Tales from the Trenches: Career Growth in Biotechnology

Building a successful career in the biotechnology industry is really just a series of transitions from one role to another. But the devil is in the details—when to make a change, how to create opportunities and who can be your champion as you pivot. So how do you navigate these factors to keep your career goals on course?

Bob Weiland answers a question posed by Michele Smith at the MS Biotech Alumni Symposium.

I recently attended a symposium (presented by the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Biotechnology Program, of which I’m an alum) that addressed this topic through the lens of one individual with a storied career in the industry. Bob Weiland currently serves on the Board of Directors for CymaBay Therapeutics. He has held various roles, from sales and marketing to operations and strategy, within large, established companies (Abbot, Baxter, Takeda) and smaller ones (Pacira Pharmacueticals). He drew on this wide-ranging experience to provide advice to professionals at all career stages.

Bob began the talk by declaring that there will be points in your career when you reach a “hard spot” and will need to transition, whether to a new role, company or even industry, to meet your career goals. He suggested a good starting point is simply to be thinking about making a change. But in the same breath he emphasized, “What are you doing about it?” He identified four distinct actions that you can take to ensure role changes and career transitions support your professional growth and development.

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A Conscious Decision to Change Careers Should Not Be Mistaken for Failure

A recent PNAS article tracked the careers of scientists in three different fields based on research paper authorship. They found that, over a 50-year span, there was a dramatic reduction in how long scientists remained in each field, which they termed “survivability.” More than half of the scientists that started out in the 1960s published in their field for an average of 35 years, while about half of scientists starting in the 2010s published in their field for an average of 5 years1. Tracked academic researchers were classified into three categories: transients (authors who had only one publication during their career), dropouts (authors who stopped publishing at various career levels), and full-career scientists (authors who continue to publish in the field). Overall, the data showed that there are an increasing number of transients that contribute to scientific papers. Thus, the authors of the PNAS article concluded that the demographics in those academic fields are shifting toward scientists who leave the field quickly. The observed increase in the number of scientists who are temporarily in academia makes sense, given the number of PhDs relative to the limited number of faculty positions and permanent staff scientist roles. However, the terms “survivability,” “transients,” and “dropouts” give the impression that leaving academia means that these scientists have ended their career or failed.

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14 Things to Give Your Career a Boost in 2014

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Want to continue improving your performance at work? Want to make your boss and co-workers truly appreciate you?  Lucky for you, tis the season for resolutions and I have some ideas for you.  Check out the list below for some easy ideas that can make you and your boss happier in 2014. Do you have more ideas about how to rev your career engine? Share them with us in the comments!

  1. Ask for feedback often. And not just during the company’s formal review period.
  2. Actively build your network on LinkedIn.
  3. Bring a positive attitude to work.
  4. Build a cross-functional network of people within your organization who can help you get things done.
  5. Find and follow some good blogs related to your field. By reading this blog you already have a head-start. Good for you!
  6. Update your resume, even if you aren’t looking. It’s good to have a running list of your accomplishments.
  7. Tell your manager about your career goals.
  8. Be punctual. It’s a small thing, but arriving on time for work and meetings shows respect.
  9. Identify and take on a project to improve your team.
  10. Make friends. People are happier and better employees when they have friends at work.
  11. Organize your life. Check out Getting Things Done by David Allen, and then actually implement the solutions.
  12. Learn to be a cheerleader for your co-workers. This will help create a supportive community.
  13. Take a vacation. You’ll be happier and more productive when you return.
  14. Update your facebook account so it is private to anyone except for your friends (your potential future boss does not need to see your selfies).