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Looking back at 2021

The careers columns that stuck with me
Courtney Chandler
Dec. 10, 2021

With 2021 soon coming to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the year. It was far from my prepandemic version of “normal,” although, in my opinion, it was an improvement from 2020 in many ways.

I also thought about all of the professionals in industry I got to speak with this year. No matter the role or field, every interviewee said something that surprised or stuck with me. In this column, I wanted to share those thoughts and recap what I’ve learned this year.

Inspiring stories from industry

Amit Srivastava

The COVID-19 pandemic remained at the forefront of my mind, and I was amazed at the coordination and speed with which vaccines were developed and deployed in the United States. It was a privilege to talk to Amit Srivastava in a two-part column about his work at Pfizer, one of the partners, with BioNTech, responsible for the first COVID-19 vaccine.

Srivastava shared his career journey through academia, the nonprofit world and, finally, industry in a column that emphasized how many opportunities are truly out there for those with scientific training. He was also directly involved in the successful development of the COVID-19 vaccine, and hearing about how he worked on the pandemic response was fascinating.

Diana Azurdia

On another note, as a woman in science, I’m constantly inspired by the lives and career paths of other women scientists, and this year was no different. Diana Azurdia spoke about how she used her graduate school experience to build better mentorship and retention initiatives at UCLA, specifically with the goal to support diversity and inclusion. The measurable effects of her work and her clear passion for her job were inspiring and made me realize how powerful it can be to apply your own experience to your work.  

Dominique Gales–Badea

Dominique Gales–Badea had a related mission. She is a field application scientist who spoke about how part of her motivation to move to industry was to improve diversity and inclusion. She was clearly committed to sharing her knowledge and experience with others looking to break into the field — she even encouraged readers interested in her career journey to reach out to her, and I think her advice would be helpful for anyone considering a path like hers.

One thing I appreciated was her complete willingness to talk about salary. This is something I routinely ask about during interviews, but a lot of people shy away from. Knowing salary ranges can be extremely useful when considering sustainable career paths and making sure you aren’t getting underpaid for your work. Stay tuned for a future column on negotiating skills, something I never learned in academia.  

The many possibilities industry provides

As with previous years, I was surprised and amazed by the variety of jobs available in industry. From medical leads to account managers, the professionals I talked to proved time and time again that industry is more than research and development. But that’s not to say there isn’t amazing science happening in industry, and satisfying work can mean different things to different people.

Sadiye Amcaoglu Rieder

Sadiye Amcaoglu Rieder's passion remains in the lab. She has used her research training in her role as a senior scientist. Meanwhile, Jake Courtney wanted to focus on sustainable science and found the perfect fit at a biotechnology company doing research on synthetic biology. It was clear how many opportunities are out there in industry, regardless of your niche.

Jake Courtney

I also enjoyed learning more about the particularities of working in industry since I don’t have that experience myself. The language used is a bit different than in academic or nonprofit careers, and job titles are no exception. Knowing what these titles are and what responsibilities they entail gave insight into climbing the ladder in industry. Understanding this hierarchy can be helpful for those looking to move into industry but aren’t sure which positions they may be qualified for. I also addressed what to expect and how to handle performance reviews.

I wrote about a couple of resources that may be helpful for anyone looking to make a career change. There are plenty of free biotechnology and pharmaceutical-related training courses that you can take advantage of to get started and beef up your experience. Also, if there’s one thing I have learned, it is to not limit yourself. Everyone (and I do mean everyone) has skills that are applicable in industry, and it’s important to leverage your transferable skills when applying for industry-related positions.

In sum, everyone I spoke with proved how multilayered industry is and how many experiences are out there. I may have mentioned before that I’ve been looking for new positions myself, so next year I hope to have content related to conducting informational interviews, how to negotiate a job offer and more.

For now, happy holidays and happy new year!

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Courtney Chandler

Courtney Chandler is a biochemist and microbiologist in Baltimore, Md., and a careers columnist for ASBMB Today.

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