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Science careers chat room

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We thought it was time to gather the voices of several of our interviewees thus far, to hear about their frustrations with the bench, their quest for a more satisfying career, and any tips or secrets they have for our readers. Listen in! 

by Brian Shott 

Why did you leave academia?

Our interviewees describe their frustrations.

“I was on about my fourth temporary contract in academia, getting a bit frustrated. I would just get started with projects and then have to move on to the next job.”              

Dan Metcalf, microscopy sales manager

“After becoming a mother, I was thinking, ‘Do I really want to go back to research?’ And with two scientists at home—my husband is a researcher—I thought, it’s not possible. 

Gloria Fuentes, medical illustrator

“I realized that academic research wasn’t for me while trudging through days of failed experiments…I wanted to work on something that impacted society in my lifetime.  

Bani K. Suri, entrepreneur

“I realized I became a postdoc because it was the ‘default’ choice, rather than something I really wanted to do.”          

Anjana Narayanan, consultant and product manager 

“We were doing non-applied science, basic research, and I had reached the point where I was like, ‘Why am I doing all of this?’ I decided to go to a company because I needed to have meaning in the work I’m doing.”    

Carla Pratt,  organic farmer

On taking the leap…

Preparing, and then no turning back.

“When a recruiter approached me about selling Nikon products and training Nikon customers in superresolution microscopy, it seemed like a natural step.”  

Dan Metcalf

“I stumbled onto an opportunity to be part of a talent incubator. I learned a great deal about startups, thought processes, customer relations, doing market analysis and other ‘real-world’ skills.”    

Bani K. Suri

“I tried to learn as much as possible about management consulting. I read articles about top consulting firms, connected to consultants on LinkedIn, did informational chats, and signed up to a consulting newsletter.”

Anjana Narayanan

…and landing on your feet.

What skills did you need in your new position?

“Presentation skills are important in the medical liaison industry. Communication really underpins everything we do.”  

Sheri Hussain, medical liaison 

“You need to know and communicate the science in order to put all these things into a visual that makes sense for the project. I find illustrating trickier than writing sometimes.”  

Gloria Fuentes

“Being my own boss, I have to be strict enough to keep my own schedule and make sure I do all the work. ”

Carla Pratt

In a startup, you work long, intense hours on your own work while putting other processes in place at the same time—you roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done! You learn a lot and wear many hats.”  

Anjana Narayanan

The best part of your new career…

It’s still about science, many told us.

“Meeting with clinicians and talking to them is probably my favorite bit.”                   

Sheri Hussain

“I really enjoy keeping up with the latest research. Even when I was on maternity leave, instead of watching Netflix I was reading scientific papers. Today, I’ve been burying myself in papers related to Covid-19 just like any other researcher.”                                  

Gloria Fuentes

“When I was a consultant, I loved working on different cases, understanding business scenarios and problem solving.”                                                                           

Anjana Narayanan

…and the worst.

Paperwork, managing people, and oh, the emails!

“Meeting tender deadlines is the most stressful. Filling out tender documents can be several days of work…You can miss a £300,000 sale by missing a tender deadline by just an hour.” 

Dan Metcalf

“The least favorite is probably admin. That’s something I work on; I try to make sure I make time for my admin first up.”                                                                           

Sheri Hussain

“Continuous human interaction, which is often lacking in a lab setup, is a major part of startup life that can sometimes overwhelm people from academia.”                            

Bani K. Suri

“After two years as a consultant I realized that consulting is more than a job, it is a lifestyle. Constant travel and living out of a suitcase was hard.”                               

Anjana Narayanan

Advice for those who want to leave academia?

Words of warning and encouragement.

“As a scientist, you have many transferable skills that are highly valuable. The key is to make sure you showcase them in the right light.”                                                   

Anjana Narayanan

“For creative people, I think the field of medical illustration is here to stay—especially animation. Five years ago, you wouldn’t think someone working from home could do it. Now, you invest in a GPS card and you can make it.”                                                      

Gloria Fuentes

“My advice for biologists venturing into entrepreneurship is to carefully consider the type of incubator you wish to join and thoroughly assess their capability to support your specific ideas and startup style.”                                                                                           

Bani K. Suri

“Employers are less interested in knowing which labs you worked in and for how long. Focus on things you have done and skills you have picked up at each stage of your professional journey.”                                                                                            

Tony Cabrejos, recruiter

“It’s only as difficult as you make it in your head.”                                                      

Carla Pratt

 

Medical Science Liaison: Working at the intersection of science and medicine

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By Brian Shott

Sheri Hussain says it was a moment when her life hung in the balance: after being offered a “dream postdoc” at a prestigious lab in New York City, Hussain, then a newly minted PhD specializing in prostate cancer, got cold feet. Instead, she would seek a profession where her love of science and her extrovert personality could shine through. 

