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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chemistry Outsourcing - New and Challenging Career Opportunities

Recent years have seen increased chemistry outsourcing activities - largely perceived as corporate strategies designed to maintain productivity while reducing the load of full time staff.  From a business perspective, this makes a great deal of sense.  For example:
  • in-house projects require in-house staff
  • in-house staff requires dedicated equipment, facilities and overhead
  • dedicated equipment, facilities and overhead require sufficient operating capital that is inherently more expensive than simple office space. 
Outsourcing, on the other hand, provides reasonable solutions. Specifically:
  • outsourced projects require off-site staff
  • off-site staff requires off-site equipment, facilities and overhead
  • off-site equipment, facilities and overhead require support from corporate clients with a need for outsourcing activities.
As a bonus, commitments to contract organizations are limited by the duration of contracts, while commitments to full time staff are generally long-term relationships.

From the above arguments, we must all come to the realization that OUTSOURCING IS HERE TO STAY.  While the above arguments support the decisions of businesses to incorporate outsourcing as part of their corporate strategies, they do little to offer hope and comfort to those individuals who see their jobs vanishing in favor of low-cost offshore contract activities.  From a pragmatic point of view, this does not matter.  Hope and comfort are highly overrated and they do not pay the bills.  Now is the time to take charge of our career paths, create opportunities for ourselves and forget about hope and comfort.

Careers in Chemistry - Defining Our Own Roles

From the moment we decide to study chemistry, we are faced with choices such as:
  • whether to enter the workforce or pursue an advanced degree
  • whether to pursue a career in academics or in industry
  • what industry to contribute to
  • whether to follow a scientific path or a management path
Each of these decision points lead to additional choices which, if we are not careful, can ultimately define us.  In this rapidly changing corporate world, we are far better off if we can control how we are defined by maintaining significant diversity/flexibility in our skill sets.  We don't have to lose our jobs to changing markets if we can adapt our skill sets to changing needs.

When I first entered the workforce, my supervisor made a very disturbing prediction.  He observed the growing trend in outsourcing and knew that opportunities would begin to diminish.  This was approximately 15 years ago and, to this day, I credit my former supervisor for his warning and for his foresight.  In fact, it was largely because of this prediction that I began reaching out into different areas related to drug discovery.  Such areas include:
  • management
  • intellectual property
  • due diligence
  • contract synthesis
Management skills are essential and relate not only to working with other people, but also working within our own time/resource constraints.  These skills enable meeting personal objectives, meeting cross-departmental goals, and interacting with others - whether in-house or overseas.

Understanding intellectual property law and strategies enables us to organize our contributions into recognizable inventions essential for the strength of the technology base of companies for which we work. Furthermore, we are able to directly contribute to the design of patent strategies, work with patent attorneys and address concerns from the patent office.

Corporate due diligence is essential for investors to make decisions on where to invest their funds.  It is also essential for employment candidates to make decisions on which companies best suit their professional and scientific goals.  Through due diligence, rational decisions can be made regarding program resource allocation, academic/industrial collaborations and projected headcount needs.

Contract synthesis is not only a service for hire, it is also a tool for temporary expansion of in-house resources.  Decisions to utilize contract research organizations are made based on the requirements of individual programs.  Those chosen to manage these activities must be skilled in due diligenceintellectual property and management. Specifically, in working with CROs, due diligence is essential for evaluation and selection of appropriate firms. Furthermore, understanding intellectual property is essential for the protection and preservation of present and future inventions being developed with the assistance of CROs.  Finally, regardless of domestic or offshore locations, management skills are required for the successful negotiating and engagement of CRO activities, troubleshooting project issues and guiding programs to successful outcomes.

Reiterating that we don't have to lose our jobs to changing markets if we can adapt our skill sets to changing needs, the skills I addressed above are of tremendous importance.  With core competencies in these area, employment is available in parent companies, contract research organizations, law firms, consulting firms and venture capital firms.  The trick is to face this changing market with confidence, focus on present and future needs, and make ourselves essential professional resources.

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