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Archives for February 2013

Fixing The Disconnect Between Academia And Industry: 6 Practical Solutions


Today, employers are no longer looking for a great brain and a world of potential. They’re looking for that one CV that lists the skills they need right now — not after 6 months of training. ~Dave Jensen

There’s a disconnect between academic research and industry research. The two don’t fit together well. Lack of experience is the problem. You can get all the way to a Ph.D. and then realize you don’t have marketable experience. ~Kevin Foley

On Feb 17, 2012, Dave Jensen wrote an article titled: “Tooling Up: The Big Disconnect.” Since then, not much has changed in terms of the science job market, and there needs to be more articles that address the problem and propose practical solutions.

With that in mind, I have previously written about how to Bridge the Gap Between Academia and Industry. I have also written a How-To Networking Guide for Grad Students and Post Docs (Part 2 Series Coming Soon), so that you can Stand out From the Crowd (written by Doug Kalish).

But we still need to go a step further and address the disconnect between academia and the current job market. Why? Alternative non-traditional career options need to be available for those who are stuck in the post-doc loop and need a way out. Therefore, making the jump from Academia to Industry (and other fields such as Finance, Law, Government, WritingVenture Capital, Consulting, Entrepreneurship, Sales, Technology Transfer) is the first step, and the fact of the matter is that PhDs lack the marketable skills to be able to cross-over. This article addresses those concerns.

This is a guest post by Cliff Mintz, addressing the “Disconnect” between academia and other non-traditional fields (industry is used as an example), and what we can do about it. Cliff Mintz is the founder of BioInsights a biopharmaceutical education and training organization, a co-founder of BioCrowd a social networking and career development website for bioprofessionals and author of BioJobBlog.

Cliff also teaches product development and regulatory affairs in several biotechnology training programs and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Georgetown Medical School. Dr. Mintz has been invited speaker at numerous symposia and bioscience meetings focused on social media, career development and education and training.

The Disconnect

Dave Jensen’s article in a recent edition of Science Careers entitled “Tooling Up: The Big Disconnect” aptly and cogently pointed out why it has become increasingly difficult for academically-trained PhD life scientists to find jobs in the life sciences industry.

Dave is spot on in his assertion that most life science hiring managers engage in what he terms “pinpoint hiring”— a practice in which employees are hired based on their extant skill sets rather than long term scientific potential and possible contribution to the success of a company. In the good old days before globalization, companies would frequently hire the “best and the brightest”, train them and take the long view that well trained employees will ultimately benefit and add value to their organization. Unfortunately, those days are long gone. Today’s mantra is “what can you do for me today because there may not be a tomorrow.”

As Dave rightly points out, graduate students and postdocs are simply not being trained to meet the needs and demands of most life science companies. An essential ingredient that is missing from current training paradigms is a fundamental understanding of the life sciences industry and how it works.

Put simply, students who lack a basic understanding of the pharmaceutical/biotechnology drug development processes will find it increasingly difficult to land an industrial job; regardless of the number of Cell, Science and Nature papers or where you may have received your graduate or postdoctoral training.

In his article, Dave asserts that determining (as early a possible) that an industrial career is right for you may be your ticket to success. Unfortunately, while conducting informational interviews and landing a competitive unpaid (or paid) company internship may be helpful, only small numbers of graduate students and postdocs have the flexibility or access to these activities.

More importantly, most academic researchers engage in basic rather than applied research (which is what life sciences companies are looking for). Consequently, while many students view industry jobs as possible employment opportunities, there simply may not be enough PI or mentors who can help to acquire the applied skill sets demanded by most life sciences hiring managers.

6 Practical Solutions

By now, many of you may be thinking: okay we know about the problems how about some practical solutions. So, here goes:

1. There are many online biotechnology courses and certificate-earning biotechnology/pharmaceutical/regulatory affairs courses at local community colleges that graduate students and postdocs can take. (Yes, I know that you are extremely busy and working 80 hours plus in the lab, but it is your career and nobody else can do if for you.)

These courses will provide graduate students and postdoc interested in industrial careers with a basic understanding of how the life sciences industry functions. Also, these courses can provide a rich lexicon of industrial jargon—when correctly used in a face-to-face job interview — can make a difference between a job offer or not.

2. Graduate students and postdocs can work together to organize career development symposium, seminars and workshops to obtain a better understanding of the requisite skill sets and training required to improve their competitiveness for industrial jobs.


3rd Annual UW-Madison  Postdoctoral Conference on Professional Development

Theme: Taking Charge of Your Career

When: Saturday,  April 6th, 2013

Where: Microbial Sciences Building, 1550 Linden Drive

Dr. Phil Clifford – Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Education, Professor of  Anesthesiology and Physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and founding  member of the Advisory Board of the National Postdoctoral Association – will  kick off the third annual UW-Madison Postdoctoral Conference with an  interactive plenary session about how to take charge of your career by  creating a professional ‘game plan’.

