From The Stage
← Back to From The Stage
Dr. Dominique Gouty
Posted by Dr. Dominique Gouty BioAgilytix Insight

What You Won’t Learn in School: Real-World Advice to Early Career Scientists

What You Won’t Learn in School: Real-World Advice to Early Career Scientists

In the 20+ years of my career—spanning R&D, clinical operations, and manufacturing in both technical and commercial roles for multinational pharmaceutical companies, smaller biotechs, and CROs—I have acquired a great deal of on-the-job knowledge that I hadn’t learned in school. My goal in this entry is to provide some helpful guidance to young science major graduates just starting their careers: the kind of insight that universities can’t teach you about the vast opportunities that await you, and how to choose a scientific career path that best fits your skills, personality, and passions.

The Value of Internships
In the world of science, there are many different industries in which one can establish a successful, long-term career. The best time to begin occupation exploration is during school. Many universities offer internship programs that can connect you with interesting companies, and you will be able to fill your summers gaining real-world experience that will distinguish you from other recent graduates during the future job application process.

When it comes to pursuing internships, I say “the earlier the better”. I recommend that interns begin searching for opportunities during their first year of higher education, as this allows for experimentation with different jobs each summer until your passion is realized. In just 2 or 3 months of an internship you can gain a solid understanding of the job and the necessary tools needed, helping you to determine whether or not that particular career is right for you. They are an excellent avenue for discovering your true interests.

Choosing a Field
I understand that for some individuals, even choosing where to intern can be a daunting task. Some people just need longer to figure out what interests them. For those graduates, I offer a few career fields within the biology and chemistry science industry as prospective starting points with specialized opportunities: namely in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, contract manufacturing, contract research, and regulatory professions.

In each of these industries, scientists can have roles with responsibilities as diverse as project management, people management, R&D, quality assurance and control, commercial operations, business development, and even patent law. While each field has unique requirements, all of these positions can be found in some form in companies from virtual startups to mid-size corporations and multi-national conglomerates. Just remember, no single type of company or sector is better than the rest; each has their own benefits and disadvantages, and you should let your unique passions drive you toward your best-fit career and company.

For example, if you are interested in project management, you’ll likely want to start at a small company where your responsibilities will span across several assignments and departments, giving you the challenge to learn how to efficiently balance diverse projects, people, and expectations. Alternatively, if you are interested in a career in the quality field, I would recommend starting at the largest company that will hire you. These well-established businesses are intricately familiar with regulatory best practices, and their employees are often key influencers in shaping industry guidance. This will give you invaluable opportunities to learn the ins and outs of quality from seasoned experts.

Whatever career path and company you ultimately choose, make sure that you fully understand the requirements of the job before accepting an offer. For instance, some positions such as those in Business Development mandate an overnight travel rate of 50%, which can be challenging to balance along with family obligations. Carefully consider all of the aspects that the job entails, and try to choose the career path that enables you to grow professionally, but also accommodates your personal preferences and desires.

Growing Your Skills
Once you have started down your dream career path, your journey has only just begun. It is important to start thinking early about how to build your skill set. Especially in the field of science, attending conferences and meetings is crucial to expertise development. Focus on events that align with where you are in your career. For example, early career scientists should focus on attending smaller workshops that address their area of specialty or interest. Later it will become more appropriate to attend global meetings where industry best practices are discussed in a roundtable setting and opportunities to network with peers are provided.

Speaking of networking, this aspect of career development should not be overlooked. There are a wealth of committees and organizations in which scientists can participate, and will give you a chance to contribute your energy and insights to help better the industry as a whole. It will also help you build a reputation in your area of interest, and gives you a chance to learn from other scientific experts to continually further your knowledge and skills.

Get Started!
There are a broad range of possibilities open to individuals with an education in the sciences. It is important to start researching the roles you find most interesting at an early stage in order to stay ahead of the curve. Make a list of pros and cons for each appealing opportunity in order to help evaluate the best-fit job for you. As long as you keep your interests at the forefront, they will guide you down a well-aligned path.

You can find more career advice from me in the recent article I contributed to Bioanalysis Zone. I’d also be happy to answer any specific questions you may have about getting started in a science career. Best of luck to those starting down the path of this exciting field!

Share This