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

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Overseas experience?

From two posts back, asking about overseas experience, in the comments - got this

My department is getting changed about and there is an opportunity for someone to run all of Europe as Product Manager or stay in the US at the headquarters for the same role. Which lends itself to more advanced career advancement? Autonomy at HQ, close to the Big Cheeses or responsibility separate but isolated in Europe?

I have been traveling a lot, and unable to update the blog, but that isn't the reason I have been slow to answer this question. The truth of the matter is that I have waffled very hard on the answer. I have argued (to myself) both sides of this. SO - please take that in to account that I don't even agree with myself.

Here are the issues as I see them.
  • Going over seas just for the sake of being overseas (strictly speaking work wise here, not general life experience) is probably not worth it.
  • What will you learn? If there is an expansion of opportunity (i.e. you will get responsibility that you won't get in the US) then it is likely a good thing? You say "same role" in your comment, but I don't ever think that is 100% true.
  • Does the company have a good track record of bringing people back from overseas? or is that where people get sent to die? If it is the metaphorical version of being sent to Siberia - then don't do it. If all of the senior people in your company have been overseas for a posting, and you think you will be staying at that company for awhile - get your butt on an airplane.
  • Are you traveling overseas for work a lot right now? if yes, that can give you a flavor. Make sure you "know" the rest of the world exists at all times or you are likely to be very surprised when something happens. If you aren't getting that opportunity right now, then an overseas posting is probably a good idea.
  • Living overseas has a lot of benefits as far as expanding your mind. There are annoyances and upsides, but overall you will be a more rounded person (outside of work).
  • You will expand your network in ways that US only based people will NOT be able to. You will, therefore, get information and have contacts that purely US based people will never have.
SO - I have absolutely no good answer for you. For me, I haven't and don't have plans to work overseas. Others around me have. I don't think they have a big advantage over me, but I spend a lot of time overseas anyway. Our CEO was based overseas for awhile early in his career, but those around him haven't been.

Kind of a toss up. If you have no family/life issues preventing you from doing it - that likely means you are early in your career, and I would likely do it. That is when I would have done it and am actually a little bummed I didn't get the chance then.

Sales experience for an app Scientist job

From my previous post, there were some questions in the comments. Will deal with them in two seperate posts.

I am less than a month away from submitting my PhD, and am frustrated with bench work. I am very interested in begining a career in industry, and specifically looking at applicaiton scientist roles.

As you yourself have said, you always hire through recruiters, however, all the ones I've spoken to keep telling me that I'll have real trouble getting a position straight out of my PhD. One of them has refused to put me forward to any of the companies she has as clients. Another one has done so, as my experience matches exactly what the client needs, but told me in effect not to hold my breath. Apparently I have to go through sales first. I don't beleive that is so, but perhaps I am misguided.

I should point out that I am in the UK, so the market here is probably different from the US, but what are your thoughts about this?

I couldn't disagree with what you are being told any more strongly than I do. "go through sales first".... ummm.. NO - I wouldn't hire you in to an app scientist role if you had been through sales first. At that point you have been taken too far away from the bench.

"not right"is very odd. In looking at our app scientists, they are all straight from Ph.D. At other companies I know of, that is mostly true as well. Several have done post docs, but far from a majority. Several don't have a Ph.D. - so that is pretty much the opposite of what you are being told.

I am looking world wide when I say this. I have full visibility in to Europe, China, and India - so this is certainly not a US only issue. I would say ex-US that it is critical that you have a Ph.D. as I don't currently see any non-Ph.D's. In the US it seems to be a lot less of an issue.

Straight out of the Ph.D. it WILL TAKE A LONG TIME to get a job. You don't know anyone, you have nothing in your favor with regards to work experience etc.... It took me 4 months, and I got VERY lucky. Others have taken 5/6/7 months.

Hang in there... you will be told NO an awful lot. I hated bench work as much as it sounds like you did - it gets better!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Random questions I remember being asked...

People have asked a couple of other questions, and I tried to save them, but they are all buried in comments on old posts. SO - some random answers that I think are linked to comments that are posted that I can't immediately find... AND - some commentary on some other things going on.