“My pathway would be different,” she told us.

We sat down with Sheri, now a senior medical science liaison (MSL) in lung oncology at the biopharmaceutical AstraZeneca, to discuss the challenges of bringing researchers, clinicians, and drug companies together in the fight against cancer.

Can you describe a typical day at your job?

A typical day is not typical! It’s always changing. This week, I prepared to host a conference symposium: event planning, making sure that my speakers arrived on time and that they were happy. On Wednesday, I started bright and early, meeting with a surgeon; it was the only time he could meet because he was operating all day. We talked for about an hour. I had teleconferences after that until about 11 a.m. Then, another meeting with a radiation oncologist at another site. Then I worked from home preparing slides for an internal training session that I’m running at an international conference in a couple of weeks. It’s a session on building rapport with clinicians that you’ve just met, about personality types, all these really abstract ideas. A complete about-face from my day-to-day, which is talking about science. 

Which sort of insights from clinicians are you looking for?

When we’re first starting to look at tumor types, for example, a lot of our conversations with clinicians might revolve around questions like, ‘What is the prevalence of that tumor type? How do they present to you? What do you normally treat them with?’ Once the actual clinical trial results are out for your drug, then the conversation may swing toward understanding how the data is being received. The best insights are uncovered when you understand what drives clinicians and what their thoughts are around clinical data, patient management, competitors—all of that.

You trained in prostate cancer. What was most difficult about your shift from prostate to lung?

Learning the different types of clinical management. Pathways are similar across the board; p53 seems to be everywhere you look. What’s different is how patients are managed, and how we stage them. You also have to learn who is who in your new field. In prostate cancer I knew all the clinicians, who did what, who was important and where the big centers were. When you move into a new stream you need to learn all that again. I’ve worked in lung for three years. It was a steep learning curve for my first six months. It takes time to be able to go into a meeting and say, ‘You know what? I’ve got this.’ It’s really important for people to realize that this takes time, and not feel disheartened.

What are some key skills someone interested in being an MSL should bring to the table?

Presentation skills are a major one.

Communication really underpins everything we do in this industry.

When you’re speaking to a new clinician or nurses or patient groups, you need to be able to communicate your ideas without getting bogged down into, ‘Well, this molecule does this, and here’s an antibody that does this,’ because half the people are probably going, ‘So what? Who cares?’—you need to relate it back to their patient. Another is being really good at planning your time. To say to yourself, ‘Ok, I’m going to block out an hour just to answer emails, and then I’m going to create some slides, and then this…’—it’s something we do all the time. 

How do you stay ahead in a competitive market?

What differentiates an MSL is the relationships you’ve made, and these relationships need to be based on trust. A lot of my clinicians trust me with really important information, they open up about things they wouldn’t with other people. They know I will keep that information sacred and I won’t abuse the relationship.

Keeping up with research, building relationships, honing your business skills—which parts of your job do you love, and which are the most challenging?

Oh, can I just pick it all? Everything’s a challenge that I enjoy! Meeting with clinicians and talking to them is probably my favorite bit. The least favorite is probably admin. That’s something I work on; I try to make sure I make time for my admin first up. 

Let’s look toward the future: With expanding treatment options and digitalization in the field, will the work of an MSL get easier, or harder?

Harder. In fact, lung cancer is getting harder right now. The sheer volume of data that has come out in the last year—it’s overwhelming! Not only are we going to have to be subject matter experts, but we’re going to be talking to a bunch of different clinicians. I’ll need to expand beyond medical oncologists and look at every HCP potentially involved in a patient’s care. You really need to have a holistic picture of who’s involved in management of the patient. It’s going to be harder. Way harder. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s and not that of Imagenscience.

You can reach out to Sheri here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sheri-hussain-57824825/

A biomedical academician’s tryst with startup life

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By Bani K. Suri

Like many PhD students, I realized that academic research wasn’t for me while trudging through days of failed experiments. Pursuing a PhD in a failure-prone field was challenging and drained the self-confidence, youth, and energy of my mid–20-year-old self. At the lows of research life, which for an experimental biologist are way too many, my resolve to leave academic research was strengthened. But since quitting wasn’t in my DNA, I decided to persevere, complete my PhD, and then leave.

