Part 1| Culture Clash: Industry, Academia, and Biotech
Keynote Speaker: William P. Janzen, Director, Assay Development and Compound Profiling, Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery, UNC
Biography: William P. Janzen is the Director of Assay Development and Compound Profiling in the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery at the University of North Carolina. Mr. Janzen has twenty years of experience in innovative drug discovery and has been a leader in high throughput screening for lead generation in startup and large pharmaceutical ventures. He acquired extensive knowledge of target biology, assay development and chemical structure–activity relationship through his work with scientists across disciplines in search of lead molecules.
Based on Mr. Janzen’s experience in academia, industry, and biotech/start-up companies, his mission for this session of the Essential Skills for Success in Industry Program was to provide insight on a number of myths regarding the culture in industry, biotech start-up companies, and academia. Mr. Janzen shed light on the following topics:
Myths and Truths of Academia vs. Industry:
1) Autonomy of research
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: You can define your own research priorities and follow curious findings.
- PARTIALLY TRUE: While there is more freedom, peer review defines your research direction.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: There is open discussion and collaboration between researchers.
- MYTH: Competition between labs can stifle open discussion, and some findings are kept secret, even from researchers at the same university.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Research priorities are set by management and one cannot follow any extra interests.
- PARTIALLY TRUE: Ideas are proposed and research priorities are set by management and committee reviews, but there are some opportunities to follow interesting new findings with the proper approval.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Findings are all kept secret.
- PARTIALLY TRUE: Findings are kept secret until the data is no longer of interest. Only projects which are deemed total successes or total failures may be published in a timely fashion.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Independent work style with little teamwork.
- TRUE: People tend to work on their own research, and projects are driven by the individual.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Team based work-style.
- TRUE: Industry research involves multi-disciplinary teams (composed of chemists, biologists, business and marketing people, etc.) and a collaborative environment.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Poorly funded, inferior equipment
- TRUE: Labs tend to have less funding and have older, less-maintained equipment. The exception is large cores that may be well-funded and have nice equipment.
- A note about grant funding: Grants are entirely self-motivated and the peer-review process is brutal. The success rates are low, but if you get one, you are free to follow your own research in any direction.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Well-funded, best equipment
- TRUE: Industry corporations have more funding and better maintained equipment, but this is changing due to the poor economy.
4) Job Stability
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Jobs are less stable than industry.
- PARTIALLY TRUE: Tenured faculty always have a job. Non-tenured positions (research associates, research faculty, etc.) are based on funding and are less secure. However, layoff rates are much lower than in industry.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: When you get a job in industry, you are set for the rest of your life.
- MYTH: This is entirely false! Job stability depends on economic cycles. There may be large rounds of layoffs during an economic struggle, but industries hire again when the economy recovers.
· Job stability is entirely funding-dependent. These positions are the most risky because the company is not guaranteed to succeed.
5) Job Tenure (how long you stay in a job)
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: High turnover rate for jobs.
- PARTIALLY TRUE: Grad students and post-doc have a high turnover, but there a few long term employees in each lab (typically technicians, lab managers, and research associates).
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Very stable positions.
- PARTIALLY TRUE: Some very stable employees (20+ years), but job hopping is becoming much more common.
· Tenures tend to be very short, and job hopping is extremely common.
6) Salary Rates:
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Poorly paid.
- TRUE: Academic jobs on average make less money than industry professionals in the U.S. According to a 2010 Nature Jobs Salary Survey, the average academic salary was about $75,000 per year. This is not necessarily true in foreign countries, such as the UK or Japan.
- Note that as an academic, you can consult for industry to increase you salary.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Higher pay than academia.
- TRUE: Industry positions are on average better paid than academics. Industry positions make an average of $115,000 per year, based on the 2010 Nature Jobs Salary Survey.
7) Expectations for how much time you have to spend in the lab and factors affecting time spent in the lab
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Longer hours and more time is spent in the lab (lab is your life)
- TRUE: Longer hours and you are expected to be doing or thinking about lab work all of the time, evening during holiday seasons.
- Factors that most affect time in the lab: teaching (depends on your type of position) and writing/reviewing grants and publications.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Shorter hours and less time in lab.
- TRUE: You work 40-50 hours per week, some of which is spent in the lab depending on your other requirements (see below), but the stress and requirement to produce while you are there can be higher. People tend to have more outside interests. The labs shut down during holiday seasons, and no one works during those times.
- Factors that most affect time in the lab: Team meetings (usually at least 10-12 hours per week and managers may spend up to 40 hours per week meeting with committees and teams), writing reports and preparing PowerPoint presentations for meetings, and travel.