I went to the BIO trade show in San Diego. It is unlike any other show I have ever been to. For example - lunches were served and the speakers were governors of states (Mass. and CA. for example). For the night time parties, they rented out several city blocks (the gas lamp distict) or an aircraft carrier (state of Georgia did that...) UNREAL. The freebies were absurd. In between all of that party stuff was serious business. I met with approximately 12 billion people. All of your major countries and universities and companies were there with business development people. An unbelievable business environment. There was a good talk track as well - but I have to say the reason to be there was for the meetings and not for the talks.

Salary questions
I have realized I can't really answer these. I have given some guidance in the past, but it is such a location dependent, year dependent thing that I don't really think it is helpful. Industry pays better than academia in the US - not sure what else can be said about that. Look for more on salaries in my next post.

"Can I do this...."
Yes. Don't remember the exact questions being asked, but it is likely you can do it. IF you can make a convincing story about why you will be able to do it and how you are qualified. The question really is how long you want to wait and how hard you will push and where you can move to. Someone is, if it is a good idea, likely to let you do it. Answering these questions is really hard, as there are so many other factors that come in to play. The post previous to this one answers one of them, and you see that it is very detail specific.

Bachelors + 3yrs experience vs. Ph.D.

from way back here, on my original post about being an application scientist, I got asked a question about.... well read below here.

I am working for an Australian biotech company based in Brisbane. I graduated from my research honours program 3 years ago now, originally with the intention of going back and doing a PhD after I got some industry experience and some ideas/direction under my belt.

I took a lab level job in the genetics field and have been promoted a few times through the product development team for a year and have now spent a year managing key customers in what is essentially an applications scientist position in a company that sells services/information.

I feel that I will end up stuck in this position forever as the structure is very flat and there is essentially 1-2 middle aged guys above me and then the vice president above them, no where for me to go really. Also I keep getting pulled in to other areas to solve internal operations problems etc, as I am still in touch with what the lab is doing, but I don't want to do this anymore.

I have been looking at some of the advertised applications scientist, field applications specialist etc and feel that I could do these jobs as I have extensive experience with all of the platforms listed and have proven my ability to learn new things in my current/previous positions.

Some of these positions require a PhD OR a Masters with 3 years experience. Do you think someone with an honours degree and 3 years biotech experience in a similar role has a chance? Any advice on how you think I could improve my chances would be greatly appreciated. Ideally I would like to end up in a business development or marketing role.
I cut out the beginning stuff about how great I am...

But to answer the questions. If they are willing to take a masters + 3yrs experience, then I think you are as qualified. Many masters degrees just require a bunch of classes and no bench work (and many require bench work). As a hiring manager, I have no idea if your masters required bench work, and will only know if asked. If I am looking for a position that requires a bunch of bench work + analytical thinking + some years - I am very likely to put "Ph.D. preferred" in the job description. Personally, when I write that, I kind of screen for it automatically. I will fully agree with you that I am missing good people that way, but I have to put some filter on there and that is as good as any.

Back to your question... Do I think you are qualified. Yes. 3 years in a small organization has likely forced you to learn a bunch of random things. Your description says as much. Make sure you play that up.

I think your next role is in product management/marketing. Take your ability to work in a lab - add in field experience - and you should be able to tell a good story to anyone looking for entry level marketing.

Go Lakers...


Way late on that. Boston handed them their rears....

Been buried in work. Now a flurry of comments and updates.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Technology? - failing in scouting...

I have spent very large chunks of the last two weeks at two meetings here in San Diego. FASEB and AACR. My goal was the same as always... find new stuff and talk to people. I should say I haven't been to conferences in awhile, as I got caught up in a bunch of M+A stuff and this part of my job got deprecated. Went to these two just to see new stuff. Don't want to miss the "new".


Total disappointment.

Nothing new.

In fact. Really nothing new. I did not, in all of the posters I looked at (and I think I looked at, quickly mind you, every poster at AACR and FASEB). I am good at looking at posters quickly and recognizing what techniques were used. Read every title to see what questions were asked. Scan figure legends if it doesn't immediately register as to what they are doing...