Surprisingly however, the thrill of finishing my thesis and successfully defending it made me itch for a more fulfilling research experience—in a new lab, under a new mentor/supervisor, in a different university. My talk at a conference got me conversing with an interesting clinician-scientist and made me wonder, ‘Why not give research another chance, but from a more clinical perspective’? And so I started my postdoc (which I had sworn to never do!), which was initially planned for 2 years but grew to 4—practically like doing another PhD in a different environment but with more scientific maturity. Interestingly, while my postdoc experience exposed me to different perspectives, thought processes and techniques, it once again drove the point home that research was indeed not something I found fulfilling. My personality was at odds with the demands of the profession and I did not feel a sense of connection to what I was doing. I realized that I wanted to work on something that impacted society in my lifetime, and the time-consuming nature of academic research was not the career path for me.

In preparation to find other opportunities I decided to add on non-academic skills to my kitty and increase my risk appetite. After making the decision to leave academic research, I applied incessantly to science-related jobs in industries and startups. Following a friend’s recommendation, I stumbled onto an opportunity to be part of a talent incubator. There, I learnt a great deal about startups, related jargon, thought processes, customer relations, problem statement validations, doing market analysis and other, as I would call them, ‘real-world’ skills. However, with my background in basic biomedical sciences, it was difficult to come up with ideas that could be translated into an actual product in a span of just 3 to 6 months. Hence, I chose a cofounder whose technical skills were something upon which I could add on rather than provide the core technical foundation myself. Also, I wanted to be the ‘talker’ and ‘thinker’ (read CEO) rather than the ‘doer’ (read CTO/ CSO).

The idea that my co-founder and I arrived at was not new science, but explored a novel application by tweaking an established technology. It was quite a hit based on weekly reviews and feedback we had from peers as well as mentors. In time we realised that short term incubators such as the one we were part of were better geared to support digital health or software related startups than those like ours that focussed on biomedical research-based technologies. The former typically requires very low startup costs and short time frames to launch marketable products, while the latter has high cost and time requirements for product development. We later realised that our product idea did not align with the incubator’s investment strategy and portfolio as well. The experience was an experiment in itself for both the incubator and us, to test whether a startup like ours could function within their monetary and time framework. While my cofounder and I didn’t receive funds to convert our idea into reality, we surely acquired a wealth of knowledge, such as the process of ideating, evaluating, meeting diverse bunch of smart people and networking with this varied bunch! While we failed to access pre-seed funds, we encountered one of the most common themes in the startup world—the inability to raise funds. Thankfully, coming from academic research, moving on from failures is second nature!

My advice for biologists venturing into entrepreneurship is to carefully consider the type of incubator you wish to join and thoroughly assess their capability to support your specific ideas and startup style. In my opinion, an incubator is a great place to meet people, find a co-founder and get initiated into your startup journey. The experience has surely whetted my entrepreneurial appetite and my next goal is to either work for a startup or develop one from scratch. I personally loved that every day was different, starting from researching, thinking, discussing ideas to talking to customers or even attending workshops to get your prototype built. However, the transition from an academic to a startup culture isn’t easy and I had to cultivate several interpersonal and soft skills to ease into this. Continuous human interaction, which is often lacking in a lab setup, is a major part of startup life that can sometimes overwhelm people from academia. Also, working in a 2- to 3-year-old startup would give a person better insight into what to expect and how to grow, especially for folks from academia. Fast-forward to today, I am currently looking for jobs in startups to experience and learn more about what the journey entails and to grow with it. I think I have bid adieu to the lab bench; but if it is a stepping stone to better things, I wouldn’t mind. An important thing I have learnt from my relatively short life experience is to always seek growth and not get too comfortable!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author’s and not that of ImagenScience.

You can reach out to Bani here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bani-k-suri/

So you want to become a project manager…

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Tony, a former recruiter at Hays in London (UK), says project manager positions are the jobs most sought by academics leaving the bench.

If you want to pursue a career in project management,  here are the do’s and don’ts:

The bad news: Don’t get your hopes up for a project manager position in industry. Academics straight from the bench stand little chance. Industries do not employ academics fresh from the bench for this sort of position; they have rigorous standards. 

The good news: Do apply to project manager positions in academia—we call them transitional project management positions. Start within your organization. Every so often there are calls for these spots at organizations such as Life Arc in the UK, or within the A*STAR in Singapore. Transitional project manager positions offer the opportunity to explore the commercial aspects of science and gain the experience to be considered for project management positions in industries later on. 

