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Are you a graduating student with expertise in separation science, contemplating pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical industry? This blog is tailored for you, as my recent 2022 graduation and subsequent entry into the pharmaceutical sector has provided me with fresh, relevant insights.
As you approach graduation, the tension to find a job increases. Several things were looming over my mind: what to do after earning my PhD, how to start looking for a job, which industry my skillset is most suitable for, and whether I should pursue a postdoctoral fellowship. This is not an easy decision to make. In academia, the system is quite saturated, and only 1 out of 8 PhDs can attain an academic position in the USA, according to a study by Larson et al (1). I would like to share my story, hoping that it can provide you with some insights on the job searching process, both in general and regarding the pharmaceutical industry. As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry has the highest concentration of employment among chemists (2). According to a survey, the global drug development industry employs over 5 million people, out of which over 1.3 million people are employed in the U.S., specifically with a high demand for separation scientists. Separations are used in several aspects of the drug development process, including purification, analysis, quantification, and quality control.
The factors that motivated me to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry included the opportunities to interact with different leading medicinal companies at various symposia and conferences during graduate school; reading the work of different research and development teams in the pharmaceutical industry; talking to former students who joined healthcare industry; and my interest to contribute towards development of novel therapies that can help mankind. One of the most beneficial things that you can do for yourself after joining a research group is to communicate your goals with your advisor. Tell them what your future plans are after graduation; they can often help you choose a project that aligns with your goals and train you for the career path of your choice. If you want to go on an academic route, they can train you in grant writing and funding applications. If you want to enter an industry position, they can help you diversify your skillset and encourage you to learn techniques and instrumentation that may become very handy in your industrial job.
Let us discuss the steps you should take before applying for a job. If you apply for a position or reach out to someone for a potential position, what’s the first thing they will do? Look up your professional presence and digital footprint. Here are a few platforms where you can have a professional profile.
What are diverse ways you can increase your professional network, which can be extremely beneficial in your job search?
Always dress and present yourself professionally. Casual dressing can leave a negative impression on the person interviewing you, implying a lack of seriousness. Before you apply, get your cover letter and CV reviewed by others, and incorporate any suggestions that seem suitable. Another crucial factor is identifying your transferable skills and what makes you suitable for the position. For example, here are a few examples of soft and hard skills for an analytical scientist that can help a lot during interview and professional life.
Presenting your research work is one of the most important parts of your interview, especially so for nearly every research position at a big healthcare company that requires a PhD. It can become the Achilles heel for several people if adequate consideration and effort are not put into its preparation. It is important to realize that there is a difference between an academic presentation and an industrial interview presentation. It can be a challenge to summarize all your PhD work within a short time span of 20-40 minutes. However, the truth is, you do not need to summarize everything; instead, choose one or two projects that are most relevant to the job you are applying for.
Since you have made it this far in this blog, here is a secret tip:
In the last part of this blog, I would like to focus on the major differences between academic research and the pharmaceutical industry, and what to expect when you finally get a job in the healthcare industry and make the transition. Firstly, here are some habits that you can develop in graduate school that will help you a lot in the industry.
In the drug development industry, you are expected to work for 40 hours, which can be bittersweet. On one hand, you are not expected to work more than that and the rest of time is yours; on the other hand, the amount of lab time you have is limited. Therefore, you must make smart and rational decisions to meet your goals in a timely fashion. The overarching goal is to get novel, safe, and life-changing therapies to the market before someone else does, so you are always racing against time.
In the healthcare industry, you get access to cutting-edge technologies in advanced labs and the resources required to get the job done. However, a wrong decision can lead to significant delay in both your deliverables and the whole team’s goals. This is where foresight, time management, effective communication, and multi-tasking skills come in handy.
Finally, I would like to discuss adherence to regulatory guidelines in the pharmaceutical industry. Some strict rules and regulations need to be followed because human lives are involved, from unborn babies to 90+ year elderly people. Being a laboratory safety officer for multiple years while pursuing my PhD, I always thought there would be little difference in regulations of pharmaceutical industry. That is not true! There is a lot of flexibility in graduate labs compared to the pharmaceutical industry. In academic labs, yes, there are SOPs, but the number of SOPs and detail is not as extensive as it is in the pharmaceutical industry. In my experience, based on how long you have worked in the industry, you will have to refer to every part of the hundreds of SOPs at one time or another. Therefore, it is important to brace yourself for significant changes in the extent of documentation and adherence to regulatory guidelines and SOPs.
Engaging in pharmaceutical research and development brings a unique sense of accomplishment through its direct role in enhancing patient outcomes and quality of life. This blog is an effort to encourage graduate students to start working on their professional profiles before stepping into the job market. Navigating the interview process is an art, and I hope that the tips mentioned above can help you navigate it.
Note: Images used in this blog were created with the help of AI.
(1) Larson, R. C.; Ghaffarzadegan, N.; Xue, Y. Too Many PhD Graduates or Too Few Academic Job Openings: The Basic Reproductive Number R0 in Academia. Syst Res Behav Sci. 2014, 31(6), 745–750. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/sres.2210
(2) Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022.https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes192031.htm
(3) Streigel, A. M. The LCGC Blog: So, You’re Attending Your First Meeting. What Can You Expect? LCGC 2023. https://www.chromatographyonline.com/view/the-lcgc-blog-so-you-re-attending-your-first-meeting-what-can-you-expect-