Commonly Asked Questions

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Commonly Asked Questions

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Nov 28, 2011 12:39 pm

This list of commonly asked career questions was compiled by the advisor and moderators from previous threads on this forum. They are listed in the following categories:

Section 1: Undergraduate/Predoctoral Questions
Section 2: Postdoctoral Questions
Section 3: Questions about Academic Positions
Section 4: Industry Questions
Section 5: Questions about Jobs Outside of Scientific Research
Section 6: General Questions. What is networking? How do I do it?

If you can't find the answer you're looking for here, please use the forum search capabilities or post a new thread. Good luck!

Section 1: Undergraduate/Predoctoral Questions

I'd like to do research. What are my job options with a BS/MS degree? Do I need a PhD to do research? Or, would a PhD limit my job prospects?

It is possible to work as a research technician or research associate with a BS/MS science degree or a community college certificate. These jobs typically involve performing experiments that are designed and interpreted by scientists with doctoral degrees. Some researchers say that this career track has poor long-term career prospects and that promotions are difficult. Others find it satisfying, and there are reports of some companies offering the BS/MS degree holder jobs that are on the scientist ladder, although not at the highest levels. Research positions for the undergraduate or the Master's level applicant may be found in a variety of research settings including academic labs, cancer centers, or biotech/pharmaceutical companies.

In the biotechnology industry, a PhD degree is generally required to reach the highest levels of research. Very few biotech companies allow graduates with MS degrees to run research programs. MS-level graduates are more likely to conduct independent research at pharmaceutical companies, although most of them work under the direction of scientists with doctoral degrees. The PhD degree is usually required to reach the highest levels of research management in pharmaceutical companies as well.

It should be noted that different disciplines vary in the in the extent to which a PhD degree is required to reach upper levels of responsibility. For example, it may be easier for a chemist with an MS degree to reach a supervisory position within the industrial research environment than it would be for an MS-level biologist. The more applied the discipline is, the less emphasis there will be on the must have PhD.

Other career possibilities certainly exist for holders of BS/MS degrees, including fields such as communication, education, quality control/assurance, or manufacturing. For example, there are jobs in the healthcare industry in patient or community education, or in biotech companies where individuals with BS/MS degrees can move from research to program management, or regulatory affairs, quality, and sales/marketing. It is possible to achieve senior managerial positions in these areas with a BS/MS degree.

A PhD does limit your ability to apply to jobs that are lower in the research hierarchy. It is very difficult for someone with a PhD degree to obtain a job as a laboratory technician or research associate. It would be poor judgment on the part of the employer to hire someone with a PhD for this position because there is a significant risk that the candidate would be on the job market again in a few months.

Contributors: Kevin Foley, Dave Jensen, Rich Lemert

Links to original discussions:

As an undergraduate, what can I do to position myself for a successful research career?

During your first year to two years of undergraduate training, don't commit yourself too completely to any particular career path. See what attracts your interests as you take your first courses. It is difficult to estimate long-term career opportunities at this point. By the time your career will be getting started (possibly a decade or more from now if you get a PhD and do a postdoc) things could be much different than they are today. Try to take core courses that leave you opportunities to change direction without losing credits for work that you have already done. If you go with courses that interest you the most, you'll do better and actually enjoy the work, which will tend to push you towards the top in any field.

As you approach graduate school, you can develop a more concrete plan. Try to decide on your long-term goal before you start graduate school. Talk to people in different types of positions (academics, industry research, and other career options) and try to focus on the type of graduate training that will make you most competitive for employment. Craft a plan that gives you several long-term options, including alternatives in case you decide to leave research. Consider atypical experiences such as summer or even year-long internships or teaching experience. Don't go to graduate school with the goal of getting a PhD: develop a comprehensive career plan for your entire PhD experience.

If you are eventually interested in a job in industry, pick a general topic of interest to industry, choose a lab for graduate school that is connected to industry people, and start networking from your second year of graduate school. Try to do the best science possible, publish some papers, and make connections with industry researchers. If industry is your goal, don't get sidetracked by an academic post, or by staying in a postdoc for more than a few years.

When searching for a first job, new graduates often make these common errors:

  • - assuming that mailing out resumes will lead to a job offer
  • - using only one method to search for a job (eg, mailing resumes to Human Resources departments via websites)
  • - networking only with friends from school and not reaching out to other potential contacts
  • - starting the search too early and become frustrated at their lack of progress

A successful job search requires a multifaceted approach. It might include the following: attending local meetings, joining associations, taking courses, conducting informational interviews, telephoning individuals who are a year to two years further along the job track, attending job fairs, and so on.

Contributors: John Fetzer, Russell, Kelly, Dave Jensen

Links to original discussions:

Graduate school is not working out. I am having trouble getting along with my Principal Investigator (PI) and have not produced many publications. Is it worth it for me to finish my degree?

Most graduate students go through some difficult periods during graduate school, and some people experience many such episodes. Long hours, difficult research, and isolation are typical. This is also a time when friends from college often begin to earn significant incomes, to have more free time, and to start families, all of which may seem out of reach during graduate school.

Take some time to think about whether this is the best move. Finishing the degree will be important if you plan any kind of academic career. In addition, there is also considerable value to the PhD degree beyond the traditional academic track. It is important to weigh how much additional effort will be required to complete the degree against the costs of that effort, whether in terms of frustration or financial impact.

It may be possible to find a position at another lab or even another institution. Some people advise that you should give your situation at least a few months of serious thought before making this kind of move. But, if things don't turn around, staying longer may mean that that you will eventually need to account for a greater period of poor productivity. If you decide to leave before spending years in a frustrating position, it may then be easier to explain to a future employer that the position did not work out from the start.

One way to succeed in any career is to do something that you genuinely enjoy. This will enable you to deal with the inevitable setbacks that affect everyone as a career progresses. Also keep in mind that your career path will likely evolve over time. Opportunities will change, the environment will change, your interests will change. If you start with a base of something you enjoy doing, you can continue to build successfully on top of that.

