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

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Different Questions for different Networks

Last post I was talking about how I don't use LinkedIn to ask questions of my network and then went on to list some things I don't ask. Harry raised some other questions in the comments, and then I went away and thought about it.

I think there are different needs and different networks for different questions.

Harry's questions, and most of the questions on the AAAS board are of the "how do I break in to area X from area y" where Y is frequently post-doc/grad school and X is "other". The answers I have mostly been looking for are "how do I get ahead in this industry". I think those require very different networks and answers.

The "how do I break in" really sort of implies that you aren't already in the field and you need to build a new network. My questions are all of the type of within field.

In my own career, I had built a decent network of PI's etc... to get a post doc There were informal offers out there. I didn't take it further because I knew I didn't want to do that. SO - I flailed about and eventually got lucky at my first company.

The part where I flailed is the part where boards and blogs are helpful. That is the part where you see the questions on boards.

Once you have taken that first step, then you start to build your network and I think then the questions move toward more as I am describing (personal network, not a "public" one).

That implies that I think the people asking the public questions of "I am a grad student...how do I get a post doc" didn't do a very good job of building a network when they were a grad student!

Both have value when used at the right time.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Industry telling Industry about career options....

In the comments back here, Harry made a comment about the AAAS board. The next paragraph was this.

It may be that this is simply a function of the age of most of the forum participants. My impression is that most of the people posting there are grad students and postdocs, with a few people who have recently transitioned to more permanent positions. Also, people who are established in industry probably have other, more efficient means of obtaining career advice, including places like linkedin, their own network of contacts, or other more industry-specific blogs and forums.

Leaving aside the AAAS comments, as I think that issue has been sufficiently beaten, I would like to comment on the part where industry people communicate with each other. More specifically I would say that I don't think we are any better! There is no site I can go to and ask questions on the industry side either.

How do I know what I want to do next. ummm... I don't really, but I do look at succesful people and talk to them. I have had the "pleasure" of spending a large amount of time with a CEO and currently report to a very senior person at the large company. By most measures I am pretty far up the chain. BUT - I do spend an inordinate amount of time going "what am I doing?". SO - I ask. Not in a pleading kind of way, and only with people I can trust.

To flesh this out a bit, and I have absolutely NO idea on whether this works for other people or even will work for other people.

After I work with people for awhile (defined as more than just a few days - easily several weeks) I figure out which ones are bright, have made good decisions, and know the lay of the corporate landscape. You need to, very quickly, weed out the people who whine about where they are, complain about how "the man" kept them down or the organization doesn't appreciate them, or rely on "seniority" to get where they are going. I, and this fits with me, look for the people who are on board with the idea of driving the organization ahead as rapidly as possible. NOTE: They have to be realistic as to what the political landscape of a company will allow. Just being a reactionary highly driven pain in the rear will get you to irrelevant NOT to results.

So - once I know those people - I learn from them. If they do something in a meeting that doesn't fit with what I know their goals are - ask them later and alone why they did that. Tell them where you are trying to go, they may tell you something about the way to get there. Tell them what you are trying to learn. If they respect you, they will push opportunities for those things your way.

That is how I do it... BECAUSE I don't know any other way. I *wish* there was a place to ask questions. I wish that there were more people writing about it. I wish there were "instructions".

All of that said, these things may be impossible. The "instructions" most certainly are impossible as the situations are all over the place. The "board" probably wouldn't work as I don't, in general, trust people I don't know (and thus write a blog for people I don't know thinking they might care about what I say....).

SO - LinkedIn and it's ilk are useful to me for finding people and for when I was hunting for jobs. For getting career advice, I haven't found them to be too useful (and I only use LinkedIn and Plaxo)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sunday, July 22, 2007

AAAS Career Development board

two posts ago, a comment was left pointing to the Science (AAAS) career development board. Hadn't been there in awhile, so went back looking.

Found a gratuitous link to here, so that was nice...

but then I started to look around some more. Ended up in this conversation and got a little depressed. What you can see, if you read through that thread, is a lot of people only talking about academic careers. There are a few in there that throw in a gratuitous biotech/Pharma reference, but for the most part it is about academia.

ummmm....there is life outside of academia. The majority of folks posting there don't seem to know that.

That said - there was actually more industry discussion than I expected. Not a huge amount, but a decent enough amount compared to when I last looked. There is hope after all I guess.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More on going to Grad Schhol

Last post I talked of going to grad school (and would I tell someone else to do so?).

In the comments were some other questions/views.

To pick those up.

Dr. J said
Just touching on a slightly different international aspect because you have a few international readers. Doing a PhD in Europe/Australia is only 3 years and is only lab work, which seems to be quite different to the US. In this case, I´m not sure its as critical to be the perfect candidate as it isn´t a 6 year slog through course work etc.

It´s also an important point that these days you almost need a PhD for any science related job. In fact, in Europe, you almost need a PhD, minimum of 3 languages and several years of international experience to get anything.