Dr. Clifford presentation will be followed by two Career  Panel sessions; each session will have three panels: academic careers,  industry/biotech research careers, and non-traditional career paths. Panelists  will share their experiences, outline options available in their professions,  and provide insight on how to determine and achieve career goals.

A series of afternoon breakout sessions will offer the  opportunity to learn about specific skills needed when entering the job market,  including CV/résumé building, grant writing, interviewing and networking. The conference is hosted by the Graduate School.

3. There are a number of PhD programs that now offer joint degrees in science, business and other disciplines. Choosing to enroll in these programs rather than traditional graduate life sciences programs may be an option for students who already know that an industrial rather than an academic career path is right for them.

4. Organize and then talk to college administration to demand that changes be made to existing graduate training paradigms to improve job preparedness. To that end, it would not be unreasonable to request that alternate career training courses (regulatory affairs, medical writing, project management, etc.) be offered to all graduate students and postdocs who may be interested.

Also, it may be appropriate (depending upon geographical location of an institution) to request that formal industry-focused company internships are established to allow interested and qualified graduate students and postdocs to participate.

5. Request that all faculty members be required to engage in career development counseling to help them to better understand the job market realities that their graduate students and post docs are currently facing. While this may sound like an odd request, it is important to remember that tenured professors are guaranteed a “job for life.”

Consequently, most of them are not particularly concerned about whether or not their PhD students or postdocs find gainful employment after they leave their laboratories. Sadly, many of them (and perhaps rightly so) believe that finding a job is not their problem but yours!

The Grad Student Way’s Personal and “Practical” Solution:

6. I will chime in and say that the most practical solution for myself was to obtain a paid internship (at a life science company) during my time in graduate school. I think it is CRUCIAL and I cannot stress enough that graduate students and post-docs should take a summer off and obtain industry experience (if that is the route you wish to take). That way you will come out with real-world industry experience and some marketable skills. You need to negotiate and leverage this in any way that you can.

The first step to land an internship position is to do informational interviews and start networking. I cannot stress that enough. You can read more about informational interviews here. My part 2 series of How To Network and Add Value to Yourself and Others will be releasing soon and I will go into great detail of what specific informational interview questions you can ask and how to become an expert informational interviewer.

Author Bio

Clifford S. Mintz, PhD., has an extensive background in biopharmaceutical drug development, biotechnology training and bioscience career development. Dr. Mintz has held a variety of positions including stints as a medical school professor, professional recruiter management consultant and medical/science writer.

Cliff is the founder of BioInsights a biopharmaceutical education and training organization, a co-founder of BioCrowd a social networking and career development website for bioprofessionals and author of BioJobBlog. He teaches product development and regulatory affairs in several biotechnology training programs and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Georgetown Medical School. Dr. Mintz has been invited speaker at numerous symposia and bioscience meetings focused on social media, career development and education and training.

Cliff received a B.S. in microbiology/animal science from Cornell University, a Ph.D. in Bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and performed his post-doctoral studies at Oregon Health Sciences University and the College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University.

Currently a freelance writer, blogger and speaker at career fairs and professional meetings. Also a social media enthusiast, co-founder of the social networking site BioCrowd and a general all-around ‘good guy’ (that’s what people tell him anyway).

You can contact him at this address and follow him on Twitter @biojobblog

The GradStudentWay and BioJobBlog wants to hear from YOU!

Others have suggested “professionalizing” the post-doc. What do you think? Do we need more ways and ideas of coming up with better, more sound and practical solutions?

Further Reading:

  1. View This Discussion On LinkedIn In the PhD Careers Outside of Academia Group (must be member to view)
  2. Or Download the PDF Version Here

Skeptical PhDs: Recent Comments and Misconceptions

What is the Grad Student Way All About?

Reader Comment #1 (You are unhappy):

Here’s my 2 cents of honest advice to you. Realize that you do not go into any career thinking about money, but for the satisfaction of work. If I was you, I would rather spend my energy and resources on making my life what I want it to be. You are clearly unhappy in graduate school and you are spreading propaganda on your website to bring down other graduate students who might be genuinely interested in doing scientific research, which again is the main reason why you should be in grad school in the first place.

No one forced you to go to grad school and no one is forcing you to stay in grad school. There is no guarantee that a PhD will get you more money and happiness down the road. So personally, you should focus on the next step rather than constantly complaining about your current situation. Honestly, people who DO NOT want to be in grad school should quit and make way for students who would really benefit from the research training. Take this for what its worth.”