From a financial perspective, leaving early with an MS degree and finding a job might mean an extra two to four years of income. However, in some disciplines individuals who have PhD degrees are paid much more than those who have only earned MS degrees. Perhaps the biggest decision is whether your love of science will hold up for the additional years it would take to do the PhD.

Contributors: Don Haut; Dave Jensen; Kelly S.

Link to original discussion:

What kinds of career options are available with a PharmD degree?

The classic career for an individual with a doctorate of pharmacy (PharmD) degree is to work as a pharmacist in any of a number of different settings, including retail pharmacy, hospital administration, clinical research, public health, and others. A PharmD degree is a four year program, with good job prospects and salaries upon graduation. In the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry, PharmDs often help to design, monitor, and coordinate clinical trials, and they interact directly with scientists and physicians at companies, universities, and hospitals. The PharmD is often perceived as more valuable than a Master's degree for nonlaboratory positions (e.g., medical writing, regulatory affairs, project management, competitive intelligence, medical information, etc). In many hospitals, physicians diagnose patients and determine whether there is a need for drug therapy, and pharmacists determine the specific agent to be prescribed based on the patient's disease state, genetic profile, other medications being used, and other factors. Monitoring drug therapy is another major responsibility of pharmacists. Much of the dispensing role is now delegated to pharmacy technicians, freeing up the pharmacist to become more involved in therapeutic decision-making. Some states have already passed laws that allow a pharmacist to intervene and override prescriptions by a physician. With increasing focus on factors such as drug-metabolizing enzymes, signal transduction proteins, DNA promoter regions, and so on, the future of the profession will be drastically different than the past. This is already apparent from the recent elimination of the BS degree from pharmacy programs, resulting in only PharmD graduates in the future.

A PharmD degree is worth considering for anyone with an interest in biology, chemistry, or a related field; in communicating information to others; and in employment that requires analytical and critical thinking skills to solve problems that affect the health and well being of individuals.

Contributors: Jim Gardner; Read

Links to original discussions:

How do I identify the current "hot field to study?

Nobody can predict the next hot topic, or what will be hot at the end of your grad school or postdoc training. Hot fields come and go unpredictably. Bioinformatics appeared very hot several years ago, but as more people entered the field and began to search for jobs, hiring cooled significantly. On the other hand, hiring in infectious diseases was slow for some time, but with the recent identification of new pathogens, disease pathways, and drug mechanisms of action, there has been a renewed interest in this field. The best choice may be to join a well-funded lab that's publishing very actively and where you can be productive.

However, choosing a field needs to be done with at least strong consideration given to the type of job you would consider when you leave graduate school. If you have plans to work in a biotechnology company, than think about what questions you might pursue that will have an eventual interest by companies. Look at the macro trends to see what you can learn about where these interests might be in five years, instead of micro trends regarding certain hot technology that changes every six months.

Contributors: Elizabeth, Dave Jensen

Link to original discussion:


Section 2: Postdoctoral Questions

How do I choose a postdoctoral advisor?

There are many ways to try to determine whether a particular postdoctoral training opportunity would be a good fit for you.

Contact past postdocs or students and ask their impressions about the Principal Investigator's (PI) management style, flexibility with scheduling, and willingness to promote you to their peers. When you visit, talk to current postdocs and graduate students, especially when the PI is not around. Be wary of a PI who will not allow you to speak with other postdocs or students alone. Note what happens when you walk into the lab with the supervisor. Does everyone immediately jump to ask questions and request time to meet? This may be a sign that the PI is never in the lab and is difficult to contact. In a large lab, it is important to know how much the PI is interested in "your" problem. The PI's interest in your project will determine how much contact you have with one another.

Choose a project that challenges you. Many people recommend that you not do a postdoc in the lab that you did your graduate training. This creates the impression that you lack independence, and also does not challenge you to become innovative. Be in an environment where you can get credit for whatever you discover. The lab you choose should also match your long-term goals. Do you want to go to industry? Then pick a medium-to-large lab with industry connections. Use the lab to build your network, and try to obtain patents. Do you want to move into a faculty research position? If so, postdoc at a top school in the lab of a science superstar. You may not get much mentoring, but this environment can provide you with the opportunity to stand out, and the PI's name will help get your good work into a top journal. Do you want mentoring? In a small group (e.g. the lab of an assistant professor) you will have more direction and input from your PI.

You can examine the status of laboratory funding using the CRISP database ( This indicates how many grants each PI has, the grant types, and when they expire.

Other points to consider as you meet with the PI and with others in the lab:

  • - What are former postdocs from the lab doing now? Are they in jobs that you think sound exciting and that match your goals?
  • - Does the lab have stable funding for at least four years?
  • - Do the group members have a good working relationship with each other and with the PI?
  • - How accessible is the PI on a day-to-day basis?
  • - How will you get started - does the PI select a project for you, or is it entirely up to you?
  • - How much of your project, and what materials, can you take with you when you leave the lab?
  • - Will you be able to write grants while there? If your sights are set on an academic job, will you be able to write an RO1?
  • - What kind of benefits package will be offered (health, dental, retirement, gym, moving expenses, etc.)?
  • - What hours do people in the lab usually work?
  • - Is your PI even-tempered and understanding, or difficult to work with?

Contributors: Andy Spencer, Cindy, Matthew, nc, mpb, Andrew 1, Baoloa, Dave Jensen, Kelly S, nic, vic, Monica, Alfred, Mel, gvs; Madison

Links to original discussions:

What do I need to do at a postdoctoral interview? Who should pay my interview expenses?

Have a solid understanding of the work going on in the lab. Read recent papers to come from the group. Have one or two ideas in mind about potential research projects that fit in with what they are doing, and an understanding of how the work that you are doing now fits in with the lab.

You also need to be familiar with your own work, its limitations, and how it relates to other work in your field. You will probably be asked to present a seminar. Many candidates will have presented work before, at meetings or other venues, and so may find this to be relatively easy. Books may help you to prepare to give a talk to an audience (e.g. You Must Be Believed To Be Heard, by Bert Decker). You don't need a detailed answer to every possible question, but you should be able to show that you know your work and understand the underlying scientific issues. Consider holding a mock interview: ask faculty members who supervised your PhD if they would like to be part of a mock panel. It might surprise you how many are willing.

