I have been trying to network…meet other scientists working in the pharmaceutical field. And the Bay Area (aka Biotech Bay) has an overwhelming number of events each week. I recently attended two career talks sponsored by the Association of Women in Science (http://www.awis.org), and wanted to share some highlights with you.
The first talk was given by Melissa Starovasnik, PhD, Vice President of Protein Sciences at Genentech, Inc.
As Vice President, Protein Sciences, Genentech Research, Dr. Starovasnik is responsible for antibody therapeutics discovery at Genentech overseeing an organization of 170-people including the departments of Antibody Engineering, Protein Chemistry, and Structural Biology.
From her biography and her talk, she has spent all of her career, 20 years now, at Genentech. She titled her talk “Enjoying six different careers in drug discovery without changing employers” and detailed her career path within the company. She started working as a postdoctoral fellow in the protein NMR group in 1993, and was hired as a scientist in Protein Engineering in 1995.
Her work has evolved to include scientific and operational responsibilities. She now leads the Structural Biology department which includes high-throughput protein expression, NMR spectroscopy, and X-ray crystallography. On the operations side, she has oversight of a 1300-member research organization, and serves on the research leadership team.
I identified three notable traits that define her success:
1. She is really, really smart.
2. She “engineered” and created her own niche within Genentech, leading to the job she has now, which she apparently loves. She defined the area she saw as potentially productive, and eventually started the antibody therapeutics discovery group in protein sciences.
3. She had some really good luck, being in the right place at the right time, presenting a research report early in her career that helped to identify her as a shining star.
I don’t think her experience at Genentech is typical nowadays. Things have changed over the past twenty years. I was at another career event this week, and a Genentech employee informed the audience that a “postdoc” cannot expect to be hired at Genentech. Previous work experience is now an absolute prerequisite. Genentech can pick and choose, and does.
So how do you break into a company like Genentech (beside skeleton keys, and other lock picking devises)?
Repeatedly, I have heard that you have to go through a recruiter. Genentech uses head hunters to do first round screening. Hiring managers then take the skimmed cream of the resumes, and then cull applications yet again, Genentech also hires lots of contract workers, short term positions put in place to fill needs that expand and contract over time, like the extra demands during preparation for FDA filings. I am told that good performance in a 6 – 12 month contract position can lead to full time employment.
While companies post jobs on LinkedIn or Biospace or Monster or Bio Careers, sending a resume through some online channels rarely prompts any response. When you look at chat rooms, job seekers complain bitterly about this. In my own experience, I have received a response to 25% of the resumes I have submitted online, but usually from small entities. Job seekers say they have been “phone screened” by a recruiter or hiring manager, and then the line goes dead. Some candidates say they have been brought in for one or two days of interviews, seminars, and dinner, and then no communication ever again. (I might check my breath or try a new antiperspirant).
Don’t take this kind of rejection personally. Large biotechs appear to be secure, safe, and stable places of employment. In reality, biotechs suffer from a great deal of instability. The drug discovery process results in far more failures than successes. Positions are posted in anticipation of project needs, and then the project is delayed or the project dies. The funds disappear. And your dreams, your hopes, and your resume evaporate….
My next post will cover advice from a biotech recruiter and, hopefully, will be the antidote to some of the discouraging news in this post. Soon…