However, I still don´t think you should be doing a doctorate unless you REALLY want it. But don´t think you have to be commited to a life in science just cause you stuck it out. Nothing is wasted, even if afterward you do something completely different.
which really resonates with me. The European Ph.D. is shorter and they don't have classes. I will say that SOME of the classes I spent my first two years taking were actually useful. Some of the others were me, yet again, learning the Krebs cycle and spitting it back out on paper. Still don't have the thing memorized. Hope never to. That is why they invented wikipedia and other reference materials.

The qualifying exam that we did was also a big waste of time. There went 4 months of my life I don't get back. And, oh yeah, I still failed the written and had to retake it 2 weeks later. Beyond a stupid exercise to have to memorize stuff that most labs keep on posters that silly vendors hand out.

Anonymous added a paragraph agreeing with Dr. J plus this
The professors in the US love to drone on about the superiority of the American degree, but personally I believe that they're just trying to justify a 50%+ increase in degree time. As with the original post I feel like most of my education came in the first few years, and that my last few have been more about 'work' and less about 'learning'.
which it would be impossible for me to agree more with (i.e. 100% is kind of the max...). I was cheap labor. Thats fine, just don't pretend otherwise.

The statement by Dr. J about needing the Ph.D. for just about anything is pretty true. Becoming more true here in the US. I would be interested in knowing if there are more Ph.D.'s in Europe where it takes less time or here in the U.S. Would guess that we have more, but just because we have way more people. Could be totally wrong though and you could correct for population etc...

I agree you don't have to be committed to the life sciences once you have the Ph.D. and, as Dr. J does, do think that you have to be committed to them when you start it. You, in the US system where you are going to spend at least 5 years, have to think this is a pretty good life and be willing to take your vow of poverty to do it.

I almost find the post docs who are, as put, "just sticking it out" becuase they got the degree to be a little worse off. They haven't seen the options yet and are stuck in a rut.

There are so many options out there as to what to do with the degree. No one in grad school tells you what to do and your supposed to have learned how to think for yourself. BUT - those years of brain washing that this is normal and everyone does it are really hard to overcome.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Would I tell someone to go to Grad School?

Last post Bill asked, in the comments, if I would tell someone to go to Grad school or not.

Some back story - Bill and I have the same ex-advisor and he picked up my project. So - he knows exactly what I went through at the end and knows it really wasn't pretty. I have heard of worse ways to graduate, but I certainly had a little worse than average ending. I could have picked my lab a bit better. That said - the grass is rarely actually greener on the other side, so I probably did about average. We were funded and had a decent degree of freedom. Many are much worse off. Many are better off. Sort of a wash there.

So...that wasted a paragraph ducking the question...

I have no idea.

I don't think anyone could have talked me out of going to grad school.
Toward the end my wife had to talk me in to finishing.

There are some people who just have to go to Grad school. There are others who are going for the wrong reasons. If you are going because you didn't get in to medical school - you are doomed to failure. This person should be talked out of it at all costs. They are going to be miserable and likely be really bad at it. On the basis of a very small sample size, I would say they won't even finish grad school and will wash/be washed out. No one will enjoy this.

For me - I learned a lot. The last almost 2 years were a complete waste of time, in that I had learned all I was going to learn in that lab, but the first bit was critical. I have, now, a HUGE advantage over the folks who did not go through school.

Things I learned:
  • How to read a paper. Really read it. Understand it. And do so quickly.
  • How to design an experiment so that I actually learned something.
  • Techniques. Lots of techniques. Useful now that I work in a tool vendor... Knowing WHY people do experiments, and what experiments follow which experiments is key/critical. If you haven't gone to school and only were a tech, I am not sure that you get this as much. Possible, but less likely.
SO - Back to the Question.

Would I tell someone to go.

What do they want to do? Be a professor? (if yes - then they have no choice. Grad school is the only way). Go in to Industry? (if yes - then they have no choice. Really the only way to the top of the research heap is with a degree). Go in to Business? (more choice....read this blog!)

Why are they doing it? Parents have degrees (horrible reason!!!!). They didn't get in to medical school? (Worst reason ever.) They don't know what else to do? HORRIBLE reason.

I would say that to make it through you have to start in a condition of absolute gung ho can't be talked out of it and all of you people whining are losers that I am better than.

Then the beatings commence, and soon you are a senior student whining and complaining with the rest of us and the first years are looking at you funny. If you don't go in believing you can crush it.... DON'T GO. You won't make it.

If the person is a technician and is wondering - thats harder. One of our former techs I didn't think would do it and she went off and did it. Lost track of her, so I don't know how she did. (Pubmed just told me she has 2 papers.... so she did alright actually!)

