Considering a job in industry?

Insiders offer words of wisdom

Published August 01 2017

We asked American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members who work in industry to offer advice and information to scientists who are considering or seeking industry jobs. These selected responses have been edited for clarity.

More than 60 percent of respondents formerly worked in academia. We asked what led them to make the switch to industry.

"I wanted to work on projects leading to the clinic and higher salaries."
Bryan Thacker, scientist, TEGA Therapeutics

"I switched because of excellent opportunity in industry. Also, I was forced to obtain 60 percent salary from grants in a 12-month hard-money appointment."
Michael Simonian, consultant, MHS Biotech Consulting 

"I did not want to stay a postdoc forever, and I needed a job but had no desire to start my own lab."
Vimbai M. Chikwana, associate research scientist, Dow Agrosciences

"Working at Sloan Kettering Institute for 16 years, I performed challenging and interesting research with stimulating colleagues. At Rutgers University during most of seven years, I taught six or seven different courses for undergraduate, graduate and medical students, and I had little time for focused research and few opportunities for collaboration with clinicians. In industry, without teaching obligations, my research and colleagues have been stimulating and rewarding."
Merry Sherman, chief executive officer, Mountain View Pharmaceuticals Inc.

"With parallel appointments as an adjunct professor for the last approximately 30 years, I’ve been able to have my cake and eat it too."
Walter H. Moos, CEO, ShangPharma Innovation Inc. (semiretired)

 

Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia.

"Making a profit is necessary in industry."
Walt Shaw, CEO, Avanti Polar Lipids Inc.

"In industry we work on many different subjects. In academia we are more focused on a given research subject. In industry, we are specialists in development processes and generalists about science. We know many things about different subjects but don’t dig as deep as we would in academia. As far as I’m concerned, work is characterized in industry by a wide knowledge, due to the need for changing subject regularly, and in academia by a deep, advanced knowledge."
Stéphane Krief, principal investigator, Bioprojet Biotech

"There is more focus in academia on research but a broader scope in industry."
Sheng-Jiun Wu, principal scientist, Janssen R&D

"Independence is greater in academia."
Andrey Shaw, staff scientist, Genentech

"Industry is more collaborative."
Wayne Fairbrother, director and senior staff scientist, Genentech/Roche

"In industry, projects come and go. Don’t get too attached to a specific project."
Mary Bossard, principal fellow, Nektar Therapeutics

 

Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry?

"Writing, writing, writing! Not scientific writing but regulatory writing. Understanding the drug development process (and in my case, drug/device or device). Adapting to inevitable layoffs and moving from one company to another (I have worked for seven different companies in 29 years)."
Felicia R Cochran, associate director of regulatory and scientific affairs, CTI Clinical Trial & Consulting Services

"Be a team player and set aside personal interests for the interest of the company; you need research speed and thoroughness."
Paul Neilsen, director of research and development, Echelon

"Being able to move from project to project without getting all of the answers. Patience and a long-term horizon for success."
George Vlasuk, president and CEO, Navitor Pharmaceuticals Inc.

"Ability to work as a team; be flexible, as the project priorities can change and they change rapidly with management changes. Constantly acquire new skills; stay current on technology."
Krishna Kodukula, executive-in-residence, managing partner and acting CEO, K2 Bio-Pharma Consulting LLC

"People skills — the ability to communicate with people from different functions of the business with different levels of skills."
Nihmat Morjana, director, Siemens Healthineers

 

What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry?

"Learn leadership and professional development skills. These are typically very distinct from those skills learned as a young Ph.D."
Eric Gumpricht, manager of research and science, Isagenix International LLC

"Think twice, because today’s pharma environment is terrible."
Gregory Kaczorowski, president and CEO, Kanalis Consulting LLC

"Study hard and prepare yourself."
Kou-Wha Kuo, director of research center, G&E Herbal Biotechnology Co. Ltd.

"Be flexible. Your scientific and other knowledge, skills and experience can be applied to many aspects of a business, especially a startup. Listen to Marketplace on National Public Radio."
George Quellhorst, associate director of research and development, Qiagen

"Don’t hesitate to leverage your knowledge and training, but keep the end user in mind."
David Vallari, technical support leader, Abbott Laboratories

"Go for it, if your passion is applied science. Sometimes we do basic science to understand the process or a biological molecule that could be used downstream in a real-life application."    
Sriharsa Pradhan, distinguished scientist, New England Biolabs Inc.

