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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Empolyment Opportunities Part 1 - Answers to Questions from Soon-To-Be-Graduates

Due to the current turmoil with the economy and job market, many of my postings focus on areas where chemistry expertise is a desirable commodity.  While these discussions broadly focus on different industries and technologies, there are many employment-related issues I have yet to discuss.  Many of these were, in fact, brought to light at January's CSU Biotechnology Symposium.  As a career mentor, I was asked many good questions by life sciences students approaching graduation.  Those of  you who follow this blog know that I have been addressing these questions over the past few months.  Beginning with this post, I will focus on those questions specifically related to employment opportunities.  The specific questions to be addressed are:
  • What will industrial employment opportunities look like in the next 5 years?
  • What is the future of in-house dedicated medicinal chemistry programs?
  • Are opportunities available in pharma/biotech for people with experience outside of the life sciences?
  • Are part time opportunities with tuition assistance available in pharma/biotech companies?
  • For new hires, what degrees are more valuable - organic chemistry or medicinal chemistry?
  • Is there job security in the life sciences?
  • What are the trends in outsourcing?
In this post, the first three of these are answered.

What will industrial employment opportunities look like in the next 5 years?

As most people are aware, the industrial landscape in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals is undergoing massive transition.  This cannot be more apparent than through the trend of layoffs that began approximately five years ago and continues today.  Recent examples include the closure of Xenoport and a 40% downsizing of Exelixis.  Thus, it is understandable that significant students entering the workforce do so with some trepidation.  In order to maintain focus, all employees must understand that JOB SECURITY IS ONLY AN ILLUSION.  Once this fact is realized, it becomes easy to embrace the possibilities presented through a career that not only spans many years but also extends across many companies.  The breadth of experience to be had through career growth and development truly dwarfs that available to individuals dedicated to the same corporate organization for the full tenure of their professional careers.  This would not be possible without some instability in the job market.  I, myself, have been employed by four different companies - all of which have been shut down.  Being again on the hunt for new employment, I embrace the potential opportunities and look forward to entering the next phase of my career - whatever that may be.

Regarding the employment outlook over the next five years, I believe that that landscape will look very much like that of today.  Our society and economy have long evolved away from the model of dedicated employment for the duration of one's career.  In the wake of this evolution, we are forced to protect our professional aspirations by the continual expansion of skill sets.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of performing both within and outside of comfort zones in order to establish expertise that is valuable to both current and future employers.  Finally, all wishing to contribute their talents to industrial activities must be open-minded regarding where and how to express their interests and exercise their expertise.

What is the future of in-house dedicated medicinal chemistry programs?

Having served as a medicinal chemist since the beginning of my career, I have seen the role of outsourcing slowly increase.  Presently, significant outsourcing efforts are utilized to supplement the activities of in-house chemists.  In addition, many small companies rely solely on outsourced chemistry as a means of meeting their needs.  Reasons for this trend include less overhead dedicated to laboratory facilities and reduced commitment to dedicated personnel.  However, there are some factors that strategically preclude some companies from fully utilizing contract organizations in favor of in-house activities.  These include protection of intellectual property and the development of more rapid solutions to project-critical activities.  With both of these viewpoints in mind, I believe that there will always be a need for dedicated in-house chemistry (or its equivalent) where such dedicated resources lay groundwork enabling optimal use of supplemental contract synthesis programs.

Are opportunities available in pharma/biotech for people with experience outside of the life sciences?

This is an excellent question.  While the vast majority of pharma/biotech opportunities require relevant experience, there are some that can fall outside of this paradigm.  Such opportunities, however, are not likely to fall within drug discovery/development efforts.  These opportunities are more likely found in areas such as:
  • human resources
  • facilities management
  • environmental health and safety
  • finance/purchasing
  • IT support
  • program management
All of these roles are critical to successful business operations and should not be discounted.  In fact, many opportunities in these areas require advanced degrees and/or significant years of experience in order to be efficiently executed.  Finally, careers in these areas can have advantages because they are fully transferable from one industry to another, whereas individuals with life sciences expertise are generally committed to careers within life sciences companies.