Working in the science industry

This is the fourth installment of my interview a scientist series!!  If you would like to read my other scientist interviews they are Life as a postdoctoral researcherThe business side of science, and From professor to entrepreneur!

I met Emily while we were both doing our postdocs at Brown University, but in two different labs.  We’d frequently talk about applying for grant funding and what we were planning to do after our postdocs.

Emily received a bachelors degree at Wheaton College where she majored in biology and minored in chemistry.  She received her PhD in biomedical sciences at UMass Medical School and then went to Brown for her postdoc.

Emily is currently a senior scientist and lead of the development team at Invaio Sciences, a small startup company in Cambridge, MA.

I asked Emily to describe what she enjoys about her job

“Everyone in the company wears many hats and no two days are ever the same.  Overall, I spend about 75% of my time in the lab and 25% of the time at my desk or in meetings.  My main role at the moment is to take the hits that come out of the discovery screen, develop and execute experiments to figure out how they are working, and move them to a point where they can become a potential product.

I like that my job is fast-paced, ever changing, and that I have the opportunity to learn many different skills.  I enjoy taking on new challenges, developing processes and systems from scratch, and seeing the progress the company has made.  I also really like the people I work with and the company culture.”

Her only dislike about her job is probably echoed by many people that live near and work in Boston/Cambridge

“The only thing I really dislike about my job is the commute and Cambridge/Boston traffic.”

Boston is known to have one of the worst commutes in the country due to the rise of housing costs in and near the city, which directly impacts the number of commuters driving in for work.   However, it’s also known as one of the best hubs for the sciences due to the sheer amount of startups, pharmaceutical companies, and research opportunities.

As for Emily’s future goals when she was an undergraduate, she explains a change of mind she had:

“When I was in college, I wanted to go to medical school and become a doctor.  After an internship with a surgeon, I realized that I wasn’t cut out for that and thought I’d be better suited to help people through scientific research.”

However, as I have stated before, I believe that finding and obtaining jobs in the sciences is difficult and Emily had similar thoughts on the topic

I think that finding a job in science is hard work.  When I was looking for my current position, I utilized many different resources including my linkedin network, the career center at Umass Medical School, the Cheeky Scientist Association, and a career counselor.  These resources helped me craft my resume, prepared me for job interviews, and salary negotiation.

I think that utilizing your network will help get your resume and cover letter on the desk of a hiring manager but getting hired for a position is based on someone’s skill set and ability to fit in with the company culture.”

I agree with her advice, it is best to use as many avenues as possible to get your foot in the door for a company that you want to work for.  It may not be easy but persistence is key.

I asked Emily to talk about anything she would change if she could go back and do it over:

“I would have tried to get an internship in an industry position early in my education and training.”

I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to work in industry with a science degree.  You may work for free during an internship, but making connections and getting your foot in the door is a huge factor in the hiring process for many science positions in industry.

Her advice to undergrads or high school students wanting a higher degree in the STEM fields is this:

“I’d tell them to go for it and that you can do anything you set your mind to.  If they definitely want to get a PhD, I’d tell them that getting a masters probably isn’t worth the money.

I can attest that you DO NOT need a masters if you are planning on getting a PhD!  It is not worth the time or the money.

Lastly, I talked to Emily about what she wished someone had told her when she was young in her career and she was still a student:

“I think it would have been useful to have some type of career counseling during graduate school where we learned about transferable skills, resume writing, interviewing, etc.”

YES to this!  This is one of the reasons I am writing this blog series.  There is not enough awareness around the many options of careers in the sciences and the best way to get your foot in the door at a company (networking is key!).    I also believe that people underestimate their “soft skills” gained from getting a PhD and those skills can lead to new career avenues.

Thank you Emily for your great advice!  Stay tuned for more interviews!  Please share with any science students you may know.