"You will be able to maintain and grow the intellectual pursuits you learned as a student, but you need a high degree of flexibility in finding unique and useful ways to apply that knowledge. You should seize opportunities to expand your skills and knowledge, but that should be a goal in any science career."    
Stephen Buxser, chief analyst, Select Bio Consult

"Do not think jobs in industry are more stable. One still needs to work hard and excel to advance in industry."    
J. Yun Tso, managing partner, JN Biosciences LLC

"Don’t close out options; if you are unclear, investigate both avenues."
Thomas W. Myers, senior director, Roche Molecular Systems

"An individual should start a career in industry at a young age, perhaps immediately after a successful postdoc. There is a high importance on accommodating in the local corporate culture and moving as high as it is possible."    
Gyula Varadi, vice president of research, Inpellis Inc.



 

Complete answers from industry professionals:

Name: Eric Gumpricht
Employer: Isagenix International LLC
Job title: Manager of research and science
How long have you worked in industry? Six years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? I was in academia for almost 13 years post-Ph.D.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Financial compensation.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Leadership and managerial skills; you lose much of your independence, having to focus on company or team goals.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Learn leadership and professional development skills. These are typically very distinct from those skills learned as a young Ph.D.

 

Name: Gregory Kaczorowski
Employer: Kanalis Consulting LLC
Job title: President and CEO
How long have you worked in industry? 29 years at Merck and eight years at Kanalis.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? I spent three years as a postdoc; I wanted to do something of practical importance with my science.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. All your science matters in industry.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Presentation, leadership and intellectual/creativity skills.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Think twice, because today’s pharma environment is terrible.

 

Name: Walter H. Moos
Employer: ShangPharma Innovation Inc.
Job title: CEO (semiretired; also adjunct professor at UCSF, board member, consultant)
How long have you worked in industry? 35 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? I’ve had parallel appointments as an adjunct professor for the last approximately 30 years; I have been able to have my cake and eat it too.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. More certain funding in industry though not necessarily for what you want to do.Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? People skills, ability to get along with others; presentation skills, both creating professional presentations and giving the presentations.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Listen carefully, watch closely, “learn and do” for the first year before forming opinions and acting on them. What may seem obvious or similar to what you are familiar with may in time have deeper and alternative meanings in a new setting.

 

Name: Felicia R. Cochran
Employer: CTI Clinical Trial & Consulting Services
Job title: Associate director of regulatory and scientific affairs
How long have you worked in industry? 29 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? I did a three-and-a-half-year postdoctoral fellowship. I went into industry because I did not want to write grants or teach medical students. Also, I could have worked on the same enzyme for 30 years, but industry gave me the chance to learn (“apprentice”) many different therapeutic areas, regulatory requirements and different localities (i.e., the U.S. and Europe). Now, I do mostly regulatory consulting for medical device companies seeking market authorization in Europe. The science (medicine) is compelling, and the regulatory landscape is ever changing.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. As stated above, I have the opportunity to learn many different therapeutic areas, drug and/or device regulatory requirements, and different (global) localities instead of working on one enzyme for 30 years.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Writing, writing, writing! Not scientific writing but regulatory writing. Understanding the drug development process (and in my case, drug/device or device). Adapting to inevitable layoffs and moving from one company to another (again, I have worked for seven different companies in 29 years).
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Don’t think that industry is “easier” than academia, be prepared to work minimum 70-hour weeks, watch out for “group think.”

 

Name: Kou-Wha KuoEmployer: G&E Herbal Biotechnology Co. Ltd.
Job title: Director of research center
How long have you worked in industry? 15 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? 23 years and then switched for new drug development.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Clear goal and applicable subject.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Management.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Study hard and prepare yourself.

 

Name: Walt Shaw
Employer: Avanti Polar Lipids Inc.
Job title: CEO
How long have you worked in industry? 50 years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? I started at Avanti during graduate school. I saw a need for quality lipids.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Making a profit is necessary in industry.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Define a need. Fulfill that need quickly with a quality product.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Chose an area that is your passion.

