Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Career advice: finding your place in a biocluster

Author: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA

Bioclusters, formal and informal networks of parties with a common bioscience commercialization interest, usually in a defined geographic area, consist of four sectors: industries (mostly medical-device and biotech/pharmaceuticals); service providers; academic, private and government research and development labs; and public-sector regulatory and economic-development agencies.

There are lots of opportunities to work in the biocluster if you have an advanced bioscience or medical degree. Such jobs include:

  • Technical writing
  • Science writing
  • Publishing
  • Broadcast journalism
  • Venture capitalist
  • Investment analyst
  • Investment banker
  • Business development professional
  • Entrepreneur
  • Consultant
  • Regulatory affairs profession
  • Patent agent
  • Clinical research scientist
  • Technology transfer professional
  • Corporate communications
  • Biomedical sales and marketing
  • Executive search professional
  • Policy administrator
  • Research funding administration
  • Government agency administrator
  • Business information services

Finding a job in your biocluster is a three-stage process. The first part is about doing research on the cluster and understanding the opportunities in companies that are trying to commercialize life-science ideas. The second part is about assessing your motivations, your knowledge, and your skills, attitudes and experience—and determining which might need improvement. Finally, the third part is about finding the fit between what you like to do and do best and the opportunity to do it. This final part requires networking, finding a mentor, filling in the gaps and finding the right job.

Part 1: Where do you want to go: Researching the cluster

Bioclusters are growing in almost every state and offer you several opportunities for a job. There are several elements to the cluster. They include basic R&D, biotechnology/pharma, medical devices, agricultural biotechnology and service providers supporting those industries. In addition, there are other clusters that interface with biotech such as information technology, photonics, nanotechnology and telecommunications.

Your first task is to connect to the network and meet the people who can help you. Here are some suggestions:

  • Study the websites of your local technology trade associations. They all sponsor educational and networking events for you to attend. These sites will also have membership directories that will list companies in the area with contact information.
  • Contact the Technology Transfer Offices at your local universities and see if you can volunteer to help them with projects.
  • Contact any consulates in your area and explore international collaborations.
  • Check the websites for local chapters of Regulatory Affairs Societies, the Product Development and Management Association, and angel and investor sites.
  • Refine your networking skills, update your resume and carry professionally printed business cards with updated contact information.
  • Meet with the knowledge brokers in the cluster and begin to form a network.
  • Attend the annual biotechnology cluster meetings within and outside of your area.
  • Continue to educate yourself on emerging technologies in the cluster and improving your people skills.
  • Get additional business or entrepreneurship education.
  • Consider consulting a professional career coach who specializes in nonclinical career counseling.

Part 2: Where are you now: doing a self assessment and filling in the gaps

Your ability to find a job in the biocluster will depend on your biomedical background, your business and legal knowledge and skills, your experience in working in a commercial life science enterprise, and your people and leadership skills. If you have limited experience in working with a company or you do not have the necessary business, legal or people skills, concentrate on developing them by practicing, getting coaching, attending seminars or courses and networking.

a) Get more education

There are three levels of bioentrepreneurship education:

  • Introductory: For those who don't know what they don't know, need some basic exposure to the cluster and are thinking about making a change.
  • Intermediate: For those who have an idea that is partly developed and needs further refinement in the form of a feasibility plan or business plan.
  • Advanced: You have funding and need to execute a plan.

There are several places to go for education offering programs to students at each level: business schools and entrepreneurship centers, trade associations, university technology transfer offices, law-firm educational events, and venture capital conferences and angel-network events.

b) Get some experience

Having a terminal science or business degree, however, is not enough. You'll need some experience to differentiate yourself from the other candidates. But how do you get around the job-experience “catch 22”?

  • Agree to work even if it's for free
  • Volunteer to do some part-time work in a university technology transfer office
  • Take advantage of the services offered by your university career services office.
  • Find a company that will offer you an internship. It will cost you in time and effort, but the experience should be worth the price.

c) Improve your people skills and emotional intelligence

Life-science employers are looking for leaders and team players who have a demonstrated track record. While your educational background and experience might get you to the first rung of the ladder, your people skills will determine whether you can climb the rungs. Do a self-assessment of your emotional intelligence skills and then practice improving them or consider hiring a career coach to help you with the process.

d) Network, Network, Network

Part 3: How do you want to get there: Implementing your plan

If you have done the first two parts, you have probably gone through several ideas of what you think would work best for you. When you have decided on a good fit, try to ease into it and experiment with different roles. Don't give up your day job until you have a good comfort level with your choice and have developed a trusting relationship with those offering you an opportunity. Finding the right the job will depend mostly on relationships. In addition, if you are over 45 years old, you will face age bias and need some strategies to counteract it (Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2006):

  • Prepare a resume that emphasizes your strengths rather that chronology
  • Speed your search using new Internet tools
  • Enlarge your network and follow up feelers promptly
  • Polish your pitch by soliciting feedback from friends, career coaches, interviewers, etc. Use for help
  • Check for a list of local and national jobs
  • Polish your interviewing and personal communication skills

Career experts claim you will need to make 100 contacts to get 10 interviews to get one job. Be prepared to learn from your mistakes and change course if need be.

You will need to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, so start small; have contingency plans in case things don't work out; and be persistent.

About the author:

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA , President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, is Professor of Otolaryngology, Dentistry and Engineering at the University of Colorado Denver. He is the cofounder of four companies and is a consultant to several life science, IT and investment firms. Dr. Meyers is a former Harvard-Macy Fellow, a National Library of Medicine Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar and was names as one of the 50 most influential healthcare executives of 2011 by Modern Healthcare Magazine.

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