Biotech postdoc simultaneously exploring academic and industry jobs?
January 31, 2011 7:57 PM   Subscribe

How does a biotech postdoc simultaneously explore academic and industry job opportunities?

I'm a postdoc currently working in an academic lab in the U.S.. Researching as a professor that does research seems like a dream job to me, and I will probably start applying for faculty jobs this fall. Even in an in-demand field such as my own, the market for these positions is extremely competitive, and if I get a job offer, I might not like where it is.

There's also the possibility of industry jobs, with better pay and more attractive locations. Applying to both faculty and industry jobs simultaneously complicates matters, though. Unlike universities, I think that businesses will not want to wait for my other offers to come in before I reply to a job offer. I worry that my academic colleagues that write my recommendation letters will see me as less serious when they find out I am applying for industry jobs.

The option of applying for faculty jobs first, and then industry jobs later also brings some difficulties. I fear I will be less attractive as an industry candidate if I wait. It also raises the possibility of turning down all faculty jobs offers, thinking I will get something better in industry, and then later finding I can't get a better job there.

Can you suggest some strategies or address my concerns?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Tenure track prof here... Was a postdoc like you less than 2 years ago, so I'm familiar with your conundrum. (And I would also say that my current job seems less like a dream job than it did 2 years ago. But the grass is always greener, right?)

Addressing your questions:
1. The lore I heard is that the farther you make it in academia, the more your stock increases in industry. I.e., you'll have more industrial options, etc, if you are a professor first; even better if you're tenured. Of course, I hear this from people in academia, not from people in industry... so consider the source.

2. I know lots of people who spent two cycles on the job market as postdocs, some of them turning down offers in the first round that I thought were foolish to turn down, only to get even better offers in the second year out. I think it's unlikely that your stock drops in a second year on the market.

3. Whether letter writers take you less seriously when applying to both industry and academia? It depends on the letter writer, and honestly I'd address it directly with each letter writer. The folks that are writing your letters at this stage should be people that you're comfortable asking for the above kind of advice from (i.e., how should I strategize getting my next job in academia or industry.) I've had similar conversations with all my letter writers...
posted by u2604ab at 8:26 PM on January 31, 2011

I am in a similar-ish position at the moment and I think you might be putting the cart before the horse so to speak. I would just try applying to the jobs you are interested in and see whether you actually hear back from anyone, let alone get to an interview.

I am not sure of your particular specialty so maybe you will be more in demand than me (and others I know of, in similar positions) but at the moment my take on things is that it is not very easy to get an industry job, especially without industry experience. YMMV.

Good luck!
posted by unlaced at 5:35 AM on February 1, 2011

I'm not in biotech, but after I did my post-doc (applied math) I was in a similar position with the added challange of a two-body problem. I ended up (happily) in industry.

My thoughts:

1. I don't think your letter writers are going to care. I told mine that I wanted to explore all my options and their response was that I'd be crazy not to. If you do think they will care, you can always down-play the industry angle ("I may also throw my hat in the ring for a couple of industry jobs just for the hell of it"), it's not like they'll be writing letters for industry positions.

2. In terms of timing, you're probably right that an industry job isn't going to wait around for ever while you look for an academic job. "I like this job, but I'm only interested in it if I can't find the job I really want" isn't such a great line. You're also going to have to explain why you want an industry job, which will be hard if you don't.

3. Frankly, it sounds like what you really want is an academic position, but that you'd be willing to take an industry job as a "plan b" that's better than being on the dole. My strongest advice is find someone who is in your field and is currently working in industy and have lunch with them. Ask them what they like/hate about their job. Ask them if one can jump from academia to industry later on (I'm not sure that'd be easy). Ask them for advice on the search process. Can your advisor/mentor find someone like that for you? I think you could even cold-call (or cold-email) someone for that purpose.

Best of luck.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 6:24 AM on February 1, 2011

First, don't be so quick to dismiss working in industry. When you're in grad school and working as a postdoc, almost all of the professional role models you see and get to know are the ones who stayed on the academic track--so naturally you know that road better and have a much better sense of how to get there, even if the competition is fierce.

It's a lot less clear how to make the jump to industry, and to know the rewards and costs and the scientific challenges. Certainly that was my experience in grad school and what I saw in my peers, including my husband. (Who, incidentally, just yesterday got hired in his first permanent gig in industry--at literally 3 times the salary he made as a postdoc, with gold-plated bennies, in a place with the cultural expectation that you do have a life, and it's OK to go home at 5, and yes, you really need to use all 18 of those vacation days. Work-life balance: priceless.)

If you have the kinds of skills that could be valuable in industry, I strongly urge you to start networking now and learn as much as you can about the needs, challenges, culture, etc. Find a professional organization, start meeting people. Going to lunch is great but better yet is engaging scientifically. Come give a talk, go listen to their talks, meet them at conferences and impress them with your expertise. There is a lot that is great about doing science in industry, and it's very different than academia. Find out about that before you make any big decisions.

In my observation, the job market in industry is fairly similar to the academic market in that it's as much who you know, and how well they know and like you, as it is anything on your CV. In industry there is not a set hiring season, as there is in academia, so in some sense there is more flexibility in hiring, or how long folks will wait for you to show up--but again, they've gotta want you in order to wait for you, and that's not likely to happen if you're an applicant fresh off the street.

I've also seen that there is a LOT of back and forth between industry and academica, or government research labs. So keep in mind that a decision one way doesn't cut off the other option forever.

Hope this is helpful. Best of luck in your job search!
posted by Sublimity at 7:00 AM on February 1, 2011

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