 

Name: Stéphane Krief
Employer: Bioprojet Biotech
Job title: Principal investigator
How long have you worked in industry? 25 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? Seven years. There were no positions in academia.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. In industry we work on many different subjects. In academia we are more focused on a given research subject. In industry we are specialists in development processes and generalists about science. We know many things about different subjects but don’t dig as deep as we would do in academia. As far as I’m concerned, work is characterized in industry by a wide knowledge, due to the need to change subjects regularly, and in academia by a deep, advanced knowledge.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Adaptability, communication.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? If you like working in a changing intellectual environment, different scientific areas (often imposed on you), then industry is a place to go. Industry mergers are also risks of larger job transformations, including job losses.

 

Name: Sheng-Jiun Wu
Employer: Janssen R&D
Job title: Principal scientist
How long have you worked in industry? 16 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? Four and half years. After postdoctoral training, I decided to move to industry.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. There is more focus in academia on research but broader scope in industry.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Continued learning and teamwork.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Have a passion for health care.

 

Name: George Quellhorst
Employer: Qiagen
Job title: Associate director, research and development
How long have you worked in industry? 15 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? About five years. I finished my postdoc and could not find a higher-level academic job in my geographic area fast enough.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. The scientific questions scientists answer in academia are their own (pending funding). In industry, a manager or supervisor is defining those scientific questions, especially for entry-level positions.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Communication, organization.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Be flexible. Your scientific and other knowledge, skills, and experience can be applied to many aspects of a business, especially a start-up. Listen to Marketplace on National Public Radio.

 

Name: Merry Sherman
Employer: Mountain View Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Job title: Chief executive officer
How long have you worked in industry? 24 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? 27 years. Working at Sloan-Kettering Institute for 16 years, I performed challenging and interesting research with stimulating colleagues. At Rutgers University during most of seven years, I taught six or seven different courses for undergraduate, graduate and medical students, and I had little time for focused research and few opportunities for collaboration with clinicians. In industry, without teaching obligations, my research and colleagues have been stimulating and rewarding.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. The required secrecy in industry is hard to adapt to after the more open exchanges of ideas in academia.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Understanding of patent and corporate laws and skill in preparing and delivering presentations for businesspeople who are often not scientists.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Polish your skills in scientific presentation, graphics and oral presentations.

 

Name: Paul Neilsen
Employer: Echelon
Job title: Director, research and development
How long have you worked in industry? 15-plus years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? N/A
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Research has to be focused on commercialization of science and technology.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Be a team player and set aside personal interests for the interest of the company; you need research speed and thoroughness.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Communicate and acknowledge what you don’t know.

 

Name: David Vallari
Employer: Abbott Laboratories
Job title: Technical support leader
How long have you worked in industry? 17 years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? N/A
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. N/A
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? The ability to translate technical knowledge into a nontechnical world.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Don’t hesitate to leverage your knowledge and training, but keep the end user in mind.

 

Name: George Vlasuk
Employer: Navitor Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Job title: President and CEO
How long have you worked in industry? 34 years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? N/A
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Practical thinking and the importance of time relating to the cost of discovering and developing a new drug.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Being able to move from project to project without getting all of the answers. Patience and a long-term horizon for success.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Make sure your career objectives are clearly defined in your head. Science in industry is intense but not as deep as one may experience in academia, and thus focusing on the practical application of science should be at the top of your objectives before making the switch.

 

Name: Sriharsa Pradhan
Employer: New England Biolabs Inc.
Job title: Distinguished scientist
How long have you worked in industry? 22 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? As an adjunct professor for two years and co-supervised a graduate student.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Meeting the timeline in industry is crucial. Generally, you are not supposed to write grants, but I did write Small Business Innovation Research grants when we were less than 500 people.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Communication, collaboration and time management. Managing expectations is very important.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Go for it, if your passion is applied science. Sometimes we do basic science to understand the process or a biological molecule that could be used downstream in a real-life application.

 

Name: Andrey Shaw
Employer: Genentech
Job title: Staff scientist
How long have you worked in industry? Two years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? 25 years. There are better support and resources in industry.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Independence is greater in academia.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Work in teams; be collaborative.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Different job titles have very different roles.

 

Name: Michael Simonian
Employer: MHS Biotech Consulting
Job title: Consultant
How long have you worked in industry? 28 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? 11 years. I switched because of excellent opportunity in industry. Also, I was forced to obtain 60 percent salary from grants in a 12-month hard-money appointment.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. No need for grants.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Play the same politics as in academia. And most importantly, develop revenue-generating products.What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Make sure you enjoy and fit the culture of the company.