Under most circumstances, the PI should pay travel expenses. At least at American research universities, it is nearly uniform practice for the interviewer to pay for postdoc candidates to travel to an interview from within the United States. It is also not unusual, although not nearly the norm, for the PI to pay for people to come from outside the United States. An Investigator who will not pay for a postdoc candidate to come for an interview from somewhere in the United States should be viewed with caution. In general, there are three reasons for not paying for a candidate to come to an interview. These are: 1) The PI's ego ("My research is known worldwide. I don't need to pay for candidates to come interview in my lab, I get plenty of applicants as it is."), 2) A lack of genuine interest in the candidate ("Well, I'm not really interested in this person, but if I don't have to pay for travel expenses, I guess it won't hurt for us to meet."), and 3) The lack of funding. All of these reasons suggest a substantial risk of trouble for a prospective postdoc.

Contributors: Andy Spencer, Cindy, Matthew, nc, mpb, Andrew 1, Baoloa, Dave Jensen, Kelly Suter, nic, vic, Monica, Alfred, Mel, gvs; Madison

Links to original discussions:

Should I do an industry postdoc?

An industry postdoc can open some doors in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, teach you about corporate culture, and help you build a network of good contacts. However, good industry postdocs are rare, and postdoctoral fellows are often seen as a cheap pair of hands at smaller or lesser-known biotech ventures. A telephone call to the HR department at a large pharmaceutical company may identify postdoctoral openings. Otherwise, these positions can be identified in the same way that you would find an academic postdoc - by talking to people and sending inquiries to labs. It is also sometimes possible for an industry hiring manager to add a postdoctoral position. Staying in touch with people in industry who work in a field related to yours may eventually lead to an offer of an industry postdoc.

An industry postdoc is not necessary to secure a research position in industry. Academic postdocs from top labs can be as interesting to industry as those from industrial postdocs. If your career goal is to conduct research in an industry setting, the disadvantages of doing your postdoc in an academic lab are that you do not gain the networking contacts or industry experience, both of which are helpful for obtaining a first permanent research position in industry. However, nothing (not even an industry postdoc) can replace the advantages of doing a postdoc in an academic lab with a top name PI, one who is recognized in industry as an expert in his or her field.

Taking an industry postdoc also does not necessarily mean that you will be unable to move to an academic position in the future. In some industry postdocs, you may do basic science research that is similar to work done in a good academic lab. In researching or interviewing for industry postdocs, ask about the program's publication rate and the resources that would be available to you for your project. This will help you to understand the objectives of the program. Always watch out for companies that abuse the postdoc, by hiring simply for cheap hands and where training and mentoring has been swept aside in favor of company profits.

Contributors: Dave Jensen, Pam Maynard

Links to original discussions:

My postdoc is not working out. My project does not seem to be going well, or I am not getting along with my PI. Should I leave?

A new lab is disorienting: you need to accept a new and different way of doing things. In addition, moving is stressful. It takes a minimum of six months to even begin to adjust to a new location. Depression can set in fast, especially when combined with the other stresses of starting a new job.

Part of the problem may be that as a postdoc you lack a clear career path. What is your long-range career goal? Could part of your difficulty be that you really aren't sure why you are doing a postdoc, or whether it will help you to achieve those goals? Consider talking to your PI about long-range planning, but also make some concrete short-term goals (e.g., presenting a poster at a meeting).

There are only two times when you can easily leave a position like this: one is when you have been there for two to three years and have had some great publications, and the other is when you have just arrived and have found that the environment isn't what you were hoping for. If you have decided to leave, then it may be better to do so sooner rather than later, before you get deeply into a project for which your supervisor has invested a great deal of time and resources. This may also be better for you personally, and it minimizes the amount of time that spend in a position that is not helping you toward your long-term goals.

Contributors: Dave Jensen, Kelly S, L.D.

Links to original discussions:

How will my career be affected if I do a second postdoctoral fellowship?

Many postdoctoral researchers do two or more postdoctoral appointments, and many go on to develop successful academic research careers. Some people choose to do a second postdoc from the desire to learn a new skill, whereas others are forced to do a second postdoc from necessity (e.g., a problem supervisor, lack of funding, spouse employment opportunities, highly specialized field where there are too few jobs, etc.). However, many researchers believe that it is a mistake to do a second postdoc, especially as part of a long-term career plan. For example, some people plan to do a first postdoc to learn new methods, and a second to learn to develop a scientific career. A better strategy may be to combine these two functions into a single postdoctoral fellowship. In the current academic job market, obtaining a permanent position is a difficult challenge: the likelihood of obtaining such as position begins to decrease after perhaps five to six years of postdoc research, and drops sharply after ten years. It is therefore important to plan to do a focused, productive postdoc and finish within five years.

Doing a second postdoc -- or spending too much time in a first postdoc -- can be a serious impediment to a career in industry. Researchers who spend too many years in postdoctoral positions are often labeled as too academic for industry jobs.

Contributors: Dave Jensen; Kelly; Robin; Maureen

Links to original discussions:


Section 3: Questions about Academic Positions

Should I take a job as a research assistant professor?

The value of a Research Assistant Professor (RAP) position is controversial. Many people feel that under the right circumstances, the RAP position can provide a good opportunity toward establishing an independent research career. Others view the RAP position as a potentially exploitative position that too often resembles a postdoctoral fellowship, with little long-term career potential. There is little job security, and your position is entirely dependent on continued grant funding either by yourself or by your PI.

A position as a RAP gives you the opportunity to apply for intramural or extramural grants. However, you will still be supported by your PI financially and will be required to work on your PI's projects and train students and postdocs. Even when you have your own independent project, you will be required to include your mentor as coapplicant in grant applications and as coauthor on publications. Your mentor may support your efforts to gain funding, but might not want you become too independent. Many PIs view an appointment as a RAP as not that different from a postdoc, which may make your life difficult if you are an independent and ambitious person.