My Response: Grad School Has Made Me A “Better Person” and Has Shaped My Character

As I previously stated:

I have always considered myself a leader prior to joining grad school. But as a senior grad student, I have honed in on this skill. I have become someone with MORE initiative. More passion. More drive. More tenacity. More mental toughness. More perseverance. More cogency. You name it. It changed me completely.

Grad school is nothing compared to undergrad. But I’m glad it is this way. You are entirely on your own. And for that reason, it “forces” you to develop certain character qualities and emerge a better and stronger person. It forces you to SEEK out answers. To learn. To put your own ego aside and realize that you are all in it together with a common goal: to help better human life through scientific research.

Grad school forces you to work together as a team and build on others to advance your work/knowledge (you develop team work and collaboration).  Grad school develops: perseverance and diligence, time management, writing and communication skills, analytical and critical thinking skills, and creative problem-solving.”

Aside from personal development, I have also landed an internship position in the biotech industry while finishing out the last 6 months of my PhD. But I could not have done it without self-motivation, networking (and reassurance from other people), and an underlying drive that I learned/developed while in grad school (and seemingly had all along but capitalized on). What keeps a PhD student going? Is it the light at the end of the tunnel? And if you aren’t going to stay in academia does that mean that grad school/PhD is a waste? Does that mean that those wishing to pursue ‘alternative’ scientific  careers should not be talked about or remain secret?

I hope from my post (The Top 10 Most Memorable Lessons And Things I Learned In Grad School) that these comments and questions were addressed and can help those see the value in grad school as I have. I do not regret one second of my graduate school experience, and in the end it made me a much stronger person. There were times when I felt like I hit rock bottom, and I pushed myself. I “found myself” in a sense even when all the answers weren’t laid out in front of me.

Grad school was an eye-opener and a self-learning process. It is nebulous; even when you can’t see the whole picture of your project, you must still push forward. That’s right when it unfolds. You still need to have faith; the more time you put in, the more your project will come together and actually make sense. Although this is not always the case, it’s your scientific curiosity that keeps you going.

Then you think to yourself, “I can finally publish my work!” The light at the end of the tunnel becomes more real. You are self-motivated and you want to graduate and make a small dent on the scientific community. The bottom line is that research is a beautiful thing. I hope to highlight this in my list below.

Again, I also have my personal reasons for getting a PhD (although this does not entirely justify the need or sole “value” of getting a PhD-Read Below). I benefited in many ways and share the same thoughts as Phillip Guo:

So why would anyone spend six or more years doing a Ph.D. when they aren’t going to become professors? Everyone has different motivations, but one possible answer is that a Ph.D. program provides a safe environment for certain types of people to push themselves far beyond their mental limits and then emerge stronger as a result.

For example, my six years of Ph.D. training have made me wiser, savvier, grittier, and more steely, focused, creative, eloquent, perceptive, and professionally effective than I was as a fresh college graduate. (Two obvious caveats: Not every Ph.D. student received these benefits—many grew jaded and burned-out from their struggles. Also, lots of people cultivate these positive traits without going through a Ph.D. program.

My Intentions

I will briefly be very forward about my intentions with my blog, Twitter feeds, etc. There is a common misconception among the ‘academic kind’ where if anyone talks about grad school downsides, or discusses alternative PhD careers in industry, then that person instantly becomes someone who only loves science for the money.. Or dislikes research. It is also very frowned upon if someone doesn’t stay in the field that they were trained for.

The harsh reality (as I’ve said before) is that 50% of Graduating PhDs end up doing a “traditional” post-doc upon graduation. But of that 50% how many are landing tenure positions? Not surprisingly, only 14 percent of those with a PhD in biology and the life sciences now land a coveted academic position within five years (according to a 2009 NSF survey). Do you see a problem here?

So my intention with this blog is to HELP that 50%. Where do they go? There needs to be direction. There are simply NOT enough faculty positions for the over-abundance of PhDs (we train too many). So there is nothing wrong with being open to careers outside of academia and exploring those options. Most will look the other way or ignore the problem. Some went into a PhD program loving research and will continue to do this their whole lives. But they may pursue other avenues once they enter the post-doc crisis and cannot land a faculty position. I still respect those who wish to pursue a career in academia, and by all means do what makes you happy!

So there are numerous misconceptions here. If you pursue an alternative science career outside of academia you must:

  1. Love money and dislike research
  2. Hate grad school and be unhappy
  3. Be wasting the system’s time/resources/training/money
  4. Spreading false propaganda
  5. Trying to discourage others and make them follow your footsteps

I feel that I have touched on these 5 misconceptions as outlined in my post The Top 10 Most Memorable Lessons And Things I Learned In Grad School. I will not address them individually (since they are simply not true and are general, naive comments).