The absolute extra you need in your CV: When you apply for transitional project management positions make sure to use a functional CV (https://careersinscience.co/2020/07/27/a-recruiters-tips-to-nailing-your-cv/) and showcase any extra experience that shows you deserve to be considered. As we mentioned earlier, you have tough competition, so include volunteer projects you have done outside the bench to demonstrate your genuine interest in the position and commitment to start the switch from the bench. Hands-on volunteering activities are even better. It can be volunteering at local scientific activities like Biotech Connection.  

Here at ImagenScience, we want to add that project managers have many roles and we are trying to scout them all.

Courage to create: Gloria Fuentes on making the leap to medical illustration

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By Brian Shott

After more than twenty years as a researcher, says Gloria Fuentes, her brain was wired for science. But when her life’s circumstances changed, she found a new profession where her knowledge of how the human body works and her passion to create could combine.

When did you start illustrating?

After becoming a mother, I was thinking, “Do I really want to go back to research?” And with two scientists at home—my husband is a researcher—I thought, it’s not possible. We had been moving from job to job and country to country quite often. 

At first I thought I might edit scientific text, but it didn’t really click. And so I went to a course about illustrating science, and I thought, ‘This is great!’ Because I can keep reading science, getting inside the topics I like, and then translate this knowledge into illustration and animation.

I hadn’t thought of myself as an artist, but I don’t think in the world of scientific illustration every visual has to be a piece of art. You need to know and communicate the science in order to put all these things into a visual that makes sense for the project. I find it trickier than writing sometimes.

Which course on medical illustration did you do?

It was a workshop called “A Day of Art in Science,” organized by Sci-Illustrate. It didn’t cover much material, but it was a turning point: I realized I could do this work. I think these courses are good for revealing new career paths: you don’t have to leave science if you don’t want to do research anymore.

You’re able to keep up with the latest research?

Yes, I really enjoy it. I never give up. Even when I was on maternity leave, instead of watching Netflix I was reading scientific papers. Today, I’ve been burying myself in papers related to Covid-19 just like any other researcher. If you are drawing viruses and the cells they invade, you need to check the research papers to extract the information.

Which programs do you use to make your illustrations?

Most of the time it’s Photoshop and Illustrator. But I’m learning 3-D modeling and animation, too. I use a program from Autodesk called Maya, which is expensive, but you can have it for free if you use it for educational purposes. 

Scientifically, one of the best people doing these educational animated videos is Janet Iwasa, an assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Utah who also studied animation software in Hollywood. She’s using these techniques that you use, for example, for moving the fingers of an animated character, and she applies them to proteins and cells.

Do firms hire illustrators full-time, or do they mostly hire freelancers?

Mostly freelancers. When it comes to scientific illustration, Singapore lags behind the United States and Europe. There, when you submit a paper or a grant, all these visuals are made professionally by illustrators. Here, it’s considered to be unnecessary, or a job that a postdoc who’s a little more artistic can do. So it’s difficult here to convince people to give you a job, much less hire you full time.

How did you get the cover for Cell magazine? 

A friend of a friend told me they were looking for someone to create cover art for a scientific paper. They asked what other covers I had made, and I said, I’m just starting out, I don’t have any covers. They said they would go with an established company. I said, well, I have this idea of mixing the three main ethnic groups in Singapore to create a piece that represents the local diversity. I made one sketch and sent it in anyway and said, listen, this really resonates with the research paper you’re profiling, and it could be artistically engaging. And it’s completely different from your typical covers, which are more technical.

There were other people working on the cover, but at the last moment, the paper was out much faster than they thought, and the only person who could deliver the artwork in time was me.

I worked long hours for a whole weekend. My hands were getting numb. In the end it was worth it. Everyone was very happy with it. 

How easy is it to get work in medical illustration?

My husband works very long hours, so I’m the one holding the house, taking care of our child, plus working. So I’m using my ex-colleagues and people that I know. I don’t advertise that much; I go to LinkedIn and Twitter, and I try to post things there. It looks like it’s working. Whenever I have an illustration, my webpage has a big peak in views. 

Did the Cell cover give you more exposure and work opportunities?

Apparently it was a really big hit in GIS [Genome Institute of Singapore]. They’re considering  organizing a workshop for postdocs and others who might be interested in illustration. But honestly, I keep doing the same things—I’m working with and getting new work through the people I know. 