The best use of a RAP position may be to try to obtain a grant to use as leverage to a position elsewhere. Even if you get grant funding, your institution may be unlikely to convert your RAP position to a tenure-track appointment. Many RAPs, although not all, have few if any regular faculty responsibility such as teaching, committee work and student advising, instead spending most of their time on research just like postdocs normally do.

Contributors: Wendy, Andrew1, Ike, Kelly S

Links to original discussions:

What do I need to know when interviewing for tenure-track positions?

Academic interviews are typically two full days. You will most likely go out to dinner twice, and they almost always take you to nice restaurants, so plan your attire accordingly. You may also have lunch or breakfast meetings. Ask to have one of the lunches with some graduate students. This gives you the opportunity to assess the students enrolled in the program, and also emphasizes your interest in education. Also ask about the core facilities available.

Ask the faculty who invited you to interview if there will be a chalk talk. Prepare this carefully so that you can show that you have planned exactly where you want to go with your work. If there is no chalk talk, build your future plans into your seminar--and not only in a single slide presented at the end. People should come away from your seminar knowing what kinds of work you're going to do in the future. Give a great talk, and even if you don't get the job you will leave an excellent impression of yourself and your work behind, that will help get your papers published, your grants funded, and so on. Never forget that these are your peers, not your instructors.

Be ready to discuss not only what you intend to do for your research, but also how you intend to carry it out and what resources you'll need. You don't need to have an itemized shopping list, but you should have some idea of any big-ticket items you'll need including access to specialized equipment and support facilities (animal care facilities, etc.). Going further, you should have some idea of what sources you're going to be approaching for continued funding and how you're going to be approaching them. If you have a realistic target date for submitting your first proposals and an outline of what they'll contain, that will help you stand out from other candidates. Find out what the people currently in the department are doing, and think about ways you might be able to interact with them. If you can show how your work can complement someone's work who's already there it will help make that person an advocate for you.

Look outside the immediate department for possible collaborations with other departments. If the position is going to involve any teaching responsibilities, be ready to discuss your teaching philosophy. This, by itself, will not have a major impact on whether or not you get an offer, but it might help you differentiate yourself from other, similarly-qualified candidates. When giving your presentation, make it clear what aspects of the work you did personally, and what parts were done by others. Giving credit where credit is due shows your fairness and ability to guide and mentor students in work. Make sure you stick to your allotted time, that your presentation will work flawlessly on whatever laptop is used, and that you are comfortable and confident giving the talk.

In addition to the tangible accomplishments, fit with the department is important, and may be more important than number of papers, quality of papers, grants.

Contributors: Madison, Rich Lemert, Alison, Kelly S

Links to original discussions:

How should I dress for an academic interview?

Most recommend that you wear a suit (with a tie, if you're male). An alternative is a combination of dress trousers (not khakis) with jacket and tie for men, or nice slacks/skirt and matching jacket for women. If you feel overdressed, you can remove the jacket. Wear comfortable shoes (low heels for women). If you need to buy new shoes, break them in for a week or two before your interview.

Contributors: Bill L. & Naledi S., Ric Weibl

Links to original discussions:

My partner and I are both scientists. How do we find someplace with jobs for both of us?

One option is to look at larger institutions. For example, the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, is home to more than 1,200 laboratories with scientists engaged in every area of biomedical research.

Alternatively, try to make a list of labs that you are each interested in, and then find cities in which you both have an interest. Contact labs in your common cities and try to arrange interviews. Discussing the fact that your partner is also involved in a job search is usually not a serious obstacle when interviewing, and some PIs may offer to put your partner in touch with other investigators who may be able to help with their search. It might help to set a date (that you and your partner agree on beforehand) by which you can tell potential PIs you will make a decision. If you really want a particular position, be very positive in your discussions with the PI.

Pay attention to the culture of the lab when you interview, especially the personal lives of other scientists. Labs with married postdocs or other people with children are generally more understanding about being married person working in science.

Contributors: Mario Cerritelli, Becky

Link to original discussion:


Section 4: Industry Questions

Q. If I want to work in the biotech industry, do I have to move to one of the large coastal hub areas like Boston or San Francisco?

A. The job market is much smaller in the non-hubs, and a lot of cities out there who talk about biotechnology are wannabe's who will never be able to create a real hub. Still, there are a lot of advantages to working in non-hubs in addition to the obvious and much-discussed shortcomings. Here are a few:

  • - While salaries are going to be lower in non-hubs, the ratio of non-hub salary to non-hub cost-of-living is usually much better than in pricey urban coastal hubs. 70K/year will get you much farther in Cleveland than 100K/year in San Francisco.
  • - While non-hub scientists complain about a shortage of companies, non-hub companies legitimately complain about a lack of applicants...let alone qualified applicants. That amounts to a local market advantage for the non-hub job seeker.
  • - Many who choose to remain in non-hubs do so because of strong personal and/or family ties to a region of the country. No amount of salary or name recognition in San Francisco will compensate for not being able to drive to see the parent's for a Sunday evening dinner.
  • - The idea that you cannot make it in a non-hub is obviously not true. There are thousands of companies in non-hubs, and they would not survive without employees.
  • - In a non-hub, it is much easier to become known on a first-name basis by people in local companies. If you are good, than it is surprisingly easy to know what's up with every company. Non-hub cities are like small towns. Everybody knows everybody. As long as you use that to your advantage, you can survive and thrive in the non-hub world.
  • - Though not every city can be an industry hub, industry has and will continue to expand into non-hub regions of the country. This trend ensures that there will be more opportunities for non-hub people in the future.

Contributors: Eric

Link to original discussion:

I am a senior scientist considering immigrating to the USA in order to take a job in industry. What tips would you have for me?

