______________________________Arrow-Pushing in Organic Chemistry: An Easy Approach to Understanding Reaction Mechanisms, 2nd Edition (111899132X) cover image

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Staying Employed, Maintaining Employability and Finding Work

My apologies for the delay since my last post.  Between the holidays and some major networking opportunities, my time has been very scarce.

In my last post, I reached out to you to learn what topics you wanted me to address.  Among them was a series of questions focused on developing skills that are not "outsourcable" in today's global market. To directly address this question, I believe that all skills are essentially "outsourcable."  However, that does not mean that all skills will be outsourced.  There are a tremendous number of activities, necessary to the operation of a successful business, that are more efficient (based on time, money and logistics) when not outsourced. Among these is the ability to efficiently manage, maintain and troubleshoot projects from remote locations.  Certainly, when faced with outsourcing problems, the ability to assess and correct without having to be on site is marketable.

While managing outsourced activities is a useful skill, this does not help undergraduates as they are not typically in positions requiring management of outsourced chemistry.  Instead, I refer back to my assertions in previous posts that, at least in the drug discovery arena, the broadest knowledge/skills in organic synthesis are essential.  Such skills, however, cannot be obtained through the requisite course material.  Undergraduates seeking to expand their organic chemistry skills have to seek additional educational resources such as undergraduate research and industry-relevant summer internships.

While summer internships may introduce young chemists to industrial environments, they actually do little to provide broad educational experiences.  However, finding a mentor via undergraduate research programs will.  This is, in fact, how I prepared myself for graduate school.  When I realized that I wanted to specialize in organic chemistry, I approached Professor Henry Rapoport.  He was highly receptive to my joining his group.  Through that experience, I began studying heterocyclic chemistry and explored the conversion of amino acids to 4-amino-4-deoxy sugars.  Additionally, I was introduced to my first medicinal chemistry project - preparing rigid analogs of the glaucoma drug pilocarpine.

While there are many valuable skill sets, trends in outsourcing will continue to advance and decline - based on corporate needs, perspectives and strategies.  However, the underlying knowledge required to navigate this "employment at will" environment will always be rooted in the foundation and breadth of acquired education.

Maintaining Employability through Networking - A Self-Taught Skill

While the preceding paragraphs emphasized the value of a strong education, they did not focus on skills important to finding and maintaining employment.  Among the most important is networking. Sure, while social groups such as Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter can provide some resources, the greatest networking activities involve face-to-face introductions/conversations.  These must also be accompanied by diligent follow-up.

For me, the first two weeks of January were packed with networking opportunities.  The first was the JP Morgan Healthcare Investor Conference.  This annual event, bringing together executives and venture capitalists from around the world, is the largest of its kind and conveniently takes place in San Francisco.  Following JP Morgan was the New Paradigms for Biotechnology Funding and Development conference.  Finally, during the following week, I attended the Personalized Medicine World Conference.  Overall, these conferences allowed me to meet numerous individuals including executive recruiters, consultants, executives and industry analysts.

While major networking events, like those just described, present valuable opportunities to expand networks, one must not discount the smaller networking groups which usually meet monthly.  The groups I frequently attend include BioSF, Bio2Device Group, BioE2E and BABCN.  All of these groups have websites with valuable industry information.

In closing, most of one's success will always depend upon a strong knowledge and skill base.  However, There is always a component that directly relates to who one knows and what opportunities are available at any given time.  The value of networking will not always be immediately recognized - but when it pays off, the dividends are usually significant.