What should I do when I grow up?
September 28, 2009 9:31 AM   Subscribe

The future of my current job is uncertain (familiar story, I'm sure). What should I do to plan for the future? My background is in art, and ... pharmaceutical training and compliance.

I'm a pretty much self-taught graphic designer and web designer. I graduated from college five years ago with a BA in Commercial Art. The program was woefully behind the times, so I actually learned very little about the software side of things, and our training in web design was nonexistent. (I ended up teaching HTML to half my class during that lesson.) While I can write up a nice HTML web page in notepad, and I'd consider myself an above average-level user of most standard design software (e.g. the Adobe Creative Suite), I feel like I'd be totally lost if I walked into a job tomorrow as a "graphic designer." My local community college has a Web Development certificate program that starts with the basics and works up to different server technologies. As a county resident, it would run me ~$4000 to complete, and can supposedly be done in a year, full-time.

On the other hand, for the past five years I've been in the pharmaceutical industry, working in compliance and training. So I'm now very familiar with compliance issues working in a highly regulated industry, and have lots of experience with training development and administration. Part of my job is that I'm the webmaster of a large, unruly intranet site, but that doesn't require too much specialized skill. Another large part of my job is being a glorified administrative assistant, and I do some customer service-type work, communicating with clients about training issues, and troubleshooting their technical problems (so I'm also a technology help desk, sort of).

There's really no specific career I'm interested in switching to (e.g. education, nursing, etc.), though I could if I needed to, if there was someplace my skills would be a good fit. I feel like my general skills (organized, good communication, highly technologically competent, etc.) would be desirable in a lot of areas, but in the current climate I'd want to make myself as marketable as possible. So should I focus on graphic design and/or web development, should I try to stay in the pharma industry, or should I totally change gears? And if so, what should I learn now to help me in a future career?
posted by LolaGeek to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As a contractor in the pharma industry about to lose my job as my contract runs out, I'd say to stay in pharma as long as you can deal with the corporate crap. There are plenty of pharma websites (not only in the US, either). Or, you could seek out and apply to agencies that specialize in servicing the pharmaceutical industry. There are plenty of those.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:35 AM on September 28, 2009

Advertising agencies, I should say.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:36 AM on September 28, 2009

I second the advertising but with your specialties, go with pharma advertising as a designer. You can always move into the other realms as well with your compliance background.

Trust me, it's a really, really good paying gig.
posted by stormpooper at 9:46 AM on September 28, 2009

Speaking as a graphic designer, I'd say do what you can to suck off the non-design-oriented pharmaceutical industry teat.
Unless you are located (or are willing to relocate to) where there are actually ad agencies that handle pharma accounts...and they actually have openings for entry-level, self-taught designers...your entry into that rarefied world is iffy at best.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:00 AM on September 28, 2009

If you're willing to move, Chicago has 5 (big ones) that are strictly pharma advertising agencies.
Goble and Assoc
Williams Labadie
Topin and Assoc

Otherwise here you go
posted by stormpooper at 11:10 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Though it's an interesting idea to combine my two areas of [semi]expertise and look into pharmaceutical advertising, I guess what I was really asking is if I should fill in what I feel are the missing holes in my education and persue a graphic design or web design/development career, or stick with the pharma industry doing whatever random, probably administrative jobs I can find? Or none of the above? I am in the Philadelphia area, by the way, home to many big pharma companies, many related smaller companies, and probably a good selection of design firms (though it's been a while since I last looked).
posted by LolaGeek at 11:55 AM on September 28, 2009

The question is why would you want to do random, administrative jobs? It seems you have a creative edge to you. I would say you wouldn't need a degree. What you need is experience and take advantage of their inhouse training (most agencies have a training buget to send you to any class you like).

good luck.
posted by stormpooper at 7:19 AM on September 29, 2009

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