(Updated 1/10/08)

The route to a green card is not via an O visa but an EA one - the requirements are almost identical but the evaluation by USCIS is different - it is not unusual for someone to be issued an O-1 visa (has no direct path to permanent residence - three year limit) but then be denied the EA-1 visa (which allows self-sponsorship for green card without labor certification via a simple petition for adjustment of status). Both routes are probably not viable ones for students or postdocs or early career scientists, even the really stellar ones, because of the basic requirements, which are receipt of a major internationally recognized award ("Nobel Prize or other award of similar international standing" is the exact wording, which kind of limits the pool of applicants pretty quickly) or at least three of the following criteria:

  • - Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized awards or prizes for excellence in his/her field.
  • - Membership in associations in the field of extraordinary ability, which require outstanding achievement for membership, as judged by national or international experts (ie none of those associations where a simple paid membership gets you in - must be those that elect members, such as National Academies and the likes).
  • - Citations in professional publications, written by others about the individual's work in the field. Include the title, date, and author and any translation, if necessary.
  • - Participation on a panel or as a judge of the work of others in the same or an allied field.
  • - Original scientific, scholarly or business contributions of major significance to the field.
  • - Authorship of scholarly articles in the field in professional journals or major media.
  • - Previous employment in a critical capacity for organizations and/or establishments that have a distinguished reputation.
  • - Evidence of high salary or other significantly high remuneration for services in relation to others in the field, as proven by contracts or other evidence.

On top of this just presenting evididence of three of these is not enough, as the application is then judged on "quality of the evidence", meaning letters, affidavits, press releases, copies of articles mentioning you, etc are needed.

On the plus side these processes can be fast - you can get a response on an O-1 application in a few business days if you (or your employer) pay for premium processing ($1000) and an EA application can take only a few weeks.

Pleast Note This Disclaimer: This is not immigration law advice but the personal experience of Forum posters. Consult a lawyer for complex immigration matters like these.

Contributor: Derek McPhee

Link to original discussion:

What kind of document do I send a company, a CV or a Resume?

(Updated 1/22/07)

For a detailed discussion of this topic, see the following major thread on the career forum, As an additional reference, read the article in Tooling Up called "Resume Rocket Science 2007," and it's Source Addendum at

What do I need to know to interview successfully by telephone?

If someone calls you unexpectedly for a telephone interview without prior arrangement, they have to expect they may not catch you at an appropriate time, so don't be afraid to ask (politely) if you can call them back in a few minutes. This will give you a chance to collect your thoughts, perhaps asking roommates or family to quiet down, and arranging a place for your call where you can be focused, with pen and paper. Use any extra time that you have to research the company and the unit with which you would most likely be placed. Find out what drugs they are developing (specific compounds if possible, but also the overall diseases that their drugs address). Print these out and keep those notes available when you are about to start your phone interview.

Try to prepare statements anticipating questions that the hiring manager will ask you. "Tell me about yourself," or "Why are you interested in our company?" Also, "Where do you see yourself in three years?" is popular, as is "Describe a situation where you demonstrated your interpersonal skills." Have those notes in front of you when you are interviewing, but do not read your responses verbatim. Remember, you're also interviewing the manager who represents the company; the manager has to put the company in a positive light so that you remain interested in the job. Don't forget to smile often during your phone interview (you may want to place a mirror in view as a reminder). Add verbal cues to your responses. For example, you can say "Three points come to mind... first...., second...., lastly..." to help your listener know where you are in your response (without these clues, answers can seem longer). Saying "lastly", "finally", or "so, to summarize," is also helpful in getting the conversation back on track if you tend to ramble, or get lost in your response.

It helps to have a watch on the table, and to give your listener five seconds after each answer. They might be processing what you're saying, or taking notes. At times, interviewees are uncomfortable with the silence, but they need not be. If silence goes on a bit long you can use a verbal cue such as, "Did that answer your question?" It may also help to keep a glass of water nearby.

How about interviewing successfully in person?

Many of the suggestions for phone interviews will work in face-to-face environments as well. Consider practicing job interviews, with others, while dressed in your interview clothing. You can also video-record your practice interviews.

If you are a MS or PhD applicant, you will likely be asked to do a job talk. When giving your presentation, make sure that you provide your audience with some background information about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Don't launch into a discussion of technical data without first orienting the audience to your topic. Briefly define technical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms. Explain any unusual methods. Make sure that the transition from slide to slide is logical and organized. (Get someone else to go through the presentation with you to check the organization). In a general sense, your presentation should tell a story. Think of it as though you are storyboarding a movie. Each slide should be clear, completely legible, and neatly laid out. Make sure you know the slides well so that you do not appear to be surprised by the slides. If you borrow slides and figures from other people, make sure you fit them in seamlessly to your presentation style - look for subtle differences in background color, graphics, fonts, or other visual elements. Try to use a casual speaking style that avoids both nervousness and arrogance. Remember that it is far more than just science that you are being graded on in an industry job talk; companies want to know more about your personality, your communication style, and your ability to represent them.

During your interview day you will be taken out to lunch or dinner with other scientists and the prospective supervisor or a key member of the department. Keep in mind that during these occasions etiquette and table manners do get noticed. Avoid alcohol. Even if others have ordered a beer, stick to the iced tea. Regardless of the fact that the "interview" seems to be put on hold during the repast, it is still going. Ask good questions. Show enthusiasm and happiness for your work.

The SPIN technique may also help in interviewing (SPIN Selling is a book by Neil Rackham). Despite the disdain that scientists have for sales, an interview can be thought of as selling yourself to an employer. SPIN is an acronym for Situation Problem Implication Need/payoff. The book explains that ineffective salespeople incorrectly focus on the greatness of their product, rather than on how the product relates to the customer's needs. Spend a bit of time in the interview learning about the situation (what the company is doing, types of products, and so on). Learn why the employer is hiring -- what problems are they trying to solve? Perhaps it is turnover, a sudden increase in orders, or a big new client? What implications does this have - perhaps products going on backorder, turning away business, having slow turnaround on services or development, decreasing quality control/quality assurance numbers? Finally, how will hiring you help solve the problems and meet the employer's need? Do your skills match what is needed to help the employer solve their problem? Will hiring you reduce or eliminate the implications of that problem? If you can walk an employer through all four SPIN ingredients, you've made great interview progress.

