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Monday, February 27, 2012

Life Science Careers - Questions from Soon-To-Be Graduates

Two years ago, I was invited to participate as a career mentor at the California State University Biotechnology Symposium.  At that time, I addressed questions asked by students contemplating careers in the life sciences - specifically relating to medicinal chemistry and drug discovery.  I had a great time meeting with the students and listening to their interests and concerns.  So, when I was asked to participate at this year's event, I readily accepted the opportunity.

At the time of my participation two years ago, the economy was at a very low point.  Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies were routinely downsizing and outsourcing of chemistry was the rule rather than the exception.  However, the questions asked by the participating students were not focused on the economy.  Instead, the questions clustered into four distinct groups:
  • Questions about medicinal chemistry
  • Questions about career paths
  • Questions about employment opportunities
  • Questions about relevant knowledge and experience
What was remarkable about the questions coming from this years session was that the interests and concerns of the students were completely different compared to two years ago.  In this post, I present the questions raised by participating students.  Over the next few months, I will address each question in detail.  As I work through this exercise, I encourage all readers of this blog to ask additional related questions.

Questions Asked by Life Science Students

As in 2010, I was truly impressed with the questions asked at the mentoring session.  These questions, paraphrased below, reflect the evolving discussions encompassed by this blog.  The questions raised, organized by topic, are:

Questions About Education and Employment
  • In what ways can I be valuable to companies?
  • What are the differences between workforce personnel with undergraduate degrees vs graduate degrees?
  • How can practical experience be built favoring employment in medicinal chemistry?
  • What opportunities/career paths are available for foreign job applicants?
  • Does the quality of an educational institution carry any weight?
  • What perceptions exist relative to job applicants with degrees from foreign countries?
  • What are the financial benefits for PhD employees compared to BS/MS employees right out of school?
Questions About Roles and Opportunities in Drug Discovery Organizations
  • Are there interdisciplinary opportunities available for medicinal chemists in other functional areas related to drug discovery?
  • Is a PhD required to lead a project?
  • How do organic chemists interact with biologists?
  • Can a biologist become a medicinal chemist?
  • Is computational chemistry important to medicinal chemistry?
  • How does a molecular biologist fit into a drug discovery organization?
  • Is medicinal chemistry only relevant to drug discovery?
Questions About Medicinal Chemistry and the Drug Discovery Process
  • How does the drug discovery process begin?
  • What is involved in drug discovery from concept to market?
  • Is medicinal chemistry used in veterinary medicine?
  • Are animal models still used in drug discovery?
  • What is the transition point from animal models to human clinical trials?
  • How much medicinal chemistry is dedicated to making small quantities of many compounds vs large quantities of fewer compounds?
  • What is the importance of making derivatives of natural products?
  • Do medicinal chemists collaborate with physicians?
  • Do medicinal chemists collaborate with biochemists?
Questions About Business Strategies
  • Is there pressure to get new products out the door?
  • Can old drugs be used for new indications?
As with my previous series, it is my hope that those of you following this blog will add your voices and opinions to mine thus enhancing the breadth of insight provided to the next generation of students entering the life sciences workforce.


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  3. I am a molecular biologist and PhD student in Med Chemistry!so....•Can a biologist become a medicinal chemist? If you study hard you can manage it!

  4. Excellent questions. I would love to hear the answers!! :)

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