Career Advices from Industry Leaders for Graduate Students and Post-docs

By Jennifer Casiano

As a member of the organizing committee for the 11th Annual NIH Career Symposium, I had the opportunity of selecting the topics and looking for speakers that were part of the industry career panels. In addition, the day of the symposium I was able to moderate two of the career panels: “Finding the Right Size Company” and “Breakaway Careers” in industry. Finding the Right Size Company consisted of a panel designed to compare start-ups, medium, and large size companies in order to help trainees decide what company size would be a good fit for them. The next panel, Breakaway Careers in industry explored non-bench career options in the industry. I was also the assistant moderator for the section in which we discussed options in Research and Development. In this post, I want to share some industry related career advices from the panelists and other things I saw as part of the organizing committee. In addition, I had the opportunity to host a networking event at the NIH in which scientists from shared their experiences working at this company and talent acquisition. For simplicity, I will divide the information gathered by subtopic.

Pay attention to your Resume

            Industry professionals appreciate when you submit a quality job application. For example, never apply with a generic resume. Highlight what differentiates you from the rest of the applicants and the required skillset for that position. Prepare the resume for the specific position that you are applying to and add measurable achievements such as experiments that you developed, your research contributions to science, and experiences gathered away from the bench. In addition, it is advised that you apply for positions that you are a 75-80% match for. Many companies are not only interested in your skill set, they want to know how motivated you are to try new things; you could write a short paragraph about who you are and list your accomplishments and experiences.

Another piece of advice was to explore the typical qualifications of other applicants’ vs yours. For example, at the NIH the majority of the trainees (around 4000) are post-docs, so graduate students need to highlight their resume with experiences so that they can compete with applicants that have more training. Experiences such as number of publications, simultaneously working on different projects, public speaking, internships, and volunteer work are some examples of experiences you can include that will add value to your resume.

 Transferable skills are very important

 On previous posts, we have discussed how important it is to highlight your transferable skills on your resume and during interviews. For example, one of the skills that allowed me to be a host and a moderator was my capacity to talk to others and not having a fear of public speaking. These abilities added to my management, communication and interpersonal skills portfolio. Be aware that if you are looking for a position in pharma, public speaking is very important and being confident doing so will set you apart. In line with this point, at the MedImmune networking event they mentioned that it is common to give frequent presentations, networking, and collaboration. The speakers from MedImmune mentiones that Pharma and Biotech companies value the learning process of their group; learning experiences happen through collaborations and training. Industry positions offer a collegial work environment, prioritizing team work.

The panelists from the research and development section mentioned that internships are useful because it can give you industry experience in case you are lacking it. Networking within and outside your school is important and volunteer work demonstrates your dedication to the community.

Transition to industry can be tough

            If you already have a job offer in industry you should know that a new job position needs a new mindset. You should plan your first day and talk to your new boss, that includes a 30/60/90-day plan of goals and expectations. During the first few weeks you can learn the culture of the company and adjust yourself by adapting to the culture in order to succeed. Ask for information such as arrival times, lunch, free-time activities, and networking events inside the company. , and things that the company value most such as group dynamics, frequency of social interactions, independence, and goals. Follow policies on overtime and respect the personal time of others.

In addition, if you pursue a career in industry you should be prepared for different challenges such as working across departments, , and possible financial issues like layoffs and mergers. If you have several job offers you should not only compare the science and your interest but also the culture, dynamics, and the expectations associated with each offer. Industry is very different from academia in many aspects, but the key is to adjust and demonstrate your value.

Furthermore, in industry everything needs to be complete transparency; for example, never hide from your PI, never hide any experimental mess, never start a project or collaboration with other group before discussing it with your supervisor, and don’t take days off after a big deadline or work from home without consultation. Some of the common challenges faced when working in an industry are the lack of schedule flexibility, the fast-paced environment, and the definition of indepence where now you are responsible of your work but your group is usually involved. However, you will notice that interpersonal skills and mental wellness are important for many companies.

Pharma is an industry of constant change

            Based on the stories of the panelists I can tell that transitioning from a scientist into a manager or a group leader is very common. You can easily transition from bench to non-bench work, to different departments, and from one company to another.  In addition, if the company have a successful year and you are part of that success there are usually salary increment by performance reviews and experience gathered.

 Company and personal goals

            If you start a job in industry you will notice that the biggest emphasis will be in fulfilling the company goals in a determined timeline. However, many big companies are aware that each individual have personal and career development goals. For example, if you want to keep working on your publication record companies like MedImmune and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) encourage scientists to publish their data. Remarkably, MedImmune published 44 publications in the first quarter of 2016, 23 of them were a product of collaboration between the company and academia.

            Being a moderator of several industry panels taught me a few things. First, it is completely normal to find a career outside the academia. In fact, less than 10% of the graduate students will become professors (). Academics are realizing that there is a shortage of faculty positions and industry can offer a great career as a scientist. Secondly, the field is full of many success stories so don’t be afraid of move out of your comfort zone. I feel that being part of the committee allowed me to be more comfortable speaking to others about my future plans, research, and interests. I invite you to do more career exploration on iJOBS events and to check the website from NIH for more information from the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) at NIH. In the following months we will have a Career Symposium Newsletter that will include a synopsis of the panels for more in depth information.



Sauermann H, Roach M (2012) Science PhD Career Preferences: Levels, Changes, and Advisor Encouragement. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36307.

Junior Editor/Senior Editor: Tomas Kasza/Aminat Saliu Musah

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