Today, someone comes with a logo, I make a logo. I’ve been developing web pages, which is not what I thought I would do. But I do think some people are thinking, when they have something big, to call me. So I think the seed is there, but it’s not fully grown. 

Do you think that moving to the U.S. will help your business?

The two countries are completely different. Here in Singapore, I feel they don’t yet have a strong belief in the value of illustrations—but there is limited competition. In the States, it’s the opposite. Everyone is using illustrators, but there are many people doing it. I will need to think about business in a different way. I am trying to position myself like, ‘Ok, you have these people who excel artistically, but I can be the middle woman, between the scientists and the more sophisticated graphic designers.’ You can’t go again and again to the scientists to have them explain to you what to draw. I can do that myself, the first sketch, and then if they want to elevate my graphics, that’s great. 

But I think Covid-19 is going to change everything.

How so?

There will be less funds, so people need to prioritize and may drop illustration. But it’s also clear that with Covid we need a lot of information, a lot of scientific content. Like my parents—they want to know about the coronavirus, but they’re not going to read a bunch of scientific papers. My mother, she’s the first one who wants to know what I’m doing: ‘Why,’ she asks, ‘Why is this protein important, why not the other? Why, why, why?’ So I think there is a thirst for scientific content, but it needs to be delivered in an easier and prettier way. 

You’re one of the few illustrators with scientific experience.

There are very few of them with a long history in research. We’re the minority. It’s true that in some master’s programs for medical illustration they do have a lot of scientific content—anatomy classes, biochemistry—but it’s typically just two years. 

When you were doing science and enjoying it, did you feel like a creative side of you was not being expressed?

In Spain, when I decided to go into science there was no option to study science along with something more artistic. It was one way or the other. I took the scientific path and was very happy. But I was always the one playing with the proteins and making the pretty figures. I used to draw and do pottery, and then I went for the PhD and you forget about these things. 

Now, it’s coming back. With this 3-D modeling, it’s not pottery, but it’s OK, and it’s cleaner. So it feels like I’m closing a cycle. 

Are you optimistic about the future of medical illustration? 

Yes, particularly about animation. Five years ago, you would not think that someone in a house would be able to do it. Now, you invest in a GPS card and you can make it. So I think it’s all coming together to say, ‘This field is here, it’s going to stay, and it’s going to increase.’ 

You can reach out to Gloria Fuentes via LinkedIn.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and not that of ImagenScience.

From the bench to consultant to product manager

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By Anjana Narayanan

After realizing the traditional path was not for her, Anjana chose to explore not only research jobs in industry, but whole new business positions that drew upon abilities she already had or challenged her to master new skills.

  1. When did you decide to leave the lab bench? Why? 

During my first year as a postdoctoral fellow in 2014, I was working on a behavioral neuroscience project which was not progressing well; I was frustrated and unhappy. Instead of just working through the situation, I decided I would take some time to self-reflect and ponder what I wanted in life. It was then that I realized I became a postdoc because it was the “default” choice, rather than something I really wanted to do. For most PhDs in life sciences, when asked, “What is next?”, the standard response is, “Apply for a postdoc position.” Not because it is necessarily what you truly want to do, but because it seems like the only thing you can do. Similarly, I had no idea what other career options I could pursue or how I could get there. Most importantly, I also had to deal with the feeling that I was not a “failure” or “a sellout” for wanting to leave academia. In academic circles, you are only considered successful if you become a tenured professor and continue to publish in academic journals. So to say I wanted something different felt like failure at the time…but in hindsight, I think it was the best decision I made.

  1. What were the first steps you took to explore options outside the lab? Was this very challenging?

I started with a visit to the office of postdoctoral affairs and spoke to the Dean to see what advice she had. She gave me some pointers such as looking at alternative job boards (Journals, Science Fairs), tailoring my resume, etc. I took her advice and vigorously applied to over 50 jobs for scientist positions in pharma companies, but got zero responses. It was like a black box where my resume would go and I would not hear anything for weeks or even months. This got me really anxious. I also realized that I was falling into the “default” mode again where I was applying only for scientist positions…just that they were in industry instead of academia. I realized I needed to clearly define what my career goals were before jumping head on into the next opportunity.