 

Name: Stephen Buxser
Employer: Select Bio Consult
Job title: Chief analyst
How long have you worked in industry? 33 years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? N/A
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. You are likely to be involved in different projects in different subject areas over time, e.g., three to five years on a project before a major change.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Probably the same as in academics: People skills are important when advocating for a project and garnering support. Persuasion is necessary, although less directly for funding than if government agencies were funding the research.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? You will be able to maintain and grow the intellectual pursuits you learned as a student, but you need a high degree of flexibility in finding unique and useful ways to apply that knowledge. You should seize opportunities to expand your skills and knowledge, but that should be a goal in any science career.

 

Name: Mary Bossard
Employer: Nektar Therapeutics
Job title: Principal fellow
How long have you worked in industry? 32 years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? N/A
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. In industry, projects come and go. Don’t get too attached to a specific project.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Interpersonal, writing and speaking.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Figure out the corporate culture. You can’t be productive if it is not conducive to your style. You need compatibility (or at least tolerance) with the workplace.

 

Name: Krishna Kodukula
Employer: K2 Bio-Pharma Consulting LLC
Job title: Executive-in-residence; managing partner; acting CEO
How long have you worked in industry? 32 years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? N/A
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Industry is product-focused versus advancing basic research and understanding.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Ability to work as a team; be flexible, as the project priorities can change, and they change rapidly with management changes. Constantly acquire new skills; stay current on technology.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Explore what interests you most before settling into a career.

 

Name: Wayne Fairbrother
Employer: Genentech/Roche
Job title: Director and senior staff scientist
How long have you worked in industry? 25 years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? N/A
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Industry is more collaborative.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Communication and teamwork.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Be flexible.

 

Name: J. Yun Tso
Employer: JN Biosciences LLC
Job title: Managing partner
How long have you worked in industry? 30 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? Five years postdoctoral training. Switched to industry because of an opportunity to apply my knowledge to drug development.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. One cannot choose one’s projects in industry.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Managerial skills.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Do not think jobs in industry are more stable. One still needs to work hard and excel to advance in industry.

 

Name: Thomas W. Myers
Employer: Roche Molecular Systems
Job title: Senior director
How long have you worked in industry? 26 years.
Did you ever work in academia? No.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? N/A
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. The funding source.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Business acumen, negotiation skills, managerial skills and project management skills.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Don’t close out options; if you are unclear, investigate both avenues.

 

Name: Vimbai M. Chikwana
Employer: Dow Agrosciences
Job title: Associate research scientist
How long have you worked in industry? Three years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? Four years as a postdoc. I did not want to stay a postdoc forever, and I needed a job but had no desire to start my own lab.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Teamwork — there is a lot more dependence on other people to get things done than is the case in academia.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Good communication skills.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Learn how to network. I was surprised by how big this is, especially as companies are leaner now. Building relationships and establishing credibility are two important attributes.

 

Name: Bryan Thacker
Employer: TEGA Therapeutics
Job title: Scientist
How long have you worked in industry? Three years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? Six years in academia. I wanted to work on projects leading to the clinic and higher salaries.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Objectives are commercially driven.
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Project management.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? Start developing and using your network early.

 

Name: Nihmat Morjana
Employer: Siemens Healthineers
Job title: Director
How long have you worked in industry? 24 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? Yes, as a postdoctoral fellow. I was looking for either an academic or industrial position. Then the opportunity came to join Baxter International Chemistry Skill Center.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. Project timeline and end goal (publication versus product).
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? People skills — the ability to communicate with people from different functions of the business with different levels of skills.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? In addition to your scientific skill, develop your people skills and sharpen problem-solving (troubleshooting) skills.

 

Name: Gyula Varadi
Employer: Inpellis Inc.
Job title: Vice president of research
How long have you worked in industry? 10 years.
Did you ever work in academia? Yes.
If so, how long were you in academia, and what led you to make the switch? 32 years. The ever-shrinking funding resources narrowed down my possibilities to research. Also, after a long academic research career, I had the desire to accomplish something that will be practically useful in diagnosis and medicine.
Name one major difference between being a scientist in industry and being a scientist in academia. The constant need to focus on the development of product(s).
Beyond your abilities in the lab, what skills do you most need to succeed in industry? Patience and tolerance with investors.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a student or academic who wants a career in industry? An individual should start a career in industry at a young age, perhaps immediately after a successful postdoc. There is a high importance on accommodating in the local corporate culture and moving as high as it is possible.