Industry training
and postdoc programs

Donna Kridelbaugh
June 25, 2019

There is an established need for more resources to prepare scientists for careers outside academia. And, considering that the private sector now employs just as many Ph.D. scientists as academic institutions, transitioning to industry careers is one important focus of these efforts.

So, what exactly do we mean by industry careers? We broadly define industry here as for-profit companies that focus on developing or providing science and technology products or services to benefit their end users. These industries can include but are not limited to agriculture and food sciences, biotech and pharmaceutical sciences, laboratory equipment and supplies, and education and information technologies.

There are a number of ways to get relevant training and experience to prep for a career in industry. Many academic institutions and science societies are starting to offer industry-training programs. One example is the joint ASCB-KGI biotech program. The KGI also offers degree programs, such as the postdoctoral professional master's program with more in-depth training to prepare scientists for transitioning into management in the life-sciences industry.

You also can take individual classes on topics relevant to industry areas (e.g., regulatory affairs, patent law, project management) to create your own training portfolio and boost your business acumen. Such classes may be available online (e.g., MOOCs) or through your local university or business/tech incubator.

In addition to training, networking is key for exploring careers and making industry connections. You can reach out to ASBMB members listed in the membership directory who are working in industry and request to hold an informational interview to learn more about their career paths. There also are industry-focused professional groups (e.g., state bioscience associations) that host local networking and other events.

Some organizations are taking this a step further and facilitating industry-mentoring programs. The International Center for Professional Development runs the SMDP Biotech program, which is open to underrepresented minorities at each degree level. Participants attend a five-day training course and receive one year of personalized mentoring with an industry professional. Additionally, the Professional Development and Career Office at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has partnered with CASSS to pilot a biotech/pharma industry mentor-match program.

Of course, there's nothing quite as useful as hands-on experience. Consulting as a subject-matter expert on industry projects is a practical way to gain relevant experience and build connections in industry. As an example, the Medical College of Wisconsin runs the Catalyst BioConsulting group composed of postdocs and graduate students who provide business-consulting services to biotech and health-technology companies.

If you want to do a trial run to see what it's like working in industry, there are short-term internship and fellowship options available. For example, Lilly has a one-year visiting scientist fellowship program for postgraduates to get experience working across various business and research units. And, Genentech hosts an internship program open to scientists of all degree levels.  

Another option for Ph.D.-level scientists is participating in an industry-postdoc program. To learn more, we reached out to Kate Bradford, assistant director of career services with the PDCO at John Hopkins Medicine, who we noticed had been crowdsourcing info on Twitter about such programs. In fact, Kate's office is leading the way in providing career resources in this area. For example, they recently held their annual Finding the Right Postdoc week that included a series of informational webinars detailing industry-postdoc programs at various companies.

Donna Kridelbaugh

Donna Kridelbaugh is a communications consultant and founder of ScienceMentor.Me. Her mission is to create an online field guide to self-mentoring in science careers. She offers writing, editing and marketing services for early career professionals who are ready to advance their career to the next level.

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