Many pharmaceutical companies now offer postdoc positions, which might be more similar to the traditional academic positions than you think.
Guest contributor Lauren Emily Wright
Science is often carelessly tossed into two main categories – academia and industry – and the decision to move from one to the other can be daunting. But current opportunities seem determined to break down these walls and make a more homogenous research environment. The Roche group ran one of the most popular workshops of the Naturejobs Career Expo in London, held on the 18th of September 2015. Attendees filled the aisle and crowded around the open doorway, straining to hear the presentations by Dr. Matthias Nettekoven and Dr. Esther Melo, who work at Roche Pharma Research & Early Development in Basel, Switzerland, discovering new therapeutics and diagnostics in several research areas.
Nettekoven, a principal investigator, started with a reminder that research positions are not the only jobs offered by pharmaceutical companies. For instance, following a research post, Roche employees can move into marketing, sales, HR or manufacturing. “When you’re in, you’re just in. You develop into what you want to be,” said Nettekoven. “The world is open, but the initiative has to come from you.”
Nevertheless, many researchers shy away from industry, considering it a one-way street away from an academic career. The workshop seemed to be aimed at disputing that mentality, by demonstrating how the gap between industry and academia can be bridged.
Melo spoke about her current position in the Roche Postdoc Fellowship (RPF) Program. Educated in Barcelona, Spain, she took her current position in 2014. She is one of 100 Roche postdocs, who are stationed in 88 academic institutes in 17 countries. Melo spoke highly of the RPF programme, which she believes is a great midpoint between industry and academia. Postdocs can work in the laboratory at Roche, at a collaborating university, or both. Melo said there is a lot of support for personal scientific development. “You actually get two mentors: one from Roche, and one from academia.”
Similar to a standard academic postdoc position, research placements are roughly two to four years long, with a focus on publishing in peer-reviewed journals. However, publications sometimes need to be preceded by patent applications, which may slow the process.
Both Melo and Nettekoven emphasised the team-based environment at Roche, where scientists drive their own work but also discuss research in groups. “You will be the pro in your field. You have the responsibility to drive these things forward,” said Nettekoven. Although he did not specifically comment on whether major project decisions are directed ultimately by Roche, Nettekoven said that researchers have the freedom to present their own ideas and, as experts, to drive the research in the direction they see fit.
As for applying for a posdoc in industry, the competition is very tough, and the process takes time. Melo advises interested candidates to apply early. “It takes about 6 months on average to find a position. Go to the internet and check those positions that are available. But don’t be too late,” she cautioned, “or you may miss the boat”. Nettekoven added that, because Roche has an online-only application process, “Your CV is the first impression. So make it good.” Proving that you have the drive and the appropriate skills is the way to succeed.
Joanna Zmurko, a PhD student from the University of Leuven, Belgium, said she was pleasantly surprised by the workshop. “The programme seems great. I was afraid that the work would not be focused on publishing. And that’s not the case. You have to publish.” Given the emphasis on publishing good science, networking and attending conferences, it seems that an industrial postdoc might not be so different from academia after all.
- The postdoc series: Postdocs in industry
- Career paths: Working in the pharmaceutical industry
- Working in industry: An academic-style postdoc in a pharmaceutical setting
- Search for jobs at Roche on Naturejobs