What should I wear to an interview at a biotechnology/pharmaceutical company?

Wear a suit and tie (or the female equivalent). If you are over-dressed, no one will really care, but they will notice if you are under-dressed. You may easily end up being interviewed by VP-level staff even for entry-level PhD positions, and they will often be wearing suits.

Be very cautious of taking the advice of other grad students or postdocs, who tell you that they've interviewed successfully in polo shirts and jeans. While this casual attire may be the order of the day for employees of the company, it is not the way these employers expect interviewees to be dressed.

Contributors: Kevin Foley; Andrew Kolbert; Dave Jensen

Links to original discussions:

What do I do if they ask me about my salary expectations?

(Updated 12/07/06)

There are two possible questions that you might be asked about salary. One of them is about your present salary, or a salary history, and there is nothing wrong with answering a face-to-face question about this. After all, they may plan to check your response to this question after the fact, so answer truthfully. (If you are filling out a form in Human Resources and it includes a question about "Present Earnings," it may be considered entirely optional on your part to fill that in; consider writing "To Be Discussed." That's because there are many issues surrounding present earnings that need discussion and one number filled in on a form generally doesn't make your financial situation clear to anyone.)

You could also be asked about your salary expectations for this job. Your response to this question should be considered carefully, as it is difficult to guess the right number, and you'll only be too low or too high. The goal should be to get the company to state the range first.

"I expect that you will offer a salary that is commensurate with the contributions I will make to your company. However, if you will provide a salary range that you have in mind for this position, I can confirm we are in the general ballpark." Or, if that sounds too formal, try this . . . "I'd expect a salary that is competitive to other people with similar education and credentials already in your employ. By the way, what is that range?"

Once you have an actual job offer in hand, you'll find out quickly if the company wants to negotiate, or if they are a first offer, best offer employer. (Firms like that are typically the larger companies, or those with a more formal H/R process. They will not give you any room at all to negotiate the salary, and it is purely take it or leave it.) If a company wants to negotiate, they will usually have the offer presented with comments like "Here's a number to get us going," or "How do you feel about this offer?"

Don't forget all the peripheral items that may still be negotiable, even in the first offer, best offer companies: Hiring bonuses, benefits, moving expenses, vacation time, starting date, decision date, travel support for conferences, administrative support, technician or support personnel, job responsibilities, and work schedule.

Contributors to these questions include: Dave Jensen, mpb, Bill L. & Naledi S., Emil Chuck, John Mastro, John Fetzer, Chris Buntel, Kevin Foley

Links to original discussions:

Do I need to do a postdoc to work in industry?

Some companies - especially large East Coast pharmaceutical companies--sometimes hire scientists who do not have postdoctoral experience. In addition, a short-term industry postdoc may sometimes lead to a permanent position after only a few months. However, PhD hires without postdocs are rare, and finding a position such as this often requires extensive networking. Positions that are most easily accessible without a postdoc are application scientists and support roles within companies that supply instruments, reagents, and other research tools. Because most hiring managers have had postdocs themselves, very few biotechnology companies hire scientists directly from graduate school without postdoctoral research experience. In addition, although some biotech companies offer industrial postdoc programs, they frequently claim not to hire their own postdocs for permanent positions.

If you know that you are eventually interested in an industry position but you decide to take an academic postdoc, try to choose one in which you will acquire skills that will make you attractive to industry. In addition, keep your postdoctoral period brief (two to four years), focus on producing results, and then move on to your search for an industry job. Spending five to six years or more as a postdoc might raise questions about your productivity and focus, as would doing more than one postdoc. Companies will view your postdoc experience favorably if it relates to their needs and is short enough that there are no concerns about an ingrained academic culture.

Contributors: Dave Jensen, Kevin Foley

How do I work with a recruiter to advance my career? Who should pay a recruiter's fees?

A recruiter is hired by an employer to find job candidates who have specific kinds of experience. It is important to remember that the recruiter's fees are paid by the employer. Recruiters work on behalf of the employer, not the job candidate. Recruiters primarily work with people who have at least two to three years of industry experience. They rarely work with new graduates or postdocs, and they almost never place people in entry-level positions. New or recent graduates or postdocs who lack industry experience may be able to turn to recruiters for advice, for suggestions about potential contacts, and so on, although the recruiter should not be viewed a primary job-searching tool for these individuals.

When you work with a recruiter, do so under very specific terms. Do not allow them to send your CV to a potential employer without your permission. Be sure that they agree to contact you before your resume or CV is submitted to a client. This ensures that if you have already made direct contact with a firm, the involvement of a recruiter will not complicate your negotiations.

Be wary of any service that charges a fee to help you find a job or that tries to sell you any kind of job-hunter service. Most of these services provide little value, and may actually be detrimental to a job search. For example, professionally written resumes are easily recognized by employers and recruiters, and are often viewed negatively. Preparers use generic, standardized templates to create these resumes, for which they often charge large fees. Writing your own resume is great preparation for your interviews. It will help you to write and speak succinctly about your accomplishments, and it will not look like an attempt has been made to avoid the work of writing your own resume.

Contributor: Dave Jensen

Links to original discussions:

How do I make the transition from academia to industry?

Simply being at the right institution may provide significant exposure to industry scientists. According to the book When Do Scientists Become Entrepreneurs? The Social Structural Antecedents of Commercial Activity in the Academic Life Sciences, by T. E. Stuart and W. W. Ding, the ten US universities with the largest number of faculty who are either founders or advisory board members of biotech companies are Harvard, UCSD, Stanford, UCSF, the University of Washington, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Yale, Columbia, and Cornell. It can really pay off in the long run to have worked in a laboratory with connections to the industry club.

Remember that moving to industry is a lot like joining a private club. Imagine that you are a great tennis player and you want to join the local tennis club. Would you write letter after letter to their membership chair? Or, would you go find another member to be your sponsor? The latter would work, whereas the letters would get tossed into the round file. That's what the goal of networking is . . . to find a "sponsor" for your application.