I talked to some of the people I work with saying "i got nothing, have been out of the loop for a year - am i totally missing?" and the general response was "no- thats the way it is right now". It seems, and this is the really big view, that new techniques aren't really being pushed right now. There is a lot of incremental improvement, ways to make things faster, etc... but I am not seeing discontinuous innovation. I know it is out there, I just can't find it and it annoys me. OR its not there at all right now. Everyone is catching up with the technology they have. They can answer a ton of questions that was unlocked by the last round of things and are still really figuring out how to use that technology- SO - they don't need new.

My bet is on the "just figuring out the old" for right now (and note - my definition of old in this context is like 4 years ago). There is a lot of making instruments cheaper going on, which drives the measurements possible in to more and more labs (good thing, but doesn't help with my "new" problem).

Overall, a bit of a disappointment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

..some more travel

I was surveyed by United Airlines recently. They were happy with my travel for this year. Last year I flew 35K miles on them and I am just over 70k already this year. They were thanking me and asking what they can do etc... I told them. I think I surprised the woman as she kept coming back to "you are one of our most loyal customers" etc... I tried to explain, but don't think she ever got it, that I fly you because I have to not because I want to. My company gets good rates from you and you go where I need. As you can see from my recent post, I fly Virgin America whenever I can.

My two favorite airlines are Virgin America and Jet Blue. Unfortunatly they don't go international and they don't go, directly, where I need them to. I would rather be a bit uncomfortable (although now I am in upgrade a lot territory) than take an extra hop.

The loyalty program itself didn't do much for me until recently they added the ability to buy things. Now, using miles, I got a new GPS for the car for my wife and am getting a Wii. This is, I think, the best use of airmiles yet, as the last thing I really want to do is get on a plane for vacation.

Tough economic times

The recent headlines all over the papers are about how the economy is crashing, dogs and cats living together, and how we are all doomed.

Many corporations are looking at this and taking big steps to deal. Affy decided to move it's manufacturing to Singapore (although, it just guided down for the year and got it's stock smacked by 35% today). You see, in far less obvious ways, most of the other companies doing this as well.

Against that backdrop, I don't see the weakness in the pharma and biotech companies. They are still buying and still looking for stuff. In the smaller companies, I still see them out there and trying to get stuff together. They are still asking for a bazillion dollars to be acquired.

Just a weird disconnect that I am seeing. Not sure whether the sky is really falling or whether it just hasn't yet fallen on the companies I am looking at. At some point, hopefully they are aligned.

learning outside of your box

Today over at Derek's blog, he is writing about learning outside of your field. He talks about chemists learning biology etc... I had talked here awhile ago about "learning others languages" in a post that I can't find. My basic idea was that lawyers have their own vocabulary. Chemists have theirs, and biologists have theirs. Learning the "new" vocabulary lets you talk to those people more quickly. In order to learn their vocabulary, you have to learn what they do. It is totally invaluable. It leads to promotions. It leads everywhere upwards. I just recently got given more stuff. The reason I was given the group was because we need them to operate across some silo's we have. I speak both languages...so am one of the few who can break that wall down.

There are some people who just won't or can't do this. They have their little area of expertise and won't expand out. You need those folks, as frequently they are really good at what they do. However, they won't be moving up the chain.

The further up you get, the more different groups report in to you. The more "languages" you speak, the better/quicker you will understand what they are talking about (and when they are full of it). In addition, you more rapidly can solve the problems if you understand what is normal for an area, what they expect, how they think, and what they are trying to do.

SO... for those thinking it is just good for your science... it is also really good for your career.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

....and yes, my travel has ramped way back up!

My travel had fallen for awhile but has no ramped way way way way back up. I am over 40K miles flown this year already. This means I am writing less and, as seen by the last two posts, am back focussed on the things that make my life easier on the road.

I have read a couple of the comments recently with people getting jobs and joining in this fun. Welcome to the dark side! As you can read here, it has it's ups and downs.

Virgin America

....will be trying them out in a week or two. Heard good reports - stay tuned!

TripIt rules


I was directed here by Joel Spolsky's blog, and he was right. It is great. It is now how I print out, track, organize, and share with my wife my itinerary's. It is, possibly, the only way she knows where I am.

Yes, I am totally digital and have a blackberry - but while driving down the freeway or in a foreign country, it is just easier to have worked it all out ahead of time when you weren't sleep messed up and stressed out and hungry.

