Sunday, September 28, 2008

Biology in Industry - "Just Don't."

So a while back I wrote that I had given my CV to a friend in industry who offered to show it to her relatively-high-up mentor at her relatively large company, and see what kind of advice she had for me to apply for jobs there (or at other companies).

Well, this was a while ago, before the market crash.

So I finally talked to this friend yesterday. I hadn't heard anything back so I figured her mentor didn't say anything good.

The word back was basically this:

NOBODY should go into biology right now.

ANYBODY who can do ANYTHING ELSE should leave and GO DO IT.

There are NO JOBS right now for biologists.

We're LAYING PEOPLE OFF, not hiring.

My friend didn't want to tell me, but I appreciate that she did.

While I was surprised that her mentor was so blunt, it wasn't exactly news.


Ironically, literally an hour after I had this conversation, a different friend, who has been unemployed for a while, told me she got an interview at a small local company.

And then she proceeded to ask if I could coach her on what to say during the interview, and what to do if she got the job, because the job is MUCH closer to my expertise than hers.

My answer?

Ask google first, then we'll talk about it.

(What I really wanted to say? Uh, NOOOOO????)


She's a really good friend. What could I say? It's not like she asked me to be on a microphone inserted in her ear during the interview.

And when I thought about it, I realized that most of my frustration recently has been working with people whom I didn't think were actually qualified for their jobs.

But you know what? Some of them worked hard and learned fast.

And THOSE people ended up being the ones I DO want to work with. Those are the kind of people I would want to have in my lab.


She also thinks that, while the company sounds pretty desperate and like they'd take anyone willing and able to do the work, it's going to be pretty competitive for this one position.

Apparently this company is interviewing a lot of people in quick succession, because rather than the usual full day visit, they have my friend scheduled to visit for 1 hour.

My guess is that they'll take someone with more experience using these kinds of methods, but who knows. My friend works hard and learns fast.

And she has been working in industry already, so I don't know if that will count for more than someone coming straight out of a grad program or academic postdoc.


So that's two data points. Can't really interpret much from it, unless it's true that big companies are doing badly and small companies haven't been as hard hit?

I'll also say that I would not want the job my friend is interviewing for, unless I were really desperate, because I think I would be bored.

For her, it might be fun since it will be mostly things she hasn't done before. And she loves doing new things.

And she really is pretty desperate at this point.

I told her if she can get it, it would be a good stepping stone, since she could broaden her skills. And who knows, maybe the company will do really well?


Now, if I could just find someone to help me the way I've been helping her. Hmm.

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At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really ridiculous. You spend your whole blog crying about how little Ms. PhD is being unfairly dismissed despite her clearly superior qualifications. Then a good friend who is desperately looking for a job gets an interview in an area you know about, calls and asks for help, and your response is to ask her to google the subject and then get back to you??

Get off your high horse. You're not so superior to the people around you. By all appearances you went to the top schools and had a lot of breaks others don't have. The academic world can be brutal, but stop talking down to everyone around you. Sheesh.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Actually, my friend went to the same schools I did. So I have no advantage over her in that sense.

In fact, because we went to the same schools, I was shocked that she hadn't already looked anything up, since this is so far out of her area of expertise.

I guess I'm just so independent, that seems like the obvious first thing to do. If I'm going to pass myself off as an expert in something, I try to do my homework.

In this case, I know there are plenty of resources online, and I also know that she has internet access and uses it for things like Facebook all the time.

So I find it hard to see why it's my job to teach her everything I know on the fly, when she has been getting paid twice as much as me all this time, and spends her extra income on going out drinking?

Where's my consulting fee?

She's a friend, yeah, but I have my own stuff to do. I think she understands that. But it's perfectly reasonable to set boundaries. If you help everyone who asks for free, they will never be independent, and you'll be... a doormat.

Besides, helping and teaching people are not the same as doing everything for them. I really do believe you can't get more out of learning than you're willing to put in. If she's serious, she'll do some reading and then get back to me. If not, I won't hear about it again.

Maybe when you've had a few students, you'll understand.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger GirlPostdoc said...

I think the line that separates academia and industry is very very thin. As most universities have re-modeled themselves after "The Corporation," you might as well have been talking about the situation at a university.

There are no jobs. Even though we thought the baby boomers would retire and thus positions would open up - it is not happening. Given the recent economic meltdown, my guess is that we will see universities downsizing and implementing hiring freezes.

I've just recently ranted about the move towards a business model of efficiency in the university.

At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Industry sucks right now too. It won't be the most qualified who gets the job.. it will be the person who works for the least amount of money. I interviewed for an industry job last year and nearly passed out when the salary was mentioned... 40k... in very expensive city. I have a PhD and a Science and PNAS paper, thank you, but no thank you. They hired a foreign PhD. And he's already been laid off. phew.

