Biomanufacturing Career Tips for a Booming Life Sciences Market
WorkForce Genetics and BioBuzz recently hosted the webinar event, “Navigating Your Biomanufacturing Career.” The webinar, which was held in March 2022, brought together industry thought leaders for a robust panel discussion about biomanufacturing career tips for the BioHealth Capital Region’s booming job market.
The panelists delivered valuable information about biomanufacturing career tracks for bioscience professionals looking for entry level or advancement opportunities. Leaders from several top organizations offered insights about in-demand technical abilities and key soft skills; they also provided an insider’s perspective about various bioscience sectors and cultures.
Expert panelists included Tina Fiaschetti, Associate Director, Upstream Process Development at BioFactura; Dale Allen, Director of Manufacturing at Miltenyi Biotec; and Ron Copeland, Sr. Director, Protein Chemistry/Quality Control at NextCure (NASDAQ GS: NXTC). Chris Frew, Chief Engagement Officer at WorkForce Genetics and BioBuzz, moderated the lively and engaging panel discussion and the culminating Q&A session with participants.
The panelists represented organizations at various development stages from startup (BioFactura) and mid-size (Miltenyi) to a publicly-traded organization (NextCure). All three companies are actively hiring and their respective open positions can be reviewed by clicking the links below:
Despite global market volatility, the life sciences industry continues to boom. Momentum generated by the initial race for a COVID-19 vaccine and advancements across the cell and gene therapy sectors—among other positive market forces— has sparked an ongoing hiring frenzy within the biomanufacturing space.
Biomanufacturing talent is in remarkably high demand. Biotechs of all sizes are hiring and are expected to keep hiring at a strong pace throughout 2022 and potentially beyond.
This context framed the conversation between expert panelists about biomanufacturing career tips for the hundreds of new biomanufacturing job opportunities across the region. The “Navigating Your Biomanufacturing Career” webinar provided job seekers the insights they needed to make strong career choices and to better understand what hiring managers are looking for when recruiting new team members.
BioFactura, NextCure, and Miltenyi each have plans to continue building their teams in the near term future, making this webinar a valuable opportunity for job seekers to learn as well as network with panelists at these organizations.
What follows is a synopsis of key thematic points made by the panelists. To view the webinar in its entirety, you can enjoy the webinar recording as well.
Biomanufacturing Career Tip #1: Networking is Critical to Breaking into Biotech and Finding New Opportunities
All the panelists agreed that active, thoughtful networking is the best way to break into the life sciences field and to find opportunities to advance your career. Whether networking happens at a BioBuzz event, via LinkedIn, or even with colleagues at your current job, retaining relationships and building new ones are the pillars of career advancement.
Copeland shared, “The same executives at NextCure brought me in at my previous role at Amplimmune…I spent five years as a postdoc at Johns Hopkins. Three years into my postdoc I knew I didn’t want to be a professor so I spent my last two years trying to get into industry. Postdocs that have a Ph.D. are overqualified for entry level positions but not qualified for mid-level jobs, so how do you get your foot in the door?”
“Networking got my foot in the door. My future boss had a professor-friend at Hopkins who put my name in the hat and based on her recommendations I got the job. Networking is a big part of the industry,” he added. “You can also network with your current team. Remember, you can network even if you do have a job.”
“Try and remember that networking is a two-way street. You’re also trying to learn if the company’s culture is a fit for you. Aligning your passion with a company’s passion goes a long way. I find that people put a lot of pressure on themselves to get networking ‘right.’ It’s a small world and it’s always exciting to stay in touch,” stated Fiaschetti.
“Networking is key, as is being willing to put the time in. If you have initiative, you can grow exponentially…Identify your interests and let that guide your networking. Reach out even if it’s just with something simple like, ‘Oh, I see we grew up in the same hometown’ or ‘I see you work with this kind of bioreactor,’” shared Allen.
“I always respond. Biotech is a small world so why not reach out? Don’t be shy and don’t be too formal,” he added.
Frew chimed in by reminding job candidates to “…always be networking.”
Biomanufacturing Career Tip #2: Strong Soft Skills Can Elevate a Candidate’s Chances
A great education, impressive technical experience, and deep scientific know-how are desirable traits to any biomanufacturing talent scout. However, a resume swollen with academic credentials and demonstrated biotech skills and knowledge isn’t a hiring manager’s only focus when it comes to determining a good fit for a position or company culture.
Strong soft skills are important as well and might even be a better indicator of longer-term success at an organization. Soft skills like communication, organization, problem-solving, and time management, to name just a few, are highly desirable traits for hiring managers as well. The lesson for job candidates is to not only showcase your skills and training, but also demonstrate your soft skills during the interview process.
