Justin Provchy had been accepted to two PhD programs in mathematics when he received a package of information about Claremont, Calif.-based Keck Graduate Institute's master of bioscience degree. At the last minute, he decided to forgo the PhD and enter Keck's two-year program. Now, at 25, he's an automation engineer at Amgen, helping the biotech company's research scientists automate assays.
When he took the job a year and a half ago, Provchy acknowledges, he lacked some of the technical expertise other candidates might have had. But he thinks he was hired because he could offer the firm communications skills, business analysis skills, and a knack for teamwork along with scientific aptitude.
Plenty of opportunities exist in pharma and biotech for job seekers who hold master's degrees or even undergraduate degrees in the sciences, according to industry insiders. The trick is knowing where to look.
Even research and development isn't off-limits to strong candidates without PhDs, according to Robert Hennessy, president of The Hennessy Group, a Yardley, Penn.-based executive search firm. "Most of the jobs available to people without PhDs are in sales and marketing, manufacturing, business development, and information technology," Hennessy adds.
A SAVVY SEARCH
Finding the right job without a PhD may take some savvy, and knowing how various segments of the industry are changing and growing can help target a job search.
Pharma sales, for example, has traditionally been an area in which professionals with science backgrounds that stop short of PhDs can excel. However, many companies are expected to markedly trim their sales forces in the near future.
"We're always going to need sales people, and I certainly wouldn't say that sales positions are going to dry up, but I think that they will diminish to some extent," says Julie B. Kampf, president of JBK Associates, an Englewood, NJ-based executive search firm. "Companies are going to get smarter and start looking at where their value-add really is."
That value is likely to be in reaching doctors through medical education programs, rather than through time-crunched office detailing visits, Kampf explains, and the shift is expected to create demand in another field open to science types without PhDs.
Another promising area is business development, which includes functions ranging from finding new customers to searching out products to in-license. The specialty is becoming more critical due to a host of issues generated by often-complex relationships being forged between biotech start-ups and Big Pharma (see "Picking Up the Slack," page 11), Kampf notes.
And as the pharma industry continues to battle criticism from lawmakers, the press, and the public, communications specialists with the science background to firmly grasp issues affecting the industry are becoming more valuable, she points out. Jobs in pharmaceutical public relations rarely require an advanced degree, but a familiarity with scientific concepts and terminology can be invaluable.
Of course, the more education job candidates have, the more doors are likely to be open to them, Hennessy notes. But that education doesn't have to take the form of a PhD.
Over the past several years, the buzz has been growing about professional science master's degrees (PSMs), which are two-year programs designed to prepare science types for the business world, explains Sheila Tobias, coordinator of the Sloan Foundation's Science Master's Outreach Initiative.
PSM students, who spend about 70% of their time learning science and 30% on business training, can be ideally suited for liaising among the various divisions at a pharma or biotech firm. "The principle is that there is a need for people who can interface between all the different specializations, and in order to do that, you have to know a substantial amount of the science, but you don't have to know enough to be a principal investigator," says Tobias.
The programs are relatively new and hard data doesn't exist yet to demonstrate their placement success, but anecdotal evidence suggests interest from employers is strong, Tobias says. Companies hiring PSMs include Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Company, and Novartis.