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The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Fri May 13, 2016 9:50 am
by Dave Jensen
There are certain types of scientists who, early on, take their specialty and apply it into the job market as freelancers. This article discusses that approach to employment, and how it's affecting the workforce in the USA.


Re: The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2016 1:25 am
by Ana
Has any scientist in this forum been successful following the freelancing route?

I know of senior scientists that become independent consultants later in their careers but what I'm interested about is cases where early on, as Dave says, took that pathway. Working within universities and pharma the only freelancers I came across where the "old consultants" and a few technicians that to go around a headcount freezing where asked to register as independent workers and contracted as freelancers - a corporate decision not a personal choice for them. But that might be because I'm in life sciences and it might be more common in the engineering side of the sciences.

In any case it is a very interesting topic so I'd like hearing if any scientist here has tried it and managed to make it work.

Re: The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2016 3:14 pm
by Dave Jensen
Ana, I agree. To me, it seems that 80% of our "consultants database" consists of old-timers with lots of expertise on offer. The other 20% seems to be those in hot areas -- the PhD ChE with experience in cell culture bioprocessing, the Toxicologist, the Biostatistician, and so forth.

Like you, I would love to hear from those that have done this,


Re: The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Mon May 30, 2016 3:01 am
by D.X.
Hi Dave and Ana,

I have not done freelancing but I can share my experiences and views from my side of pharma.

To Dave's Observation about experience, all freelancers/indpendent Consultants I've worked with have been well-experienced. They have an established record as former full-time employees, that is they had a career in the industry before freelancing.

In General they tend to be of a certain Age, usually in the mid 40s and beyond and tend to have over 20 years experience in the industry before freelancing out. An exception here can be Medical Writers where they've had a few years in an agency or in-house that allowed them to build their skills, sufficient to effectively freelance. In other words, they are experts.

Alot of the freelancers took that step in Response to either a reduction in force or some other external influencing factor that necessitated that they pursue Independent work. As noted some of this can be Age related, it can be hard for mid 40 and beyond to find employement depite experience.

EDITED this Sentance: So this is is related to the key Driver of the trend in my opinion, a conslidating industry that is impacting some seasoned veterans of the industry. I have quiet a few buddies that have been axes and found a new life as freelancers/indepedent Consultant as you do These days. Less driven by entrepreneural or quality of life reasons.

A few Points of note. The freelancers/indepedent Consultants have worked with do have that entrepreneural flare. They have to. Its not easy work. In Addition to delivering quality work to their Clients, they must also find new or continued Business. Yes, there is a Level of freedom they have in Terms of Controlling workload but they still have to deliver and mitigate lack of Business, they Need to plan when and where their next "contract" is coming from. So it may not be a Job where one sips coffee and casually taps way at a lap top. Networking is also key here and most freelancers I know have a very active travel life for work.

Most state that the freedom Comes from being able to choose Projects (once established), get a diverse experience, and get away from corporate politics, they get to bring that indpendent and objective view with out facing political ramifications if they do it right. They still carry workload but they can control it once established in waves, i.e. they may be ape crazy for 8 months but have a 4 months of off-time to Play with during the year.

A few pit falls of freelancers, some have broken way from their employer as full time employees, and use their former employers as their exclusive Client. The bad here is that they only depend on one source of Business and can be at risk for new Business. The bad here is also they may still try to Play the political games as well.

As for mitigating being reduced in force (let go, pink slipped etc), as one gets older its viable Option, the risk is mitigated by continued Networking to secure Business from a diverse set and number of Clients. This is work and can bring a Level of stress especially when one is starting off. Like any Business, it will take time, Investment and hard work until the wheels are somewhat greased. A good part is that one, if an opportunity exists, can always go back in house.

So take home message, to be a good freelancer with sustained Business, one Needs a Network (which is a continuous process), a credibility factor based on Prior work delivered and experience, and an entrepreneural Spirit. One has to be very confident and must be ready to put themselves out there. There is a common personality - that is they tend be very out going Folks, pretty much alpha's, because, they do Need to sell themselves and their work.

Hope this helps, but easy Job but there can be rewards.