Heavily recommended to any who travel quite a bit.

You couple that with Skype, and the fact that I carry a small webcam, and it is almost like being a little bit home. I do manage to see my daughter for bedtime almost every night. The fact that she enjoys turning on the special effects and making me in to a sheep/vampire/snowstorm/etc... is secondary...

Saturday, February 02, 2008

What is after application scientist?

From comments in the last post...
I was just reading up on all your comments about Application Scientist positions. I have just joined a company in Boston as an Application Scientist after a 2yr post doc in NYC. I like my job so far, but I am at a loss as to what is the next step in the career of an Application Scientist... Is there anyone out there who has successfully transitioned into a better position from being an Application Scientist? I would be very interested in knowing since I am looking to start a family in about a couple of years or so and would like to spend a lot less time travelling

I talked a little bit about this way back here, but worth talking about again.

You do a lot of things. I went from App scientist, quickly through marketing, and in to business development. A LOT of people go to marketing next and stay there for quite a while. I would say marketing is the number 1 destination really. I have seen some go back to the lab (uncommon but not unheard of), seen 2 leave science completly (the travel made them hate the whole concept of science and I would agree that was odd), and a couple of others go to sales.

In really thinking through the previous paragraph, Sales and Marketing are really the top choices, with marketing having a sizable lead there. The others are just random things that occur.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

So Cal Salary...

From a comment

Hello.. I'm the originator of the big Application Scientist offer in L.A.

Turns out I didn't accept their offer. They needed someone pronto to run an installation overseas and I couldn't meet their start deadline. However, I wasn't too upset because I still think their final salary offer of $72500 with no bonus program and no commission was too low for the SoCal area.

Which leads me to a dilemma... the company has recently gotten back in touch with me and wants me to interview again for the position. I am not in desperate need of the job (I have several interviews lined up) but I am curious on my leverage with them. I would assume salary negotiations are back open. How far can I push?? I am fairly sure that commission isn't going to be apart of it, and vacation at 2 wks/yr will be standard. I would need a 5K relo or starting bonus. Any ballpark guesses for base salary for L.A. on a app sci position with ~50% international travel?

Thanks for the support. The company obviously wants me but I don't want to blow a deal.

I don't have a good answer for this, and put off answering (bad bad me...). I think at this point you have to decide what you want. Ask for that. See what happens. Worst case - they say no. Then you are right back where you started.

Realize this isn't great advice, but its the best I've got right now...

Go pats...

Getting Raises....

I have, over time, heard of all of the strategies for getting raises. I have always been a bit skeptical of them, as they seemed to involve some sort of trickery or having to sell or something. Never used them but do think I have been very succesful in moving forward. Recently, I got to see another person go for a raise. I will talk about him...

He is an above average person who works "near" me. Doesn't work for me, but his boss and I work closely together and are friends. We were on the road travelling and having a few beers at night and he really started to ask questions about where the company is headed, where his group is headed, and where he was headed. Interesting. Filed away in head (and questions were answered as best could be). Next day, talking while sitting in an airport, he mentioned that he had an offer on the table from one of our competitors and asked what I thought he should do. We went through the +'s and -'s of the two positions. When asked about this I am, generally, very blunt in the assessment. I will not talk you in to staying.

He heard me. When spelt out it was pretty clear staying was better than leaving. SO - next day he went in to his boss's office, told her the whole thing (knowing I had already briefed her, as I told him I would and you as the worker should expect to happen anyway) and said "now I know my market rate and worth. If you can match, I will stay. It isn't really about the money, but I do now have a sense of what I am worth".

We matched. Gave him 10 minutes to accept. He accepted. Done. insta-raise.

Couple of points to make.
1. You have to be good. If your boss doesn't respect you and think you are great, this likely won't work.
2. You have to be real about leaving. He was. He didn't say anything to that effect, but his reputation is one of keeping his word (which really leads to point 1 above....). If we hadn't matched, I fully expect him to have walked. He didn't say it. He didn't threaten it. He did none of that. Just stated "this is my market rate, please match".
3. Playing games doesn't work. He didn't and he got a decent raise out of it.

I have received two pretty decent raises in the last year. Neither of them have I really asked for. I just work my butt off. It seems easier than playing a game to get them.