Contributor Scott Chimileski
The Career Paths in Industry Panel at the 2014 Naturejobs Career Expo featured three professionals from Boston area companies that have risen to top positions in the scientific industry. David Proia is the director of Cancer Biology at Synta Pharmaceuticals, Erin Whalen is a senior research investigator at Novaritis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR) and Vikas Goyal is a senior associate at SR One. Proia, Whalen and Goyal each have their own career path story, however they agree that working hard and showing initiative are key to advancement in the business world.
Proia always had a passion for cancer research, but he held several jobs completely outside of the oncology field before becoming a cancer biologist. Looking back on his career, he pointed out that gaining experience in broader areas of biology allowed him to learn about industry and leadership in general. His first jobs exposed him to a variety of managers and helped him to realise what management styles work for him. After working in a protein purification lab, another job as a contract scientist at AstraZeneca ultimately gave him the experience to enter the oncology field as a scientist at Synta Pharmaceuticals.
At Synta, Proia progressively advanced from scientist through many positions to become Director of Cancer Biology. He believes the key to his success at Synta has been his initiative. For young scientists, he suggested taking temporary or contract jobs to help build a toolset and a network in a particular field. Further, he suggested that once you have the job you seek, go above and beyond rather than doing the minimum that it takes to complete a task or project. For example, he recommended taking the next step whenever you can by designing follow-up experiments before they are required. “Simply give everything you have to your manager.”
Whalen manages many scientists at NIBR, and shared a story about a successful postdoctoral scientist he recruited a few years ago. As a manager, he stated that it was not the scientist’s outstanding background or publication record that impressed him but his willingness to come in every day and work hard. Whalen suggested that if you have the qualifications to work for a pharmaceutical company, you can “get your foot in the door.” Then, you will have the opportunity to advance. In reference to promotion ceilings that can become a challenge for those who take jobs in industry without first finishing an advanced degree, Whalen mentioned that certain companies have created special leadership positions for exceptional bachelors or masters level scientists. Some people that begin in entry-level research positions do very well and end up completing a kind of “industrial PhD.” At NIBR, this opportunity is known as the Scientific Technical Leader track.
Before joining SR One, Goyal often worked 18-hour days as a consultant at McKinsey and Company. Goyal was shocked at first by how hard he was expected to work within the business world. It also took him some time to adjust to working with a “real boss”: a team leader that managed him, watched him closely and helped him along. Overall Goyal encouraged young scientists to consider a career in consulting. Although these are demanding jobs, salaries are often higher in entry-level consulting positions compared with those in research. Coming from a research background, you can add value as a consultant by providing a new perspective. Creativity and rigorous analysis skills can also be helpful in a business world where decisions are sometimes made with little supporting data.
Although jobs in industry sometimes require long hours, if you work hard and truly give everything you have, you will typically be well compensated and recognised for your efforts. By working closely with your supervisors, you will improve, and you may advance quickly within the company. Industry jobs require specific experience, but this should not be a deterrent. Critical experience and skills can often be gained through one or more contract positions or by working in several positions or companies over the course of your career.
#NJCEBoston journalist competition winner Scott Chimileski is a PhD candidate in Genetics at the University of Connecticut. Scott studies biofilms, extracellular DNA, and gene transfer in extremophilic archaea. He is interested in all forms of interaction between microbes and promotes the field of social microbiology on his blog, Animalcule. He is passionate about photography and the connection between art and science. In the summer, Scott likes to backpack through remote wilderness with his sister Lindsay and brothers Andrew and Brock