Re: The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2016 2:26 am
by D.X.
Hi again,

Also wanted to give a perspective on why we use freelancers. In General, we are using them on a Project by Project Basis where a fixed budget or permanant FTE may not make sense Budget wise. Budget wise it could be that Senior Management does not want an Additional FTE - alot of this is depending on where FTE Budget sits and what's been planned for.

In recent times with one case, I've had sufficent work load where i did make a case for an additional FTE however from Company/department perspective that was not in the interest Budget wise to allocate in the interest of controlling operational expentiture from their Budgets and Business priorities (this is normal, your priority may not be the priority of others despite the Business case). So I went with my own freelancer/Consultant. In this case then the cost of that freelancer came out of "my" individual brand budget allocation, not the "company's" pot of FTE budgeting. So I was able to pay for a 6 month Support - in this case the freelancer was very operational and tactical but a 100% professional and expert. I can decide if I want another 6 months depending on the team's workload. If push came to shove and I had Budget Limitation the Company would have allocated Budget to me for the freelancer but in no way would they Support a fixed/permanant Budget FTE despite low FTE resources that's plaging us.

At the end of the day the cost of an fixed Budget FTE can have a Budget Impact, there is the cost of a hire, associated insurances etc. that carries over year to year, whereas freelancer, well, you may have a higher cost if you just look a salary but its over the short-term, near one-off expenditure without the burden/cost linked to a fixed Budget FTE.

And just to be clear, this is a freelancer, this is not a "contractor" Situation. The freelancer is a freelancer and has no interest in becoming a fixed-budget FTE, they are providing a Service vis a vis their own Business. In somecase I've instead of a freelancer, I just put it with an agency (i'm doing this for some Projects where I trust the agencies that are driving), again here it Comes out of my individual allocated Budget not HR Budgets or other department Budgets.

Hope this also gives clarity from inside, and where freelancers are getting paid from (either department pot of cash for the year or individual allocated annual Budgets) so despite establshed deficiecies in FTE resourses internally, the trend is to out source it. In General when I've raised the issue, I usually get a push back, i.e. can it be done by freelancer?, or an agency? or what % FTE do you want can you talk to so and so to see if you can get a % of so and so. That's what the discussions look like, top Level, when I'm pushing for a FTE.

So just a Little insight from the inside.


Re: The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2016 1:05 pm
by Ana
Thanks DX,

I've also seen many former colleagues from pharma become freelancers after a layoff, but I haven't seen so far any succeed at that. That's why I asked about any success story of someone taking that freelancing route that wasn't your usual 50+ years old former head of Chemistry/Biology/DMPK now consulting for the companies where his former colleagues now sit at the board.

I think your comments were great so I've little to add!


Re: The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Thu Jun 02, 2016 2:57 am
by D.X.
Hi Ana,

Nah, maybe only for Medical Writers they can be on the younger side - generally late 30s, early 40s at youngest.

Other than that..well is the older folk. C'est la vie.


Re: The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2016 6:50 pm
by MPB
This was posted awhile ago, and I'm not sure that is there any interest, but I have some experience in this area. My background is in laboratory neuroscience -- 20 years ago, I got as a far a non-tenure track "RAP" position and decided to do something else. I've mainly been a freelance medical writer since that time, in the pharma industry or occasionally doing projects for medical societies or nonprofits. Over the last few years, I've increasingly worked as a freelance Scientific Director or Medical Director, where I provide more oversight in the development of communications programs, with someone else doing the writing. When I first started at this, most medical writers were nurses or people with English degrees and some knowledge of science -- but these days, there are legions of freelance PhD medical writers who bailed out of academia. There are fewer freelance scientific/med directors, but there are some.

I have also known a few people who were freelance lab techs -- one friend of mine was a senior tech who started her own business working in biotech company labs. She was very succesful at that for several years, but eventually moved to a city where there wasn't much industry and gave it up.

There are also a few older, "second career" types who freelance or consult. A friend of mine is a veterinary pathologist who is in her 50s who who got tired of looking through microscopes all day long and started a freelance medical editing business. S

Re: The trend to "freelance" instead of employment-at-will

PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2016 11:46 am
by Dave Jensen
Thanks MPB -- a valuable contribution to that topic,

Dave Jensen, moderator