Demonstrating a willingness to learn and a passion for a mission can often overcome skill deficiencies you might have on paper.
“What we look for at BioFactura is a candidate that can think on their feet and demonstrate critical thinking skills. What we don’t want is someone that sees something’s going wrong on the floor but just continues with outlined steps. We are looking for someone that’s willing to jump in and actively troubleshoot an issue. Having a sheer curiosity and a love for what you’re doing is really something that speaks to me even if you’ve never touched a bioreactor before,” stated Fiaschetti.
“Having the requirements on the job description is the number one thing…but beyond that we’re looking for passion, motivation, and these soft skills. You can be qualified for a position but you need that passion. We don’t put hard work and dedication on the job description. For entry level jobs, if someone is willing to learn and you can speak intelligently in an interview about how your prior experiences can translate, that’s what we want,” shared NextCure’s Copeland.
Allen added, “Industry-wide a sense of wonder and curiosity, a sense that you want to get involved is important. At Miltenyi, we want people that buy into what we want to do for patients. It’s also a two-way street…we always ask, what can we do to advance your career? It’s important to understand there are different avenues to growth.”
Biomanufacturing Career Tip #3: Understanding Culture, Uncovering Opportunity
Every company’s culture is unique. This culture can be shaped by geographic location, biotech sector, CEO/executive team leadership styles and size, among other inputs. Regardless of cultural inputs, opportunity usually exists wherever you work; uncovering that opportunity, however, often requires an understanding of an organization’s work culture.
For example, larger companies might have more siloed functions whereas startups and early-stage biotechs might tend to share information, data, and processes more openly. For startups and smaller companies, an open, cross-functional work culture is often driven by necessity, i.e. fewer employees and therefore fewer teams.
Cross-functional, open work ecosystems also exist at larger, more established organizations, though it’s also true that siloed functions occur at larger companies with greater frequency due to their size.
“At smaller companies, you get what you put into it,” stated BioFactura’s Fiaschetti. “At BioFactura, our teams work closely together. We compare and contrast lessons learned. We operate in a small team environment, which allows you to learn more when compared to a larger company where you can get pigeon-holed.”
Copeland echoed Fiashetti’s sentiment, adding, “At NextCure it is what you make it. What makes us unique is that our analytical development and quality control teams are one in the same. The same goes for manufacturing and development. We teach each other our processes so from a career development standpoint you get a holistic view.”
“We have an ‘open door’ policy at NextCure. If you’re in analytical development but you want to learn QC and grow your career you can do that. It’s our executive team’s mandate to give mid-level managers authority to provide these opportunities. As long as you show initiative and produce—we don’t have any secret rubrics based on time-in or formal education—NextCure will take care of you,” he added.
Smaller and emerging life sciences companies provide great opportunities to learn and grow; they also tend to be very fast-paced, providing high levels of visibility to all employees.
Mid-size to larger organizations are also fast-paced and provide cross-functional opportunities, but they also operate within a more structured ecosystem. There can be less ambiguity at more established companies; more mature infrastructure, longer-standing processes and more employees leads to greater specialization and clearer job roles.
Allen, who has worked at startups and now is at a mid-size organization, stated, “Smaller companies offer a lot of cross functionality. Larger companies can offer that, too. My experience at startups is that if you grind you can get rewarded heavily.”
“As Miltenyi has moved into commercial and campaign manufacturing…we have a culture where you can reach out to other departments. We’ve had people start in manufacturing and moved over to QA. We strive for an inclusive environment that’s sustainable and offers work-life balance that might be hard to achieve at a company that’s running ‘lean,’” he added.
For job candidates at all levels, uncovering—via research, interviews and networking—as much as you can about a company’s culture before you accept an offer can be a big advantage. Whether you’re just breaking into the life sciences industry or you have some experience, it’s important to interview the company with the same vigor with which it interviews you.
Answering questions about how a company culture operates can help you find the right opportunity while setting you up for future success. Startups, early-stage, mid-size and big corporations all have opportunity: You just need to know where to look and how to go about pursuing growth pathways within a given workplace culture.
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Steve brings nearly twenty years of experience in marketing and content creation to the WorkForce Genetics team. He loves writing engaging content and working with partners, companies, and individuals to share their unique stories and showcase their work. Steve holds a BA in English from Providence College and an MA in American Literature from Montclair State University. He lives in Frederick, Maryland with his wife, two sons, and the family dog.