Summary - I think this is a totally personal thing. If you can be talked out of it, you probably shouldn't go. Some random dude being able to talk you out of it is the least problem you are going to face completing the degree. If that is enough of a deterrent, you are hosed when the real pressures come to bear. You see your friends leading "normal" lives and making real money and going on vacation (imagine not going to lab on Xmas day!!!) and buying houses and all sorts of normal stuff.... A guy talking negatively about it is the least of the problems you will face. We probably all should denigrate it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Start up vs. Product manager

In the last post, some guy left a question in the comments about the fact that he is straight out of the lab and has an offer to be a product manager. Wants to know what to expect. AND also has an idea for a start up and wants to know about that.

So - to deal with the start up first. If it is in the Bio area, and you have no business experience, I wish you the best of luck. It is possible that your idea is THAT good. I don't know. I would doubt it and would guess you have a long road ahead of you making errors.

THAT SAID - if you believe in it and can't live without doing it and don't mind working your butt off and probably not making any money - worst case -> you will come out of that with a lot of great experience. Best Case -> you get rich. Only you can make this call.

Product manager.
Entry to the business world. There are at least two jobs that dress themselves up as product managers. One is a tactical role and the other is strategic.

In a tactical role, you will be doing things like putting flyers together, scouting the competitions pricing and running promotions to combat them etc... You will have minimal involvement in product development and will really only be focussed on the next 3 months. You will give feedback to the strategic folks and hope that your ideas lead to a product. There will, likely, be a bit of friction there for everyone to overcome.

In a strategic role, you will not be too involved in the day to day stuff. You may get sucked in to some sales training (depends on the company) but will likely be mostly focussed on what products do we make next. How much can we charge for them? How much will they cost to make, and can we make any money at that price? Those last questions translate to "should we make them".

At many of the companies, and I have an idea about who you could be going to, the roles are blended. There are not seperate folks for the strategic and the tactical. I think this is the best place to learn as you can see what you like and don't like. A general idea would be that the bigger the company, the more "silo'd" people are. Break through 1000 people, and there is likely a split between tactical and Strategic. Below 500 - there probably isn't. In between - All bets off.

He also asked if his shot at getting offers from other places is good. Hard to say without seeing your resume, but I would likely go with the first offer I got just to get in the game (what I actually did when I got in to it). Getting a second job will be MUCH easier with the first one out of the way. If you want out of the lab, I would get out of the lab.

You guess at 80-90K for the pay. I wouldn't rule that out, but as someone just coming out of school you might drop in to the 70's. Depends on the company and what the bonus looks like (i.e. lower salary may have higher bonus - not guaranteed but I would expect it).

I like places with growth, and would be attracted to that. No matter what - you will learn a lot. I would get on with that learning and not wait around.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Benefits...and why don't people use them.

As part of the acquisition, toward the end, I got involved in making sure that we paid out the right people for the right things and looked after people so they didn't get really pissed off. I learned some things that blew me away.

Most people in the company did not make use of our attempts to give them free money.

Example: Many did not contribute the amount to their 401K that we match to. This means, in essence, that they didn't want to accept money that the company was trying to give them for free. These were not bottom of the payroll type people either, so it wasn't that they couldn't afford it, it was that they didn't pay attention and figure it out.

Another Example: ESPP. Stands for Employee Stock Purchase Plan. In essence, the company is trying to give you stock that you can sell, that day, for a 15% increase in price. Sell it that way, and figure that you pay 50% in taxes, you still make and automatic 7%. That is WORST case. If, during the 3 or 6 month period (companies do it differently) the stock of the company went up, you make more. SO - in the worst case you make 7%. In the best case you make...more. Not taking this bet is just a silly financial decision. Again, most people don't take advantage of this. Absolutly nuts.

Please don't let this be you. I will be embarrassed for you. Your HR people are making fun of you, but they are a bit limited in the amount they can push on you or ask you. They can't force you to be bright, but trust me - they are laughing at you for not doing it.

You won't find and HR person not doing these things.


So, we got acquired. It is all done now except for all the integration. A bit like saying a football game is over because the first play ended. Quite a bit of the game left... But for me, I am busy again.

There is this weird period where the deal has been announced, but you haven't formally been acquired yet. You are, but you are not, done. In this period, for someone in business development, you can't really get much done. As long as the deal moves ahead, you can't really get much else through. The new buyers may not want to do something, but you aren't legally allowed to really get in to it and figure it out. So....you get bored.

Then you go on job interviews. Or at least I did. A bunch of other people did as well. Some left, but not really too many people and not really anybody who mattered too much. I got offers. I thought about it real hard. I talked to the guy who would be my new boss. I thought some more. I talked to my wife a LOT. I decided to stay. That boils about 3 weeks of a bit of trauma down to a nice paragraph.

So...Don't have to relocate. Do have to meet a bunch of new people. Do have to figure out the politics of a new company (because I am sure they exist, I just don't know the rules yet or where the bodies are buried).

Should be fun... Now I am getting the big big company perspective.