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Is it good to join a startup company as a fresh PhD?

PostPosted: Wed May 25, 2016 9:19 pm
by DFY
First, let me explain the situation. I am offered a job in a biotech start up company founded by my PI. If I join, I would be the only one working on bench and science, basically extending my dissertation and working on few other projects.

Let us set the money problem aside and talk about the value of this kind of working experience. How would a hiring manager in CRO and big pharma see me and the working experience? I am into science and not quite interested in business at this moment. So I guess I would still apply for a scientist job after 2 or 3 years. The bright side is that I can develop a lot of projects if I want and keep publishing. The bad side is that it is just like a post doc with some business experience. I don't know if this kind of experience would hurt me few years later to find a scientist job in the pharma.

I would appreciate any input.

Re: Is it good to join a startup company as a fresh PhD?

PostPosted: Thu May 26, 2016 2:06 pm
by PG
This is almost exactly what I did. I joined a startup based on an invention from the research group were I did my PhD studies. I actually joined already before defending my thesis and then went back and completed my thesis on company money.
The advantage with joining a start up is that it gives you opportunity to do a lot of different things and build experience from not only bench science but also other tasks that you may be interested in.

Make sure that the company have money to last at least a couple of years and also be prepared that publishing might suffer regardless of what you are being told. Investors and other owners might have opinions about what to publish and when that are based on marketing concerns rather than the possibility to publish good science. Having said that publications become less important once you have made the jump to industry. For almost all hiring managers having industry experience also from a startup will beat having a postdoc especially if the startup is active in the area were you are looking for a job ie for example pharma development, diagnostics etc

Re: Is it good to join a startup company as a fresh PhD?

PostPosted: Fri May 27, 2016 3:49 pm
by Dick Woodward
PG's advice is, as usual, spot on. The hardest industrial job you will ever get is the first one. There are a couple of things that you should look at before you make the move, however.

First - does the company have money to pay you and provide benefits, or will you be expected to work for stock options? You can get very wealthy on stock options (as my friend with the very low employee number at Amgen explained as we went to lunch in her new high-end Mercedes) but when you have no money, they are pretty hard to eat and not especially nutritious.

Second - who will be running the company? If it is your PI, what background does the PI have in such things as running a company, raising money, finding industrial partners and the like? I am willing to bet that if the PI is running the company, the answer to the above questions is somewhere between zero and nil. Not to disparage PIs, but running a company and getting venture funding has very little in common with running a lab, although many academics seem to feel that they are the same thing. In the same vein, is the PI planning to quit the university to run the company full time? I doubt it. My advice to people regarding companies where the founding academic scientist is the CEO is to run away - not walk but sprint. You will save yourself a lot of headaches.

If you are going to be the only person doing science, what will the rest of the people be doing? Is there a "rest of the people", or will it be only you? If the latter, does the company have an actual location, or is it in the PI's lab "for the time being"? If it is in the PI's lab and you are the only employee, it may be difficult to convince future hiring managers that you worked for a "real company."

You need to consider all of these issues before making your decision.

Best of luck,

Dick

Re: Is it good to join a startup company as a fresh PhD?

PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2016 8:53 pm
by DFY
Thank you, Dick and PG. I guess I know the answer.

Re: Is it good to join a startup company as a fresh PhD?

PostPosted: Wed Jun 01, 2016 1:01 pm
by Ana
Dick Woodward wrote: My advice to people regarding companies where the founding academic scientist is the CEO is to run away - not walk but sprint. You will save yourself a lot of headaches.

If it is in the PI's lab and you are the only employee, it may be difficult to convince future hiring managers that you worked for a "real company."


My advice exactly. It will be seen as just more academic experience (because it probably is) and at the same time your publications might suffer. Not worth it.