  1. What did you do next? How did you land up with a job in consulting?

I decided to make a list of skills I believed I had, work that excited me and things I did not like as a researcher. With this in hand, I looked around for job profiles that seemed like a good fit for me and also networked a lot via LinkedIn, conferences, and job boards. This process helped me better understand the various career paths available for PhDs such as myself—there were roles in scientific writing, consulting, medical science liaison, industry R&D, etc. During one of the many networking events I attended, I had a chance to participate in a workshop by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), one of the “Big 3” global management consulting firms. At this workshop, advanced degree candidates (PhDs, JDs, and MDs) presented an overview of what they did at BCG and spoke about a program called “Bridge to BCG”. This program allowed chosen applicants to take part in a three-day crash course in management consulting and came with an offer to interview for a consultant position at the firm. I went home excited and tried to learn as much as possible about management consulting. I read articles about top consulting firms, connected to consultants on LinkedIn, did informational chats, and signed up to a consulting newsletter. Eventually, I decided to take the plunge and applied for the Bridge to BCG program as well as a few other management consulting firms. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the program at BCG, where I learned the essentials of consulting. This invaluable experience propelled my interest in the profession and I prepared rigorously for two months for my interview. I joined an online consulting club and practiced countless cases and fit interviews. Luckily, all my efforts paid off And I got an offer from BCG’s Dallas office! I moved out of academia after one year of being a postdoc to a job that was intense and high pressure but super rewarding at the same time with fantastic learning opportunities.

  1. What does it mean to be a consultant? Who were your clients? Were you able to interact with them regularly?

Companies like BCG solve the biggest challenges and problems organizations face. As a scientist by training, this excited me. Starting with a problem, taking a hypothesis driven approach and coming up with creative solutions…all this without having to pipet! A consultant at BCG can be a generalist, who opts to tackle cases in any industry, or a specialist, who chooses a certain business vertical and digs in. Given my love for science I decided to specialize in Healthcare. In my two years at BCG I worked with top pharma companies and hospitals and helped them with mergers and integration, organizational change, and corporate strategy. Cases were typically 12 to 15 weeks long; the case team flew to the client site Monday through Thursday and worked from the BCG office on Friday.

  1. What did you love most about the job and how did you find the transition from academia?

I loved working on different cases, understanding business scenarios and problem solving. The hours were long and intense, but I got to learn first-hand how large businesses were managed, strategic decisions were made, and how companies innovated. I honed a range of soft skills such as presenting to the C-suite (i.e., people in high-ranking positions in an organisation), time management and prioritization, and also developed important technical skills such as advanced Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. What really helped ease the transition into consulting was the fact that I was not afraid to ask for help when I needed it.

  1. For how long were you a consultant? What did you move onto next?

After two years as a consultant I realized that consulting is more than a job, it is a lifestyle. Constant traveling and living out of a suitcase was hard, so I decided it was time to move into industry. I wanted to apply for a job where I could leverage my technical skills with my newly minted business skills and acumen. I interviewed for both biotech and pharma companies, and finally decided to join a Bay Area–based biotech startup called 10x Genomics, as a Product Manager. In my role, I collaborated with cross-functional teams to conduct commercial assessments and was responsible for global strategy, product lifecycle management, and market development of the products I was in charge of.

  1. What challenges did you face in a startup? Was your lifestyle more flexible than before?

Startups can be challenging and exciting at the same time. You work long and intense hours to manage your own work while putting other processes in place at the same time—you roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done! In the process you learn a lot and wear many hats, which for me was very exciting. I definitely faced some challenges along the way and I overcame them by utilizing my resources well, maintaining good communication, setting the right expectations, and being willing to learn. Importantly, a great manager and wonderful colleagues made the transition easy. My hours depended on project deadlines—some days it would be 9-to-5 and other days it would mean putting in as many hours as it takes. As Product Manager I primarily worked from the office as it gave me face-time with the various teams I worked with (R&D, marketing etc.) and I did not have to travel as much as before.

8. Your career path seems to have taken yet another turn—you are not a product manager anymore. Can you please tell us about your current role?

10x Genomics was growing rapidly. We were expanding our presence geographically and decided to open an office in Singapore (Asia Pacific HQ). After 2.5 years of being a Product Manager, I decided to use this opportunity to take on a new challenge of relocating to Singapore and a new role in Business Development and Corporate Strategy. Currently, I manage key partnerships, collaborations and also oversee associated market development activities. It has been an exciting few months in Singapore and I am looking forward to more learning opportunities in my new role and in my new home.

  1. Do you have any advice for budding scientists?

Network as much as you can! It is a great way to learn about new opportunities and build impactful relationships. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and definitely don’t underestimate yourself. As a scientist, you have many transferable skills that are highly valuable. The key is to make sure you showcase them in the right light.

