7 Tips for Finding Your Dream Job in the Life Sciences
By Mark Terry, with contributions from Sarah Ellinwood
March 27, 2023
The life sciences, whether in biopharma, medical devices, healthcare or other numerous related fields, is a vibrant and exciting place to work. It is filled with a broad range of opportunities, whether your background is in the sciences, engineering, accounting, writing, or sales.
With all these options, though, it can also be overwhelming to figure out where you might fit.
Here are 7 top tips on finding your niche in the life sciences industry and putting your best self forward.
1) Ask yourself: What do you want?
Jackie Bandish, Head of Life Sciences Recruiting and Operations for The Bandish Group (New Britain, PA), says, “What are your goals and ambitions? Not just a job, but a career. What did you really think you’d be doing with your degree?”
Bandish notes that the life sciences are so broad and there’s such a demand for so many different types of positions, that career seekers in the space should not only consider what their background is, but what sorts of things they genuinely like to do.
This is especially true for jobseekers who received a science degree and think they need to work at a bench to put their education to good use. On the contrary, there are a plethora of fulfilling non-lab careers out there, including science writing, regulatory sciences, quality control, and project management.
“A career is not linear,” Bandish said. “You might have to work to find out what you may or may not like. Be flexible. Be open to learning and to being mentored.”
2) Do your research
As the pendulum sways from the “Great Resignation” to mass layoffs and economic downturn, you might feel tempted to submit your resume to every application you see in hopes of something sticking. While you might get a few bites, you’ll have a greater chance of success if you take the extra time to apply to positions more strategically. Further, you’re more likely to get a more stable job that you’ll actually enjoy.
Rob Masterson, Founder and President of HireLifeScience.com (Piscataway, NJ), says, “Don’t just apply blindly to companies. Research the company, the products on the market and in their pipeline. Biotechs can be extremely volatile, so do your research.”
He adds that you should also do research to determine why the company is hiring for the position. Are they adding new sales staff in support of a product launch? Or are scientists leaving after a clinical trial failure? “A company’s future plays a role in the future of your career,” Masterson said.
Here are a few things worth keeping an eye out for:
- Recent press releases – Did the company announce a layoff (often phrased in terms such as “strategic repositioning” or “reprioritizing”)?
- Pipeline – Is the company in the R&D stage, or are they in the clinic? If they’re in the clinic, how close are they to getting a data readout? This is important because if the data are negative, a layoff might be looming.
- Media coverage – How is the media portraying that company? Do they seem to have their heads on their shoulders, or are they acting a bit sketchy? Besides BioBuzz, check out outlets such as FierceBiotech, Endpoints, STAT, and Biopharma Dive, just to name a few.
- Funding – Did the company just raise a large Series A or B round? Did they go public, and if so, how has their stock been trending over time? Stock times can sometimes give you an idea of how well a company is actually doing, especially if there are notable increases or dips correlated to news announcements.
3) Don’t be pigeonholed by your degree
Bandish says that she often works with scientists and physicians who are interested in executive or financial positions. She says, “Find the role in the industry that suits you. Find out what suits you. The reason you go to college isn’t to necessarily learn a trade. It’s meant to educate you on the world and make you broader in your thinking. Find your passion. Many skills are transferrable.”
For scientists, there is still a stigma that your training was a waste if you pursue a non-bench career. Don’t let that noise get to you – more and more we’re seeing scientists, including PhDs, find fulfilling careers in a plethora of non-bench positions. Your scientific expertise can be applied in more ways than you think.
And for folks with non-science or advanced degrees, don’t think that a science-related career is out of reach. Biomanufacturing jobs are absolutely still in demand and are perfect for those just getting their feet wet or looking for a career change. And there are additional opportunities out there, such as Frederick’s Biotech Bootcamp, that offer opportunities to hone your skills to make you more competitive should you need a bit of a boost.
Don’t forget too that you can also have a non-science job in a place where you’re still surrounded by science. For example, you could be an HR professional at a growing biotech company, or you could be a communications specialists who helps get the word out about what’s happening at the company.
4) Consider contract research organizations (CROs)
Contract research and manufacturing organizations (CRMOs) provide support to biotech and pharmaceutical companies, offering numerous services including running animal testing, assay development, clinical trial management, pharmacovigilance, commercialization, and more.
CRMOs can provide a great stepping stone to learn skills, especially if you’re considering switching specialties, and can also offer opportunities to pivot and explore other job areas. For example, you might start as a medical writer at a clinical CRO, but have the opportunity to learn and focus on regulatory affairs as well.
Bandish says, “CROs are the best at training people in the industry. And those skill sets are transferrable, should you want to move to biotech or pharmaceutical companies.”
5) Network and seek mentors
Do you know other people in the industry you’re interested in? Do you belong to a professional organization? No matter your circumstances or schedule, there are ways that you can network and learn from others.
- Reach out to professionals through LinkedIn – search for the type of job you want, find folks in those roles, connect, and reach out. Don’t be intimidated by sending a cold message – the worst that could happen is that the person says they’re too busy or they don’t reply at all, in which case don’t take it personally and keep trying.
- Don’t be shy – post on LinkedIn that you’re looking to chat with people in a particularly industry and ask folks to reshare. If you have a large enough network, chances are people will be more than willing to help connect you.
- Meet people at conferences and professional networking events, such as BioBuzz’s event series. We also have an events calendar you can check out for a variety of events in your neighborhood.
Bandish says, “Educate yourself. Use your network. Look for guidance. Find a mentor. Life is a journey — find a way.”
6) Stay on top of the industry
In addition to researching the specific company you’re applying to, you should also stay on top of what’s going on in the industry. Although there are always efforts to develop new therapies for diseases like cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, the approaches and techniques used vary. Immunotherapy barely existed a decade ago and mRNA therapeutics were only a dream prior to the development of COVID-19 vaccines. Gene therapies are just starting to be approved.
Bandish says, “Medicine progresses consistently. The technology that goes with it is constantly evolving and changing to where it can make the most impact. Where are the sexy new drugs and techniques? What’s going on in the industry?”
One of the best way to do this is to subscribe to media newsletters such as BioBuzz, Big4Bio, and STAT, which summarize the latest news. Podcasts are another great way to be “in the know” on the latest trends.
7) Attend career-focused events
Both Masterson and Bandish note that career fairs are not as common as they used to be. However, there are still some relevant career events, as well as career-related components of major events such as NIH’s Annual Career Symposium in May and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO)’s International Convention in Boston in June.
BioBuzz also publishes recurring articles rounding up upcoming regional events – keep your eyes open, because our Q2 editions will be coming out soon.
Masterson notes his organization hosts two Career Fairs in the fall, one in Edison, NJ (October 10, 2023) and the other in Boston (November 2, 2023).
And finally, although Bandish says this advice is something she gives to recruiters and HR representatives in the life sciences, it applies to people looking for positions as well. “Behind that CV, that piece of paper, lies a very talented person.”
- About the Author
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Mark Terry is a freelance writer, editor, novelist and ghostwriter. He holds a degree in microbiology & public health and spent 18 years in infectious disease research and clinical and research genetics prior to his transition to a writing career. His areas of expertise include biotechnology, pharma, clinical diagnostics, and medical practice management. He has written literally thousands of articles, as well as market research reports, white papers, more than 20 books, and many other written materials. He currently lives in Michigan with his family.