Transitioning from a postdoctoral fellow to a scientist in industry

When I decided to interview PhDs who have successfully gone on to acquire positions in 2016-11-17-photo-00004646different sectors upon completion of their postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Sunetra Biswas was my first choice. Sunetra and I were in the same lab at Johns Hopkins. Besides the fact that she is one of my best friends, I know how hard she worked as a graduate student, and as a postdoc. I also know she would be 100% honest about her journey. I hope my questions and her answers provide some insight for anyone out there currently applying for jobs in industry.

Sunetra was a postdoctoral fellow for 2 years before getting hired as a Senior Research Associate Scientist for a pharmaceutical company in California.

1. How long was the process from application to job offer?

For my current job, it took around 5 days to hear back from the recruiter after I applied. I had the offer about 2 weeks after that.

2. Does your company offer H1-B visa sponsorships?

Yes, they recently started to. However, it is on a case by case basis.

3. What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I work for a smaller company so I was pretty much thrown into a fast paced environment from the beginning.  At any given moment, I’m working on 2-3 projects and on average, I work 10 hours/day.

4. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the fact that our work is translational and truly affects patient therapy. Working at this company gives me perspective. I also enjoy being part of a young team of motivated individuals.

5. What do you miss most about being in an academic setting?

I think I mostly miss keeping up with current literature, which is an important aspect of being an academic.

6. What do you miss the least about academia?

Lack of funding to purchase reagents for experiments.

7. If you had to do the PhD/Postdoc process all over, what would you do differently?

I would network more during my Ph.D (definitely by my 3rd year). I would have attended more career fairs. Also, I think it’s important to learn scientific techniques that are critical for the pharmaceutical industry setting. Fringe techniques are only good for careers in academia. By fringe, I mean techniques that may require a lot of expertise or skill but are not scalable or easily automated. Also, I would have established more relationships with senior graduate students to help build my future network.

8. Where do you see your career heading in the next 5 years

I am very excited about the direction the company I work for is heading. I hope to develop my career further here and eventually move into managing junior scientists.

9. What advice do you have for current job seekers regarding job search strategies?

Do your research! I got my job without an internal reference so it is possible to get hired by applying online. Find growing companies and startups as  they have a greater hiring capacity compared to larger, more established companies. It is my experience that larger companies often have internal candidates for their posted positions.

A good source for identifying growing companies is to pay closer attention to biotech investor news. This will help you identify  companies on the rise. I found that Biospace , Monster and other job search sites were quite useless during my job search. Also, always directly apply on the company’s website, even if the positions are posted to sites like Indeed.  Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated, and list all the skills you have and think are useful for industry. Some of these skills may include: PCR, Flow cytometry, ELISA, cloning and cell based assays.

10. What should job seekers consider during the the job application process?

It’s a process. Apply to multiple positions within a company. They will consider you for the best fit. Make a schedule to apply for at least 2-3 positions a day with tailored resumes. It’s quite a task, but think of it as a full time job. Apply to any jobs which list techniques in your area of expertise. Apply for positions that list education requirements as “Masters and up”, if they don’t specifically list PhDs as required or preferred education.

11. Do you have any interview tips to share? 

Know your resume well. Do not put anything in there that you are not prepared to talk about. Read about the company and prepare multiple questions to ask them. For example, using your knowledge on recent partnerships, you could ask about their interest in forging into this a new sector. Play to your strengths and do not BS on answers. Also, be prepared to answer in detail about any techniques you outline in your resume.

In my experience, I find that there’s a fine line between confidence and aggression. Coming across as aggressive sends a message that you cannot be trained/ mentored. Make eye contact and be confident in your answers. Always prepare pointers about how you can help the company with your skills. An example would be if you’ve helped set up a new lab, translate that into setting up new instruments and establishing new techniques.

12. How much, if at all would you say networking played a role in you getting this position? 

It didn’t play a role for me, but current wisdom demands the need for networking. Become a part of institutional and national organizations for scientists like the National Postdoctoral Association, the Association for Women In Science. Get involved with local chapters and attend events. Get in touch with alumni. Networking was not natural for me, but I did attend AWIS events and got to meet women who have made the transition to industry.

13. Do you have any final words of advice and encouragement for current postdocs?

There are lots of stories about how people got their jobs. Everyone has to chart their own course. Your current job will keep you busy and it’s easy to procrastinate for your next position, but the longer you wait, you get more engrained in academia.

In summary:

The skills that we typically take for granted as postdocs are probably the skills we need to highlight on our resumes.

Treat your job search like a full time job, apply for 2-3 jobs a day with tailored resumes highlighting your areas of expertise.

An important part of the job search is researching growing companies by keeping up with biotech investor news.

When you do get the interview, be confident, not aggressive. 

Most importantly…DON’T PROCRASTINATE!