How to navigate the jump from academia to a career in biotechnology: lessons from one scientist to another


By Ian M. Parnham, Outreach Manager and Writer, Science Entrepreneur Club

This post is the first in a mini-series by the Science Entrepreneur Club (SEC) that deals with taking the leap into biotechnology, providing tips and advice drawn from my own experience. 

I gained my MSc and first Biotech experience in the Netherlands. In pursuit of further progressing my career I was accepted to King’s College London’s PhD programme. My PhD experience was irreplaceable, but it also cemented my conviction that my future lay within biotech and not academia. I have navigated the jump from academia to a career in Biotechnology and am now a privileged employee within the ballooning cell and gene therapy sector in Oxford. 

Let’s get the ball rolling. If you have feedback, like,  share or  comment  below.  

Give me a Biotech job!   

The challenges of finding jobs are huge. As a PhD-qualified  scientist, I thought finding a job would be a walk in the park. Nine months later I wasn’t so sure. 

The job market can be difficult to navigate, especially when you’re in the depths of the often gruelling and time-consuming PhD experience. And if you don’t have anything lined up by the time you graduate, you’re not alone. 

Predictions of how promising your prospects are within the life science sector vary widely. Statistics of unemployment for the US and UK highlight a dazzlingly high percentage of graduates or postgraduates landing outside the job market. For instance, in 2016, the Atlantic reported that 40% of PhD recipients in the US were left unemployed after graduation [1]. 

Nature magazine reported that possessing a scientific PhDs correlates with finding a more enjoyable job [2]. However, it also reports that roughly 20% of the 4,700 people surveyed in the UK and Canada received employment in industry. And the proportion that enters the biotechnology industry is likely even lower.

All is not doom and gloom though, especially in the UK. Vitae, part of the UK-based Careers Research and Advisory Centre, claims that six months after completion of their studies over 80% of doctoral graduates are working, noting less than 2% unemployment [3]. More recently, the UK graduate labour market statistics echoed these findings [4]: a 2017 publication documented that graduates and postgraduates had higher employment rates than non-graduates. 

‘100 things 1% better’ rather than ‘1 thing 100% better’  

From my experience, there is no magic bullet for a job huntEvery guru has their own five-step formula to job heaven: “Talk to five people a day and you will find your first industry job,” “know what you want and the sky's the limit,” or “spend two hours a day reading to be a genius.”

Instead, this mini-series aims to provide tips and advice from my own experience, without any unrealistic guarantee that one small change in your job search will land you your industry job. They encourage the idea that changing 1% in 100 areas is more effective than revolutionising 100% of a single aspect of your job hunt. In other words, incremental improvement in several aspects of your job, increasing the number of arrows in your quiver, will enhance the chances of reaching your job target.  

Drama and archery aside – in line with the Science Entrepreneur Club’s vision to train scientists and stakeholders within the life science ecosystem – the mini-course will address the current climate of the UK biotech sector, and demonstrate why employment within this particular science enterprise is increasingly lucrative and enticing. It will highlight the importance of the golden triangle, the region encompassing the London-Cambridge-Oxford axis, offer practical advice on how to improve that 1% across different areas, and close with a piece on the ballooning field of cell and gene therapy.

In particular, we’ll focus on: 

  • considering your values: what do you want to achieve and what’s important to you 

  • connecting your network: establish a team driving you forward 

  • educating yourself: pointers, literature and websites that keep you on the ball 

  • using social media: mining its potential 

We hope this will be helpful, whether you’re petrified of the looming prospect of transitioning into the competitive biotechnology sector or excited by the sheer volume of opportunities. Not all the jobs within the life science sector will be worth your time – some won’t match your values – but the sector as a whole is booming and has never been a more exciting field to be a part of. 

About Science Entrepreneur Club:

The Science Entrepreneur Club (SEC) is a non-profit organisation of curious minds that aims to explore and unite the life science ecosystem by educating, inspiring and connecting. We give scientific entrepreneurs a network and a platform to showcase their innovative technologies, find investors and accelerate their company.