After you have found your first industry job, try to focus your early efforts on projects that will help the company to reach its goals. Every company has individuals or groups that are more academic in their approach, and that may not directly contribute to the company's bottom line. As someone who has recently left the academic environment, you may be tempted to do the same. In the long run, however, people who succeed in industry tend to be the ones who contribute the most directly to helping meet the company goals (e.g., by discovering a new drug target, designing a more efficient high-throughput screen, solving a formulation problem, etc.).

Contributors: Kevin Foley, Dave Jensen

Links to original discussions:

How do I identify the hiring manager?

If you know someone within a company that has an open position, you can call your contact and ask the name of the hiring manager for the position. Your contact may be able to provide you with the hiring manager's name and contact information. If you do not know anyone at the company, a literature search may identify papers published by scientists who work within that research group. For example, the National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health PubMed database may be searched by company name. The first or last author is the most likely to be the hiring manager for that research group. Call the company's main telephone number - if you ask for a particular person, the operator will usually connect you. If you do not know anyone at the company and cannot find any information with a literature database search, an internet search engine (eg, Google) may help you to identify researchers within the company. For example, a search of "scientist at Merck," or "scientist" may turn up names or e-mail addresses of researchers within the research group of interest.

Contributors: Andy Spencer, Dave Jensen

Link to original discussion:


Section 5: Questions about Jobs Outside of Scientific Research

What legal careers are available for someone with a science background?

People who combine an advanced science degree with legal training often find legal career opportunities in intellectual property (IP), the environment, or other law fields. Legal positions are available within biotech and pharmaceutical companies, as well as law firms, patent offices, and university technology licensing offices; a PhD degree is a significant advantage for these types of jobs. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) also looks for people with strong technical backgrounds to work as examiners.

Going to meetings (e.g., the Association of University Technology Managers [AUTM] national meeting), networking with attorneys and patent agents, and talking to your institution's technology transfer office are all ways to get started with a search for this kind of position. Passing the patent exam will make you more attractive to a firm. It may also help to take an IP survey course at a university, or a basic licensing course through AUTM. When interviewing at law firms, be ready for the obvious questions: Why do you want to leave research for IP? Why are you interested in our firm? What do you know about patents already? Do you want to go to law school? Do you have any prior experience with IP? Have questions for your interviewers as well: What kind of training/mentorship do they have for tech specialists? What is the scope of projects? Do technology specialists become patent agents? Does the firm pay for the patent bar exam? Do technology specialists have to go to night law school?

You might also consider trying to find an internship with a law firm during graduate school. Remember that your school is a client of at least one firm. Some schools have internship programs with their preferred law firms as a career development tool for their students.

Contributors: Chris Buntel, Jill

Link to original discussion:

What differences are there in a legal job search, or in legal employment networking?

Many forum readers have discovered that networking in the legal field is entirely different from that of the scientist or other science career area. In the legal arena, the "peer plus 2" method of networking doesn't seem to produce the same quantity of leads as it does in other fields. Quite frankly, we believe that young employees of law firms are very busy--perhaps too busy to respond to networking inquiries. With law firms, the best approach is to contact the Partner. Partners are easy to find, and they generally have open email addresses on the company website. While they may be difficult to reach by phone, forum readers report that Partners generally respond to email networking requests and even informational interviews. Don't send off a CV on the first contact! Simply be in touch as you would with anyone else, asking advice on your career interests or offering to meet the Partner in person. For excellent advice from Keven about interview day in the law firm, see the original discussion below.

Contributors: Keven, Dave Jensen

Link to original discussion:

Could I find a job as a science writer or editor?

Many former researcher scientists work as science or medical writers or editors. Writing and editing positions are found in many different settings, including pharmaceutical companies, professional societies (e.g., American Heart Association), marketing and public relations companies, and contract research organizations. Advertising agencies hire writers to develop sales aids or training materials for pharmaceutical sales staff. Other possible work settings include textbook publishers, scientific journals, and science-oriented publications in the lay media (e.g., National Geographic, Scientific American). Most major medical schools have public press offices, and many have offices of continuing medical education.

In addition to a solid science background, any kind of writing experience would be helpful in making the transition to one of these positions. Scientific manuscripts, abstracts, or grant proposals might be sufficient for an entry-level position. Project management and leadership are important skills: writers in the corporate environment are often required to produce documents on schedule while working with a diverse team (eg, physicians, statisticians, programmers, regulatory affairs associates, managers, etc). Other types of helpful experience might include volunteering at a journal edited by a member of your academic department, writing for your local newspaper, or collaborating with a local researcher who needs help preparing manuscripts for publication. The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) offers courses on writing and editing, medical terminology, interpreting medical research, and related topics, as does the National Association of Science Writers (NASW).

Contributors: Kelly, Emil Chuck, mpb, Jim Gardner, John Fetzer

Links to original discussions:

What other options are available if I have a PhD in the sciences but do not wish to work at the laboratory bench?

There are numerous other possibilities for careers outside the laboratory. The website has a booklet available on alternative careers here:

Management consulting firms hire individuals with PhDs to work alongside their MBA consultants. The firms offer significant introductory training and professional development opportunities. The recruiting season for the large consulting companies is based on the academic calendar, with application deadlines in early fall, interviews in late fall/winter, the extension of offers in winter, and start dates in the spring and summer. Those interested in management consulting should look into McKinsey's Insight Healthcare program. Intended for candidates with MD or PhD degrees, these provide an all-expenses-paid weekend retreat. Candidates are given extensive information about consulting careers and perform a simulated case that illustrates the typical tasks required of a management consultant.

Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) work at pharmaceutical/biotechnology companies and act as intermediaries between the technical departments and the marketing/sales departments. They also represent the company in interactions with external scientists or physicians. Application Scientists are those who work for supplier companies such as reagent or instrument firms. The Application Scientist supports the work of the sales rep, assisting them in technical communications to their customer, as well as seminars and workshops.

Technology transfer is a mixture of business, science, and law, and people enter the field from all three directions. Networking is especially important in finding these positions. AUTM (Association of University Technology Managers) is a professional organization for technology transfer professionals, with an annual meeting, regional meetings, and educational programs.

