Drugs and Computers - Two addictions, one job?
June 14, 2006 11:41 PM   Subscribe

Clinical Trials, Biotech, and Computers - Is there a better job out there for me?

For the past 12 years, I've been working in one part of the Pharmaceutical/Biotech industry (managing clinical trials). I've got an advanced science degree (PhD) and currently have a respectable position in a major Biotech company.

However, I'm wondering more and more these days if there isn't a better job for me out there. Ideally, I'd like to find something that makes use of my computer skills. The trouble is, I'm not sure how these skills could be applied. I'm not a programmer (although I'm fairly good with html), but rather someone who has always been extremely comfortable and adept at computers (from a TRS-80 onwards). Sit me down in front of any computer or software package, and I'll quickly figure it out and explain it to others. Likewise, I'm a wiz at researching anything on the net. Basically, I've always been the guy that people in the office (or family members) come to instead of calling the help desk.

A dream job (I think) would be to be able to apply my pharma background at a tech company (ie. Google, Yahoo, etc.) But I've yet to find any job even close...

So, my questions are:

1) Does anyone know of a non-entry level job where I could actually combine my enjoyment/skill with computers and my expertise in running clinical studies?

2) If so, how do you put "loves using computers, and is really good at it" on a resume?
posted by neurodoc to Work & Money (13 answers total)
Have you considered working as a resource scientist or technical customer advocate for Mathworks or another company that develops software which is (potentially) marketed toward biotech companies?

I use Mathworks as an example because I'm familiar with the company and they seem like good people, but I'm sure there are other companies out there more focused on biotech applications.
posted by onalark at 12:01 AM on June 15, 2006

Have you looked into bioinformatics? The guys who do this at work are totally clued up computer-wise and have the biological background to make it all make sense. It's a broad and developing field so there might be a place for you.

I googled up a couple of links. Also try looking into systems biology or computational biology.
Obligatory wikipedia link
posted by shelleycat at 1:44 AM on June 15, 2006

Surely the IM people at the big pharma companies need people like you. Talk to IM people. Another idea would be to talk with companies creating software used in your area of expertise.
posted by Goofyy at 5:19 AM on June 15, 2006

You might be interested in technology transfer. Individuals with your background are valuable, and while it doesn't involve any extensive computing power or programming, it does involve the research on the net part of your summary and could involve cool computer tech. A good number of universities and major research corporations have a technology transfer, licensing, or commercialization department charged with getting research from the lab to the market by way of start-ups or licensing out the technology to another company. E-mails in the profile if curious.
posted by striker at 6:20 AM on June 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the good suggestions. Some thoughts:

onalark: This sounds like a good type of job to search for

shelleycat: This is really an interesting area, but whenever I read about it I get the impression it's much more "basic research" oriented than what I'm looking for.

Goofyy: You'd think so...But all these jobs seem to require a more formal IT background

striker: I don't know much about this area, but I'll certainly take a look.

Any other ideas?
posted by neurodoc at 7:39 AM on June 15, 2006

Go to a tech school and get an applied computing/programming degree? I know you said you aren't a programmer, but there is going to be a crazy need for programmers who also have lots of knowledge in domains like biotech/genetics. They will be very lucrative jobs, as finding programmers who also really know a certain specialized domain is not easy.
posted by rsanheim at 7:55 AM on June 15, 2006

What about becoming a technical advisor for a law firm - someone who knows enough science to proofread documents, help revise patents, etc.? It would use your degree and experience and have extensive research requirements. You'd have to learn new software but it wouldn't be a daily or even steady thing. The job description I linked to is from my law firm, but pretty much any intellectual property law firm of any reasonable size requires technical advisors. In our firm, we pay a premium for individuals with research or practical experience in a particular science background.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:27 AM on June 15, 2006

I have a PhD candidate friend who is the de facto bioinformatics guy for his lab because he bothered to spend a little time learning a tiny bit of python (he's since learned a lot more).

I have another friend who is the bioinformatics developer for a largish research group (and before that at a couple of biotech degrees). The combo of having an undergrad chem degree (15 years ago) coupled with programming experience was key.

