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Facilitating a career transition from academia to industry

To many researchers, the end of the rainbow is a tenured professorship at a prestigious institution. The path is not simple, but at least it is clear. For others, however, the Biotech and Pharmaceutical industries offer a closer-to-market alternative, and the business side of the industry can be quite attractive.

Understanding the customer’s needs

Behnosh Björk is a Pricing, Reimbursement and Access Manager at Eli Lilly. After a PhD in Neuroscience, she started as a pharmaceutical sales representative for MSD. “It was hard to get called to an interview in sales, since they found me overqualified, but I knew I wanted to start there. Gaining an understanding of the customer, their needs and their decision making process is key to doing well in a marketing and sales-driven industry. It has been immensely helpful for me in discussing plans and strategies in my later positions.”

In combination with the subject expertise, strategically thinking and project management skills gained in research, sales experience makes for a very attractive candidate in the Pharma industry.

A PhD gives credibility

Having research experience can be a major benefit in Life Science companies, and not only in the research departments. Marianne Hansson, CEO of Atlas Antibodies, started her career in the marketing department of Norwegian Dynal. “I noticed quickly that many of the interesting positions were held by people who had PhD’s, and I decided to go back and complete mine. In my current position as CEO for a company selling antibody products, I work with researchers as customers. Having done research myself provides understanding for the customers’ needs and problems.”

Additionally, a PhD gives credibility in the communication with both customers and other external parties. “Especially in an international environment, the title is important, and you see many PhD titles in upper management, sales and marketing.”

Analyze what you bring to the table

Agneta Åkerhielm is a Process Area Manager for Career Transition at Navigio Recruitment and Leadership. “In any career transition, an insight into personal strengths is key,” she explains. “Therefore, my first advice is to spend time analyzing what you bring to the table in the areas of qualifications and personality, as well as to write down what motivates you.”

This process clarifies the value you can bring to a new employer. It also forms the foundation for writing a vision of where you want to go. “Once you have a written goal in place, you can formulate a plan of action, with specific steps, including networking with people in the areas you are interested in,” says Åkerhielm. The resumé should be as concise and clear as possible, and reflect the strengths that were identified in the first step. “Always tailor the resumé to the specific position you are applying for,” she emphasizes. For example, this means that a researcher should probably not list their publications in their resumé unless applying for a research position.

Gain a lot of information

Björk, known for her contagious enthusiasm and thorough subject research, has one useful personality trait that has helped her immensely. “I’m extremely interested in people, and I talk to everyone. In the process, I gain an understanding of many different positions and how they interrelate, and collect a lot of information which helps me immensely in formulating solutions to problems with multiple stakeholders. ” Hansson’s best tip for researchers going in to the industry is to realize the difference in mindset between industry and academia. “It is important to remember and accept that a company is a commercial entity, with the express goal to make a profit,” concludes Hansson.