so that was relativly easy for me to answer. As I have fled the bench, those questions are harder to answer.

....so I asked the R+D directors.

They are roughly equivelant to PI's in academia, in that they head up groups that range in size from 5 to 40 people and are focussed on larger or smaller areas of our business. In addition, I spend a lot of time looking at what we know and what we don't know, and what is going on in academia to compare against.

Some summary thoughts:
1. In area's we are active in we are years ahead of academia.
2. Scientists work as hard or not as hard (depending on the person) in industry as they do in academia. Depends on the person.

In order, some more thoughts.
I am going to talk about an area that is of general interest to biotech/pharma and compare it to academia. Kinases. Academics are still doing stuff that looks at cellular localization, binding partners, and knockouts. Pharma has already patented the whole lot and are looking at drugs to interfere, but the academics don't even know that the pathways are worked out. Why am I so certain of this? Look at the drugs they produce. Read the patents that are published at the USPTO. If you look at what is in the published patent applications, and compare to the literature, you will find that more is known and locked up in the companies than they let on about. One, from a "information wants to be free" point of view can get mad about this. BUT, lets look at why this is, and at the area where academics are ahead. Industry can, and does, buy databases that are manually curated from the literature of all the pathways know in the free and open science worlds (Ingenuity and GeneGo are big on this, but there are others). So - take it as a given that they have access to a lot of data academics can't easily look at (licenses to those tools aren't cheap). NOW - if they are interested in a pathway becuase it has in some way been implicated in disease, they throw a lot of people and equipment at that. As opposed to a couple of academic groups randomly throwing grad students at this, PI level people, senior postdocs, and an army of technicians who are trained and motivated attack it. You will get the brute force effects of solving the problem but you will also get their brain power. Most in academia seem to assume that everyone who went to industry got a lobotomy and will never have another creative thought in their lives, but that isn't quite true. Industry scientists are just as good as academic scientists in this regard. Industry is looking for the angle...they want to convert to product. The way you do this is learn something that no one else knows before they learn it. THEN figure out what to do with that knowledge such that you can make a product out of it. In some ways this is harder than academia. There, you can just write a paper about what you have learned and move on. For Industry, just knowing a fact doesn't help you that much. You actually have to do something with that fact.

Where academia does well is on the things that no one can see a use for in the next few (10) years. RNAi was a good example. Not many in Pharma are really looking at gene control in nematodes ( I think Novartis looks at fly's, but that is old knowledge so maybe they don't any more). The fact that the work in nematodes eventually leads to a huge industry push is not foreseeable, so mostly they don't fund it. Academia does this work and does a supurb job of it.

Once the initial discovery is made, and published, and realized that it is usefull, then industry runs with it. Academia can't hope to keep up at that point and is soon left behind.

This is, I think, only really true for disruptive findings. When one is talking about general control or the basic biology of enzyme classes, I think that the academics are behind.

I can't really point at the example, but there was a recent nature paper that shows an effect that we have already released product based on and have a patent on. They are 6 years behind us. We don't publish though. The paper got put up on the board at work and the internal scientists are smiling.

As far as working hours go...People work a bit less than in graduate school. That is, I think,healthy. You can not keep up that pace for the rest of your life. You might think you can, but you won't be productive and in the industry setting you will end up unemployed. Derek Lowe said it best (also has a great heading of industry vs academia where he spells things out well for chemists. I would agree with everything that he says for biologists as well though)

Overall - what I would say to Post-Docs who are slogging through the years trying to figure out what to do - ASK people. Read blogs. Send questions to folks. Talk the uncommunicative industry folks at meetings.

DONT base your decisions on old stereotypes. You don't know what we do on this side of the fence, but we all came from your side so we do know what you are going through.