I'd suggest you find a way to start picking up basic programming skills. Something like Python, which is easy to ready, and can scale from quick scripts to more elaborate systems would be a great place to start. If you can, without running afoul of compliance processes, start writing scripts that come in handy in your current job, like something to move data between two applications you use.

On preview, I'm advocating along the same lines as rsanheim.

Expanding on what Onalark said, there are lots of tech companies interested in selling into pharma. Your clinical trials experience might come in handy for things like document management, knowlege management, search, portals and the like (anything targeted at managing lots of paperwork), and obviously anything targeted at analyzing lots of data (business intelligence, database servers, reporting tools & servers, statistical packages, etc)

Further afield, your experience running clinical trials might be translatable to running useability trials or marketing analysis.

Honestly though, I don't think you've told us what it is about your pharma background that you'd like to exercise in your dream job.
posted by Good Brain at 8:50 AM on June 15, 2006

Response by poster: Good Brain: Some good ideas...I guess I should clarify a few things. First, as to the suggestions of yourself and rsanheim, I don't really see learning programming skills as the path I'm looking for. Although I've played with some programming on and off over the years, it's not where my interests generally lie.

As to my pharma background, I think something along the lines of clinical trial software might be a place to start, although I feel like my skills could be broader than that. I've run all sizes and types of clinical trials, and feel that I have a good knowledge of the industry (both pluses and minuses).

I suppose I feel that my combination of computer research skills and clinical managament skills are fairly unique. I'm just not sure if there's the right place for both of them.
posted by neurodoc at 9:04 AM on June 15, 2006

neurodoc: don't be so quick to write off bioinformatics. The field is very broad and companies need management types as well as your more hands-on researchers. I worked in just such a company (cough.) recently, albeit in the chemoinformatics division (have you considered that?) and my supervisor was someone who didn't program as such, but rather, had an idea of what he wanted us to make programs do and how to sell them.
posted by methylsalicylate at 9:19 AM on June 15, 2006

There are a few companies out there using computers as interventions, and as such are involved in clinical research. One that I know of is HopeLab, which makes a video game for kids to learn about cancer. They are very committed to studying the outcomes of games, so they do a clinical trial for just about everything they do. I know I've seen ads for another company on craigslist using in-home computer training to study memory in the elderly, but I can't for the life of me remember the name of the company (although it started with a P and was in San Rafael or San Jose).

Anyway, maybe ask your colleagues if they know of companies that are doing this? I think it is going to be a new era of research, and it sounds like you'd make a great Project Manager.
posted by sarahnade at 10:55 AM on June 15, 2006

This is really an interesting area, but whenever I read about it I get the impression it's much more "basic research" oriented than what I'm looking for.

Not necessarily although the literature probably leans that way. I work for a CRI in NZ (oh, crown research organisation) and our guys are definitely involved in commercialisation and contracting out their knowledge to other people and all kinds of things that aren't necessarily research based or creating software type stuff either (you can be more on the biology using computers side than the computers serving biologists side). They keep popping up in all kinds of places I don't expect doing all manner of supercool computer things. I've also worked in drug research and there was a real need for data management and data analysis that would be broadly covered under bioinformatics but would probably be closer to your area.

Like I said, it's a really broad field with new things happening all the time. Maybe you can talk to a nearby Uni that has a bioinformatics school to see where their interests lie and where their students go. Or talk to the bioinformatics department at a large research organisaation of you can find them. Bioinformaticians are found in places you might not expect and I'd say any really large life sciences place will either have them or links to bioinformaticians somewhere.

If I have time later this weekend I'll try some more googlefu and see if I can find things more along the lines of what I'm thinking.

Whatever you decide I think with your computer skills you have a lot of options open to you. I'm sure you can end up doing something really cool if you look around. I'm almost jealous :D
posted by shelleycat at 12:03 AM on June 16, 2006

Response by poster: Ok...Point well taken on bioinformatics. I will also look a bit further into this field, as it definitly sounds like it could have some positive things to offer.
posted by neurodoc at 7:18 AM on June 16, 2006

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