10. How can our readers connect with you?

You can reach out to me via LinkedIn. Anjana Narayanan, PhD

(https://sg.linkedin.com/in/anjananarayanan).

Maanasa Ravikumar provided editorial assistance for this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and not that of ImagenScience.

A recruiter’s tips to nailing your CV

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Tips from Anthony Monteza Cabrejos (Tony). Edited: By Maanasa Ravikumar 

Tony is currently a PhD student at Imperial College London. Prior to starting his doctoral journey, he worked as a research officer at University College London (UCL) and then went on to join a recruitment firm called Hays. His unique experience as a scientist-cum-recruiter has given him valuable insights into what industrial employers look for from applicants in the life sciences. Here, he is happy to share his top five tips for a strong, compelling  CV if you are looking to find a job outside of academia:

  1. Prepare a functional CV, not a chronological one.

 Most of the time, employers are less interested in knowing which labs you have worked in and for how long a time. Rather, they are keen to learn about things you have done and skills you have picked up at each stage of your professional journey. While an academic CV focuses on chronological progression of education achievements, work experience, publication record and conference attendance history, a functional CV is tailored to highlight your skill-set and capabilities. List what you can do rather than the order in which you have done things. In this way, you are able to highlight your strengths and help the employer understand what you can bring to the table. 

  1. Include a short summary of who you are.

*Include one abstract with bullet points. 

On average, employers filter through hundreds of CVs for a single position and a major challenge is to make your CV stand out at first glance. Include a short abstract or blurb with no more than eight bullet points to summarise your capabilities (similar to the LinkedIn summary section). The idea is to highlight your strengths and achievements succinctly, in a manner that urges them to read through the rest of your CV.

  1. Everybody loves a problem-solver.

Together with highlighting your strengths, it is also important to feature tough situations that you have overcome. In doing so, you show the employer that you are resilient when things get sticky and persevere to reach the other side. Include an example of a problem you have solved during your time in the lab—for example, did you help your lab save money? did you pioneer a new technique that was previously unsuccessful? Did you use a new piece of equipment that nobody else had experience with? Did you help train other colleagues?

  1. Use simple language—no jargon, please!

Use words that anyone can understand and relate to, including HR. If you are applying to a medium-big company, the HR department will most likely filter your application. HR personnel might have a background in science, but not enough to know very specific terms and details. If you are applying to a specific job post, include the words used in the post and avoid using synonyms. This helps tailor your CV to the employer’s requirements and keeps focus on what they are looking for.

  1. Thinking and doing outside the box.

Every employer looks for an agile team player who can fit their company’s culture. In this regard, it is always important to underscore your soft skills together with technical skills. Include extracurricular achievements, volunteering experiences and additional courses you’ve taken. These are essential components to your personality that show your motivation, ability to think outside of the lab space and integrity in working with others. One cannot stress enough how this will boost  your CV—more on this tip next time! 

You can reach out to Anthony Monteza Cabrejos via LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anthony-monteza-cabrejos-a4a7a2a4/via LinkedIn.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of ImagenScience.

Tools of his trade: Daniel Metcalf’s journey into microscopy

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By Brian Shott

After years in neurobiology, Daniel Metcalf realized that he was interested in microscopes as much as cell biology research itself. He moved to sales manager for Scientifica’s EMEA region, overseeing six product specialists.

What drew you to this job, and can you briefly describe the work?

I’ve always liked instrumentation and microscopy. I like the high-value technical sales. It’s about building a relationship and understanding the research, and helping the customer solve their research questions. 

Tell me about your sales team.

Scientifica is me plus six others in sales in EMEA; then there’s a U.S. sales team of about the same size. We have someone dedicated to China. My team is split between the key European countries and Israel primarily, for example UK, France, Germany, Benelux, Spain, Italy, and Scandinavia. For some countries, like Japan, Australia, and India, distributors sell on our behalf.

We have two product ranges. One is electrophysiology: the electrical recordings from neurons and brain samples. The other is multiphoton microscopes for imaging the brain and the nervous system. Almost all of our customers are academic research scientists in neuroscience. 

Can you describe a typical day or week?

I have regular weekly catch-ups, helping the team with their sales; I run team meetings and help with customer calls and visits. Before the coronavirus we traveled quite a bit—my team might spend 30 to 50 percent of its time traveling.

We often do product demos. You have to work out what experiments will be important to your client. If it’s a pre-existing project, what are the problems with their current equipment and how can you do it better? It’s a back and forth, because they might not know what’s possible with the equipment.

