Working in industry – what’s it all about?

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant considerable change for one and all. One of the ways in which the Biochemical Society is working to support the community at this time is to host a series of online Q&As around different career-themed topics. Before the summer, we explored Teaching in Higher Education, with academics joining us to explain the transferable skills you need to progress your career, along with tips for engaging students.  On 3 September, we held our second online chat via Twitter to answer your questions on Working in Industry. Our panelists represented different aspects of the biosciences industry, which included Gerard Collins, Human Resources Director at Sosei Heptares, Marion Vandeputte, an Associate Scientist at Illumina, and Daniel Jamieson, an entrepreneur and Founder of Biorelate. Here we provide the highlights from our online Q&A.

What are the main differences between working in academia and industry?  

You can usually find entry-level jobs in industry requiring a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a science related subject. For working in industry, a PhD is not mandatory but it will give you access to higher level positions and more responsibilities. 

While academic research is more personally orientated, industry tends to split workflows across a series of teams collaborating on specific projects.  An academic environment allows more external visibility and exposure, however, industry will have greater resources so there is a lot more automation and up-to-date equipment. From our panel’s experience, they felt, generally, that there is a greater independence within academia while industry roles tend to have an immediate focus. Industry will follow more standardized processes and have more layers of management. 

On the other hand, entrepreneurship is open to anyone, regardless of skills. So, if you’re looking to launch your own start-up, then be prepared to work at break-neck speed. It can be really exciting and, if things go well, it often leads to rapid career progression. Key transferable skills that academics can bring to industry are definitely communication and presentation experience, along with both independent and team-working project management skills. Scientific skills will help you innovate, but experience is the only qualification that really counts. 

What kind of non-science roles are available for scientists?   

Within the biosciences industry, there are a variety of roles available. There are opportunities for scientists and researchers to move into business development, data science, finance, you name it! As scientists tend to be very adaptive, creative and great problem solvers, the world is your oyster. There are a lot of roles that are non-lab based such as working in marketing, sales, science communication, patent law, scientific writing, and manufacturing. If your experience lies in drug development, such as managing and running clinical trials, then you may want to consider a role in regulatory affairs or pharmacovigilance – analysing the safety and reactions to drugs within clinical trials. 

Any tips for navigating the transition between academia and industry?   

Gerard, our HR panelist, shared feedback he has received from a number of scientists that the interview process can be very different across industry, compared with academia. It’s important to review your CV when applying for industry roles, with a greater focus on the actual position itself.  Do your research and carefully read information included in job vacancies. Job descriptions often provide a lot of information about what it is like to work in industry. There are also various websites comparing working in academia and industry with valuable information such as BioSpace’s article here.

As with many careers, the best resources for support are often your own colleagues and word-of-mouth. If you’re interested in finding out more about routes into working in industry, then make sure you’re networking in the right spaces and see if any of your colleagues and friends can make some introductions.

What’s the best thing about working in industry?

The molecular biosciences industry can be very exciting, with more direct opportunities to create drugs that you will see potentially cure or treat many conditions, improving the quality of life of many. And, for those aspiring to develop their own start-up or work within a fast-growing organisation, if you succeed, then your success can scale very quickly. Being a key contributor to that narrative can be incredibly thrilling! 

Where can I find out about scientific careers in industry?  

Membership associations such as the Biochemical Society can help, along with conferences and workshops. Use your PI’s connections and reach out to University Careers Advisers. LinkedIn, Indeed, Work In Start-ups, Angel List are also good social networks and websites to find out more about relevant vacancies.

It’s also always worth contacting the company directly where possible. Recruiters can be expensive for industrial organizations so it’s useful to have individual’s details on file when future opportunities arise.

Read books that fit with the culture of where you want to be. Books recommended by Daniel Jamieson for aspiring entrepreneurs include: Zero to One, Thinking Fast and Slow, Enlightenment Now and The Hard Thing About Hard Things. 

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