- You work all of the time as in academia, but you have a stronger sense of community with co-workers, including socializing after work or between experiments.
8) How to measure success
- Administrative Service (committees, etc.)
- Project success
- Ability to manage
- Patents (particularly in chemistry and engineering)
- Business integration (how well you can communicate and interact with the business side of the corporation)
- Political acumen
9) Workplace Politics:
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Fewer politics
- TRUE: Politics exist in academia, but academics tend to ignore politics until it reaches a departmental/institutional level. Typically the politics are about money and lab space.
· MYTH OR TRUTH?: Lots of office politics
- TRUE: Politics are more overt in industry and are a very important part of the culture.
- Better science and more freedom
- Nice work setting (campuses are usually nice)
- Flexible work hours
- No dress code
- Better facilities (clean and functioning equipment)
- Quality of life perks (subsidized cafeteria, onsite daycare, gym)
- Better travel allowances
· Academia: Academics are totally dedicated to work, and the work is very independent. They can dictate their own research interests and typically have more novel findings. Academics are surrounded by bright young people and have the opportunity to teach. Success is measured by papers, and you need to work extremely hard for grants.
· Industry: Industry scientists work in a team setting. You can select your research focus, but you may not be able to select your research project (changes in your project are common). There are fewer opportunities to publish, and no grants. The salary is higher and facilities are nicer. Politics are an integral part of industry.
· Biotech: A risky, yet fun and looser team-based environment. There is no deviation in research plans and funds are dedicated to specific projects. Positions are usually well-paid and include stock options (though they may be worthless if the company does not succeed). There is little time or opportunity to publish. There is no time for politics, and there is poor infrastructure support (e.g. you may have no access to literature searches). Job stability is much lower and job hopping is common.
In this economy, make your choices based on opportunity. Think about which environment fits you the best and be honest with yourself. If you have a high tolerance for risk, biotech may be a good fit, and you may have a lot of fun. If you have no tolerance for politics, industry may not be for you. Keep in mind that while it was true years ago that if you joined industry you may not be able to go back to academia, it is becoming more common to switch between the fields.
Part 2| Highlights from the Panel Session:
· Vivian W. Doelling, PhD, Biologicals, Integrated Laboratory Systems, Inc.
· Maria Schroeder, PhD, Senior Clinical Project Manager, Quintiles
· Cathy Park, MBA, DVM, Director, Business Development and Emerging Markets, BD Technologies
· Richard Dixon, PhD, Group Leader/Scientist II, KBI Biopharma, Inc.
Q: What was the most difficult adjustment to industry?
A: The panelists agreed that understanding the culture and politics of industry and translating their academic science skills to an industry setting were two of the most difficult adjustments. Listening and “leaving your ego at home” are important when first entering an industry job. Be prepared to learn and do not be afraid to ask questions. Some recommendations for easing the transition included the following: seek out your own mentor at the company, attend informational sessions, and listen at least as much as you speak when you first start working at a company.
Q: What are the major barriers to success in industry?
A: Flexibility and teamwork are major determinates of success in industry. Be prepared for projects to suddenly stop or change directions, and be ready to learn quickly. Working with a team requires trusting your co-workers. If you can motivate, lead, and manage the team, you will succeed quickly. Be sure to communicate your ideas well, be it in reports or presentations at committee meetings, and always keep the business and customer in mind.
Q: As post-docs or graduate students in academia, what is the best way to get your foot in the industry door?
A: Network! Find someone at the company to use as a contact to carry your resume through the interview process. Attend networking events, get cards, and follow-up with a phone call or email. Asking for informational interviews at a company may give you a better idea about the company and provide additional contacts. Learn about the industry organization and find a niche that fits your skill set or learn a specialty skill that is desirable for a company. Be prepared to start somewhere where you do not have experience or where it may not be the best fit, as this entry position may change and take you in different directions. Temporary positions may be a good option to make connections and learn about a company.
Q: What are some networking and interview tips?
A: Be prepared to sell yourself with a 2-3 minute explanation about what you do and how it can translate to industry. Have your resume reviewed by someone else; they should be able to get a good idea of what you do in 20 seconds or less. Organize and customize your CV for each company and highlight teamwork, management, and communication skills in addition to technical experience. At the interview, be sure to have good eye contact. Be yourself, but be professional. Remember that lunch is part of the interview, too! Be confident; even if you get something wrong, don’t act embarrassed or defensive. Always ask questions at the end of the interview.
About the author: Rebecca Bauer is a doctoral student in the Curriculum in Toxicology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and works in the laboratory of Dr. Ilona Jaspers. Her research is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which airway diseases and air pollution alter lung immunology.