In this case, if your friend gets the job, she may be willing to open some doors for you.

At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Betsy said...

I think it's tough for everyone in industry right now, both big & small. My company laid off 1/3 of its employees this summer (20 people), and a few of those are still looking for work. That said, it seems that the chemists have had a MUCH harder time finding work than the biologists. There's so much outsourcing of chemistry work, while a lot of biology is still done in-house.

As for helping your friend--yes, she should do some research on her own, but your comment was a little harsh. You never know when you might need help from her someday--even to get a job. A little time investment now might benefit you later.

At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't take that view of industry as set in stone. That is one person's view based on their experience in one company. I don't think there is ever an ideal time for going into industry. The process is fraught with pitfalls, companies tend to be VERY leery of people in academia as they don't think we can adjust to an industrial environment. Also, they want the one person who has the exact set of skills that they are looking for. If you don't have experience that matches, forget it. Also, contrary to what you may think, a lot of people WANT to go into industry. Hmm, lets see, our options are to either persist as low paid postdocs for 7-10 years, with little to no hope of ever getting an academic PI position, vs. making at least 2-3X the salary doing many of the same things we already do. Losing a bit of freedom perhaps, but gaining the knowledge that we are actually trying to develop therapies for disease. So there's lots of competition for industry positions.

Guess what I'm trying to say is, if you want to explore industry, go for it. Don't let one negative report from your friend stop you. Its always difficult, no matter what the economic landscape is at the moment. Unless you are one of those LC/MS people, who seem to be in huge demand now, at least from the listings I see.

At 9:01 AM, Anonymous Missy Ph.D. said...

I'm only a student but I know what you mean. I have seen other students who aren't as good as I am, awarded scholarships. And when I said they aren't as good, I mean they can't even string 5 grammatically correct sentences at one go.

So I just tell myself that I need to work hard for what I want. Hence I don't take anything for granted. Plus it feels better if I am able to achieve anything that I work hard for :D

At 10:23 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

I'm surprised the mentor said there are no jobs in biology. I'm in Earth/environmental sciences and looking for jobs. I see way more ads for biologist/chemist. Maybe that's only in this part of the the country.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger bella said...

Great. Just when I finally decided with absolute certainty that academia is not my thing and I am definitely going to go into industry... the economy happens.

Just great.

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

*silently screaming*
i thought i had almost made up my mind about leaving academia for good when i had a chat with my brother who is currently in private sector (engineering) - he was nostalgic about school and how he thinks his profs had it pretty good. (i noted the pros but pointed out the cons).
and now this post ... eek.
damn my fence-sitting ways.
i've been hooked on your blog for a while now ms. phd... i'm a fan :)
btw, i hear you about the friend that couldn't be bothered to google...
are you still going to go for industry, despite it all? you could jump back into academia later, no?

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Candid Engineer said...

Seems to be the case in my parts that the smaller companies are hiring, and larger ones... not so much. They've often already taken on more than they can chew, and in lean times, they start spitting stuff out. The problem with small companies, of course, is that they're small, and so the new jobs and often few and far in between. Kind of sucks all-around.

At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please post something. Trainwrecks are a spectator sport.

At 10:13 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Betsy wrote (and others assumed):
but your comment was a little harsh. You never know when you might need help from her someday--even to get a job. A little time investment now might benefit you later.

Betsy, and other condescending commenters, as often happens when you only get part of the information, you assumed, and you guessed wrong, and you have it backwards.

This "friend" has been mooching information and help off me for years. I have gotten very little in the way of career help in return. You know, one of those people who was more of a real friend before, when we had more in common, but now we're friends more out of habit. And I'm becoming tired of giving more than I get in those cases where it has been going on for a long time.

At 2:24 PM, Blogger Neil said...


Two comments:

1. I don't know if teh situation is different in Europe compared to the US but the people I speak to in industry constantly complain how _hard_ it is to hire people. In fact, I vacated my position at my last company last December. The company put out a reasonable job ad (for a head of department position) and got no decent applicatons; by decent I mean someone who had at least _some_ relevant experience. They then tried a bit of a reorg and to get a person with less experience (for a less senior job) - still nothing. I hear this all the time - even though we have the worst credit crunch since the phrase was invented last March; I still help to connect individuals and companies. which leads me to point 2:

2. I know it can be painful to always be the one helping out. However; in the end once your credit has been crunched, your globals have been warmed and your terrorists internationialised you have only one thing left - your reputation. I would say, bite the bullet, help all that you can around you and soak up the reputation boosting vibes flowing back your way. Also just being nice is fun - in the long run!


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