Particularly in Europe, you’re often talking to a customer before they’ve secured funding to make the purchase. It could be six months before they get a decision on the funding scheme. And there are tender procedures on high-value equipment. Some of the multiphoton microscopes cost £300,000 or more, and those sales can last six months to a couple of years. We have further discussions after the money comes through—by then, they might have changed their research project, so we change the specifications, give them updated quotes, pricing, exchange rates. And then these tender procurement processes can take three to six months.

You moved from academia to industry quite a few years ago. Why? Was the transition intimidating?

I was on about my fourth temporary contract in academia, getting a bit frustrated. I would just get started with projects and then have to move on to the next job.

The transition to industry happened in two steps. I moved from doing a postdoc at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research to being a research scientist at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), which is still quite academically focused. 

I made the decision to move away from researching neurodegenerative diseases using microscopes to actually putting the emphasis on microscope development itself. I realized I was much more interested in the use of microscopy and its application than in Cell Biology and neurodegeneration research.

When a recruiter approached me about selling Nikon products and training Nikon customers in superresolution microscopy, it seemed like a natural step—I was already doing that at NPL, just not with a commercial emphasis. I wasn’t worried, though I did know that once I did it, there probably wouldn’t be any going back to academia.

There was a bit of a transition in my first few years, finishing off some projects that I had started at NPL. But I haven’t done any publishing recently. I’ve helped with research projects, but not enough to qualify as an author. But there’s definitely still an interaction with researchers. 

What are the career pathways at Scientifica?

A lot of people stay in sales; there is the management role like mine. That’s mostly the linear career path. But people can move from sales into the applications or technical side of things. Or, another path is sideways into things like product management or marketing. There’s occasionally movement back into academia, into something like microscopy core facility management.

What technological advances are coming in microscopy?

One area is three-photon imaging, as opposed to the typical two-photon. It allows you to go deeper. We’re starting to sell it. 

There’s a new technology that a few companies are using involving spatial light modulators. Instead of just observing, researchers can target and stimulate individual cells, even individual synapses, and control that in three dimensions. One can simultaneously hit thirty cells with light and see how they react.

How is your relationship with researchers?

The key is building a relationship. Some people are very open to having conversations; others are more reserved or suspicious until you’ve built a level of trust. They’re cynical about sales or perhaps aren’t convinced that you know what you’re talking about and think they’re just going to get misled or badly advised. 

So long as you don’t waste their time and you listen to them, rather than just talk about your product endlessly, you get a nice kind of rapport going. It doesn’t always translate into sales, but over six or seven years you get to know a customer really well. You know their research; they know your product.

How much work and time goes into a quote?

If it’s a big multiphoton system, you probably want at least an hour speaking with the scientists to understand what they’re trying to do. Then it takes maybe another hour to put together a complex quote, and then we prefer to talk it through with them—there could be fifty lines of itemized things with technical jargon. For more complex configurations, we have to contact our tech support or R&D team and it could take a day to answer their questions; we may then go back and forth with the researcher a few more times to refine the details and the specifications. 

Because some procurement rules require three quotes, we often get people contacting us just to get a quote to submit to procurement or align with tender requirements—they have no intention of buying our product. For low-value stuff, a camera, say, it’s Ok, it’s only two minutes of our time. We might decline to provide more detailed quotes, but you can sometimes convince someone to consider your product if they’re willing to discuss their requirements.

Your products are often made of materials from other companies.

Yes. We use Nikon and Olympus objective lenses in our microscopes. And we don’t make our own cameras—we use Hamamatsu, Photometrics, or Andor. It’s true for almost all high-end scientific equipment made by small and medium sized companies: the optics are almost always from another company. All of our products are some kind of fusion of Scientifica manufactured products plus some of those other products from other companies to make up a complete system. 

Do all these different companies’ components lead to sales conflicts?

It’s a funny thing in the industry. Andor sells spinning disk microscopes and cameras. At Nikon we used to buy the Andor cameras, but then we’d be competing against them on the spinning disks. At Scientifica, Nikon and Leica might buy our stages or manipulators but then we occasionally compete with them for microscope sales. But by and large it’s treated separately.

What are the most stressful things about your job?

Meeting tender deadlines. Filling out tender documents can be several days of work. You have to stay very organized. You can miss a £300,000 sale by missing a tender deadline by just an hour. Also, as a manager, losing good team members is very stressful because it takes a while to train people.

You can reach out to Daniel Metcalf via LinkedIn.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-metcalf-84575334/

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and not that of ImagenScience.