Many people with advanced degrees in the sciences work in science policy. Several policy fellowships are available, and are a good way to transition from research to policy. The best known fellowships may be those offered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS; There are also Presidential Management Fellows (for which you must be nominated by your institution; Stanford University also has a Science Policy fellowship (

Other career possibilities include:

  • - teaching
  • - entrepreneurship
  • - engineering
  • - regulatory affairs
  • - government agencies
  • - quality assurance
  • - bio - manufacturing
  • - trade groups
  • - not-for-profit organizations
  • - investments or acquisitions
  • - expert witness
  • - grants administration
  • - scientific advisor for Congress/Senate
  • - advocate/educator for hospital patients
  • - museum exhibit development

Contributors: Dave Jensen, John Fetzer, Pavel Silin, Kelly, Emil Chuck, Bill L. and Naledi S., Andy, Chris Buntel, Melanie

Links to original discussions:

I would like to move to the business side of industry. Should I go to business school and get an MBA?

Many people feel it is essential to have significant pharmaceutical research or manufacturing experience - outside of an academic setting - before beginning an MBA program. Some who are planning a business career don't realize how difficult it is to make two big changes at once. You may find that you need to make a move to industry (your first major transition) before you get the job in business (the second transition, and just as drastic as the first). It is very difficult to make both transitions at once.

You need to plan this career move as if it were a game of chess. As an example, many successful career-changers have used the approach of getting a job as a scientist and their careers have then moved in a variety of directions from that technical starting point. (Most Directors or VP's in Business Development in the biotechnology industry started out as research scientists, not as MBA's coming from academia).

You could also try to start out by gaining some experience in the technology transfer office of your university. From there, you could move to tech transfer positions in many different settings, including intellectual property or business development. Some people work part-time or even volunteer with their campus tech transfer office. This can work wonders for your career aspirations. You may start getting calls from headhunters about jobs after as little as one year of part-time experience.

Many top business schools require work experience for admittance to their MBA programs. Real experience will also help you to get more from your MBA coursework. Although it is a benefit that is slowly disappearing, note that some employers still pay for all or part of your MBA training. Once you have a job in industry, plan to apply to an MBA program after two to three years. This will increase your chances of admission to the better schools, which makes a big difference in MBA success.

For those interested in business school, MBA tours hit a number of cities worldwide and are a good way to learn about different programs and also an opportunity to meet alumni. These are probably best for those who are still gathering information about possible careers and who are not convinced that an MBA is the appropriate choice. For those who have already begun the application process or who already know the target schools to which they would apply, the benefit of attending these tours may be small.

Once you get to business school, many big pharmaceutical/biotech companies (Pfizer, Merck, Amgen, and Genentech, to name a few) do MBA recruiting, and some offer rotational programs. These may require an initial stint in sales for those with no prior field experience. However, companies tend to recruit primarily at a few schools - usually the ones that are most difficult to get into - and they have only a handful of slots.

Each of these institutions offers a science-oriented business degree, and they also offer short courses (in parentheses).

  • - Harvard Business School (Leadership and Strategy in Pharmaceuticals and Biotech)
  • - Kellogg School of Management (Biotechnology Strategies for Growth)
  • - St. Josephs University
  • - San Diego State University Business School
  • - Vanderbilt University (Growing and Managing a Biotech Enterprise)
  • - Wharton (Wharton/Windhover Program for Pharma and Biotech Executives)

Contributors: Dave Jensen, Jim Gardner, Alex Diwa

Links to original discussions:


Section 6: General Questions. What is networking? How do I do it?

Although it is a common misperception, networking is not schmoozing, nor is it something that should be done only during a job search. Networking is simply the process of cultivating a group of people who know your name and have a positive impression of you. Your network is the group of people you meet and get to know in your professional life. Actively maintaining your professional network can help you to identify more professional opportunities than someone who maintains a passive network and who only turns it on for a job search. In fact, the best time to network is when you are not looking for a job, so consider starting this when you are still a year or two from availability. Your network can help you to find out about employment opportunities, but is also useful in other ways (e.g., finding information about an instrument you might be considering purchasing, finding a source for scarce reagents or other materials, to gain an introduction to a third party, etc.).

One way to establish contacts is to find the names of people who are just two to three years ahead of you, and call them to ask about how they made it into their current positions. ("Peer+2 Networking" is Dave Jensen's term for this process). Don't expect that everyone will have the time or the inclination to speak with you. The hard part is often finding names, because companies generally do not share this information. Search for potential leads in sources such as the Science Citation Index, journal listings for your particular discipline, or even patent databases. You might also be able to find contacts through the alumni organization of your college or university. Send a brief e-mail message or letter to a researcher in your area with some questions about a recently published paper. Talk to people at conferences, and ask them how they found their positions. However, do not begin the conversation by saying "I'm looking for a job." This only leads to an immediate referral to the HR department.

The book How to Work a Room, by Susan RoAne, is a guide to meeting and interacting with people in professional settings, especially in groups, and it is widely recommended by networking consultants for those shy and retiring types who have trouble reaching out to strangers.

Once you have made a professional contact, stay in touch. While you don't want to over-do it with constant telephone calls, you also don't want to make this a one-time event. Communicate with your contacts periodically (perhaps once every month or two) to let them know what you are doing, offer reprints, ask for their reprints, and so on. If you see a paper by someone you know, send a brief note of congratulations and acknowledgement. Telephone to talk about what people are doing in the field, or ask for advice on problems you're having. Send a quick e-mail message when something interesting comes up. Although your messages may be informal, be sure to make them personal.

Just as job seekers use professional networks to find employment opportunities, employers often fill jobs by a process of reverse networking, in which the hiring manager uses a professional network to identify potential job candidates. Maintaining your professional contacts will therefore increase your odds of finding out about potential new positions before they are advertised, and may help you to put you in touch with the hiring manager directly. Many books refer to the huge number of jobs that get filled this way as the hidden job market.

Contributors: Russell, Dave Jensen, Rich Lemert, Robert2, John Fetzer, Kevin Foley

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