switching careers

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switching careers

Postby G.T. » Thu Jun 01, 2006 1:30 pm

Hi, I am a researcher and lab manager at Columbia University. I have worked for 5 years (in academia and industry) and have lots of experience in the scientific basic research realm (I've done cell and molecular biology, quality control, and clinical pharmacology). However, I am now interested in switching careers to do the business behind the science and I am not sure how to go about it. I've decided that I don't want to do benchwork anymore. I will be looking into business school as well, but for now, I'd like to find a job in business development or market research (or anything to get my foot in the door) within the same industry. Does anyone have advice (websites, companies, etc.) for my job search? (I plan on staying here in New York City.) I feel that although I have all this experience, I'll be starting from scratch by switching to business.

Any information would be greatly appreciated.

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switching careers

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jun 02, 2006 12:03 pm

Hi Glor,

Thanks for joining the forum discussion! Perhaps you could put up a forum profile, which will ensure that the senior level people here on the forum take an interest in your question.

We've heard this one before, and in fact it will be one of the first questions that goes into the new FAQ that we are publishing soon. Many people, for some reason, reach this point where they are almost totally "fried" on basic bench research, and they wish to take their technical knowledge and move to a field that has more people involvement. I guess being a lone researcher has its frustrations.

Your industry exposure will be a plus to you, I'm sure. But, still you may need to go into the new post by using your strengths -- that is, to take a scientific position in industry. Many people don't realize how difficult it is to make TWO big changes all at once. In other words, you've got to plan this career move like its a game of chess. You need to make a move to industry (FIRST TRANSITION) before you get the job in business (SECOND TRANSITION). It's nearly impossible to make both transitions at once.

Of course, you could get a job in the University tech transfer offices. That would be a great step towards your ideal career, because you'd be on the "other side of the desk" from a job in business development. Then, after a year or two there, you'd be getting headhunter calls on a weekly basis. From that kind of job, you can move to Tech Transfer just about anywhere, go into I.P. work, or take a job in Business Development. A really good plan if you can pull it off . . . Some people get a chance to work part time, or even on a volunteer basis, with their campus tech transfer office, and it works wonders for their career aspirations.

The standard approach is to get a job as a scientist in a biotechnology company. You will find that once in the turbulent growth of a biotech venture, your career can go in a variety of directions. Of course, when you start networking and interviewing with biotech managers, you don't want to tell them "I want to transfer into B.D. within a year or two of my start . . . " That would be a deal killer. However, its the truth that most people who are key staff in Business Development (B.D.) are those who started in the firm or another as a Research Scientist.

Forget the business school for now. Wait till you actually get a job in industry, and then go for it 2-3 yrs later. You'll find that you get admitted to the better schools (which makes a BIG difference in MBA success!) and that your job opportunities will be so much better.

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switching careers

Postby Derek McPhee » Fri Jun 02, 2006 1:31 pm

I would have to agree with Dave and say that a double transition from academia to industry BD is almost a non-starter in the eyes of a hiring manager as you will essentially be a newbie in both aspects of the job, competing with people who will have significant experience in at least one (you mention industry experience, but given your current position and the total experience mentioned that can't be very significant, although it will help you get a foot in the industry door).
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