Piercing the BiotechBarrier

File Photo How can I break into the biotech or pharmaceutical industry? That's a question many of my readers ask. Michael Ferguson, senior manager of clinical development for Memphis, Tenn.-based Medtronic Sofamor Danek, offers insights for people who wish to take the industry path. Two years into his PhD studies in applied physiology at the University of Florida, Ferguson decided he wanted to join a biotechnology company or a clinical setting. His first step was to work for a small firm dur

Sep 8, 2003
Karen Kreeger
File Photo

How can I break into the biotech or pharmaceutical industry? That's a question many of my readers ask. Michael Ferguson, senior manager of clinical development for Memphis, Tenn.-based Medtronic Sofamor Danek, offers insights for people who wish to take the industry path.

Two years into his PhD studies in applied physiology at the University of Florida, Ferguson decided he wanted to join a biotechnology company or a clinical setting.

His first step was to work for a small firm during the last half of his PhD program. "Little did I know the experience there would catapult me into an opportunity with a large biomedical device company after graduation," says Ferguson, who manages a research group that examines devices and biologics used in spinal correction surgery.

Ferguson advises, and I can't emphasize this often enough, that you look for openings on Monster.com, HotJobs.com, and CenterWatch.com, and check postings on individual company Web sites daily. Efforts like this resulted in seven face-to-face interviews for Ferguson. "My first job in industry was a combination of luck and a good background," he says. "It was for a small [local] medical device company that needed someone who was versatile in study design, statistics, writing, and building relationships."

Scientists new to industry don't necessarily need experience if they're willing to take entry-level jobs, says Steven Nail, research adviser, pharmaceutical product development, Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis. He says that if an ad read, "industry experience preferred," PhDs should not "let that deter them in the least." In pharmaceutical process and product development, there are more jobs than people to take them.

Both industry and academic scientists attend the annual American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, so this would be a good place to start asking questions. The AAPS Career Center (www.aapspharmaceutica.com) also lists jobs and internships. Ferguson and others have a few suggestions about how to get past the initial hurdles:

1. Identify companies and contact each about volunteering or interning.

2. Make sure your resume documents any industry, managerial, or team-building experience.

3. Be willing to take an entry-level position for the first few years, even if you have a PhD.

4. Be persistent. "I sent out over 100 resumes in six months, with about 10 to 15 serious opportunities," Ferguson says.

5. Learn new skills. "In industry, one needs to be flexible, good at many tasks, and have the ability to manage multiple projects and people," Ferguson says.

If you have a workplace or career question or concern, contact Karen Kreeger at karen4careers@the-scientist.com.


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