Contributor Prital Patel
At the 2014 Naturejobs Career Expo in Boston an entrepreneur, science writer and software enthusiast turned project manager spoke about their journeys away from bench.
Nathan Watson, president and chief executive officer of BioRAFT, a company that delivers laboratory safety and research management software solutions, shared his advice on how to become an entrepreneur.
Early in his scientific career, Watson identified a communication gap that existed between researchers and laboratory safety managers. He spent a number of years learning and becoming involved in various committees and local entrepreneur groups such as the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network. This involvement fostered his interest and confidence in developing his own software company. His key pieces of advice included:
Surround yourself with people who can help answer questions that you may not have the answers to. Joining communities, such as 1Millioncups.com, will have you going back to the drawing board until you have constructed a practical business plan. This constructive criticism is invaluable to develop true entrepreneurship.
Learn about sales, learn the business jargon. As an entrepreneur, being well rounded especially in sales is critical. It is also important to learn and understand the business language. Finding resources and investing the time to develop that sound knowledge base is imperative.
Find the right team. Creating a network of successful and even unsuccessful business-men or women can be invaluable to bringing ideas to your company. Watson points out that an entrepreneur is not necessarily a founder of a company. Getting involved in a start-up and developing the same skills as the founder of the company or your boss can truly boost the success of that company and simultaneously develop your entrepreneurial skills.
Understand your product. Science CEOs can bring their detail-oriented and critical-thinking skills to the table to foster a deep understanding of their product. These are truly important skills that scientists can hone into to be successful entrepreneurs.
Laura Wheeler, community manager at Digital Science, a scientific research software development company, advises on how to become a successful science communicator.
While pursuing her degree in biochemistry, Wheeler knew early on that she had a deep-set passion for science communication and writing. Her key pieces of advice included:
Get work experience. Dipping your toes in many different paid and unpaid opportunities as possible can excel your career. As a personal example, her work experiences writing for blogs and magazines, as well as her involvement as a scientific researcher on a Limes disease documentary were all relevant experiences that helped her secure a very competitive internship at the BBC. She advises younger researchers to get involved in places where they can apply their scientific skills by for example, writing for blogs.
Utilize social media. Wheeler recognised that social media was the next big thing. She applied her communication skills to engage audiences through recruiting bloggers and working with Nature Publishing Group and Digital Science. Utilisation of social media can be very empowering. Finding your career idols on social media and setting up informational interviews can provide great insight into how to develop the necessary skills and job search strategies to make you ready for the job market.
Linda Lee, product manager at Read Cube talked about finding a role in line with her passions.
Lee loves science but recognised, like many pursuing careers outside of academia, that the pyramid-schemed academic career ladder was not an immediately viable option. She also craved for a work place that was dynamic, stimulating and one that would provide a visible impact.
In her search for alternative careers, she reflected on how her support from her supervisor, friends and the department at her university were invaluable during her transition. There were many careers that she considered such as science writing and editing, health care consulting and technology development.
Echoing on Wheeler’s advice, she had the following recommendations:
Gain Work Experience. It is critical to get relevant experience during your time as a graduate student. Informational interviews can help to positively set you apart. Getting involved with non-profit foundations in your area of research and technology transfer offices are great ways to add invaluable experiences. Proactively think about getting the right references that will add direct value to your resume.
Don’t underestimate your skills. As a project manager, Lee reflected on how her experience as a graduate student running two major projects and coordinating junior students instilled planning skills that were translated into her current job. Critical thinking skills, being detail oriented and supervising students are all very important skills that scientists have developed along the way. It is important to market these skills at job interviews.
Get involved. Look into what your institution has to offer. Involvement in biotech and consulting clubs can help you achieve professional and personal growth through team building, critical thinking, communication and leadership skills.
Don’t wait for a job advertisement. If you are interested and passionate about a project or company, don’t wait for a job ad, be proactive and reach out to founders. You will be surprised where this may take you.
Graduate students in the scientific community are actively engaging in thinking outside of traditional career paths. This was evident from the attendance at this workshop as well as the level of audience engagement. Many thanks to the speakers, for their insightful stories and discussions. In addition to the twitter hashtag, #NJCEBoston, live-tweets for this session can be found by searching #NJCEalt.
#NJCEBoston journalist competition winner Prital Patel is a PhD Candidate in Medical BioPhysics at the University of Toronto. She is funded by the Canadian Liver Foundation, and works on understanding the molecular mechanisms that regulate liver development and cancer. Outside of the laboratory, she enjoys reading, exploring the outdoors, learning languages and camping. She also enjoys engaging and educating the lay audience about liver research and health on her Facebook page, The Science Behind Your LIVEr.