The Grad Student Way’s Credibility

Reader Comment #2 (You are not qualified):

It’s not that there isn’t some truth to what you’re saying.  There’s been about 100 really smart people who have been in the system for decades who have have pointed out that the system is pushing out more PhD’s than there are academic positions for.  First it should be noted that this fact alone doesn’t say anything about the value of a PhD.  Getting a PhD provides value to people for reasons of intellectual and self growth.  People make these same type of one dimensional arguments about astronomy all the time.

The argument goes something like this: “well what good does astronomy do? what job does it create, what product does it develop, who does it make more financially secure?”  These questions are of course a bit of a non sequitur.  The study of astronomy brings people value simply because our brains our wired to extract value from understanding things.   Getting a PhD is in a way similar.  The questions about “what job does it help you attain” do not need to be satisfied to justify personal reasons for getting a PhD.

While your goal of helping people is commendale, the idea that you’re somehow the guy to help people understand different directions in life after higher education…well to be blunt is somewhat silly.  This is what we call a snake-oil-salesman.    You haven’t done anything outside of your graduate training.  You haven’t even finished yet.  You haven’t gotten a post-doc and you haven’t spent any real time in industry.  You haven’t really done anything after graduate school so how could you possibly know?  Because you’ve interviewed a lot of people?

There is of course nothing wrong with this.  But there is something intellectually dishonest about selling yourself as a person who really understands the different dimensions to post-academic life.  It’s great that you’re passionate about this, but it takes a certain level of social and intellectual awareness to realize what you are and are not qualified for – and it is clear you haven’t developed these cognitive skills yet.

My Response: I Lead By Example

It still surprises me after all this time I am still attacked for my credibility. The Grad Student Way was launched to help PhD students and post-docs alike and is grounded on the blood, sweat and tears of my experiences (as well as others) that proved to be useful. What emerged from this was the intention to inspire some hope for careers beyond that of academia when some may feel like their options have run dry.

Everyone is different, so I want to help those find their calling: Academia, Industry, Government, Private Sector, Entrepreneur, etc. Whatever it is, it is entirely individualistic. So take my advice with a grain of salt because what may be true for me may not be true for you. Either way, being aware of what’s out there and planning ahead CANNOT POSSIBLY HURT YOU. It is important to keep an open mind.. No one is forcing anyone to read my blog articles, so I only ask my readers to be respectful.

Statements like: “The questions about ‘what job does it help you attain’ do not need to be satisfied to justify personal reasons for getting a PhD.” This is slightly true (as I also have my personal reasons for getting a PhD as mentioned above), however a PhD without a job doesn’t get you anywhere. That’s great that some may feel a PhD may provide value to people for reasons of intellectual and self growth. But at the end of the day, you may be smarter but where does it get you? Does it get you the real-world experience (i.e. a job and income)? Does it teach you how to network outside of academia? Does it really even address the problem that we are having or is it simply ignoring it?

If you came out just focusing on the PhD as the endpoint (and intellectual growth), this will only hurt you in the long run and may leave you unemployed. In fact, it can leave a long unemployment gap on your resume if you haven’t taken the time to do the necessary planning/networking beyond that of a graduate student/postdoc. Why do you think in some cases people have left “PhD” off their resume?

However, not only do I talk and write about science careers and life beyond academia, I live it. I lead by example. So when people say I haven’t done anything outside of my graduate training (and I have no idea what I’m talking about) they clearly do not know me. So…

What did I do while in graduate school?

  1. I am working in the Life Science Biotech Industry at Promega as an Associate Product Manager in Proteomics my last 6 months of graduate school, which will lead to a full-time position upon graduation.
  2. I launched my own business in 2009 and tripled revenue after one year between 2010-2011.
  3. I launched a second business in 2012, authored two books, and helped graduate students transition into the workforce.
  4. I increased my net worth and built a 200 person network out of thin air in one year.
  5. I took intensive Entrepreneurial Bootcamp and Entrepreneurial Management classes as the UW-Madison School of Business. I also performed SWOT analysis, wrote a business plan,  and helped grow a local start-up.
  6. I participated in postdoc workshops, conferences, seminars and gave presentations and input.
  7. I was actively involved in biotech happy hours, networking events, and took professional development classes.
  8. I met with working professionals from all different disciplines (outside of academia) to prepare myself for a career in industry and ultimately product management.
  9. On top of it all, I was the lead guitarist in a local rock band with paid gigs.

How’s that for “social and intellectual awareness” and “developing my cognitive skills”?

My thesis defense date is set for July 30, 2013 (Under 5 Year Graduation Time). Thanks to all who continue to support this site and read my blog. More to come.

Any future derogatory or negative comments will be deleted.


Further Reading:

U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there

Is there life after graduate school?

The dissertation can no longer be defended