Well, now that you’ve sweated it out, inside and outside of the lab, you’ve obtained your degree in life science, and it’s time to start your brilliant life science career. Panic. Or maybe you should do a PhD?
Yet, the more you browse for open positions, the more you feel confused, under or over qualified, and uncertain about the specific field you wish to work in. Slow down.
Good news is that this feeling is normal. As a life science recruiter, I frequently encounter candidates facing similar challenges. The reason behind this uncertainty is that the life science sector is wildly wide and ever-expanding, other than deeply impacted by technological development and the ever-growing implications of AI.
In this article, I will put on the table 20+ years of experience in both R&D and Talent Acquisitionand walk you through life science career opportunities and tips to succeed in this field.
But first, let’s take a step back and answer this evergreen question I’m asked at least once a week: do I need a PhD to work in biotech, medtech, digital health, pharma?
pssst, if you already have a PhD, feel free to jump straight to the following paragraph.
Short answer – it depends on your career goals. But you still don’t know for sure what you want to do! If you find yourself in this vicious circle, and you can’t make a decision on such a crucial point of your life science career, this is my 5 cents.
- If you are considering starting your career in R&D – or if you wish to leave the door open for such opportunities in the future – you won’t go anywhere with less than a PhD.
- If you feel more in line with a corporate career in product management, market or sales roles, you should know that in the later stages of a product’s lifecycle, educational qualifications become less important than real-world experience. So if you want to be a Market Access Director, I’d say stop after the Master’s, enter the industry and gain 3-4 years experience instead of the PhD.
The decision of whether to pursue a PhD is the first crossroads you face when launching your career in life science. I strongly recommend carefully evaluating all the pros and cons and – hold on – think about your career over a span of 20 years.
- If you have a strong passion for Research, want to become a leading expert in your field and aspire to teaching at the university level or working in academia, now or in the next 20 years, a PhD may be a wise choice.
- If you are more interested in practical applications or industry roles or – pay attention here – you are that type of person whose interest and goals may evolve and change over the time, a PhD program may not be the best fit.
Well, alea iacta est, you made your choice, what’s next? Probably you are wondering what jobs or technical skills are in the highest demand.
As a multidisciplinary field, life science offers career opportunities for research, development, innovation, and the application of scientific knowledge to real-world challenges. It undoubtedly is a dynamic and rewarding field for those passionate about the living world and its intricacies. But it is also a sector with remarkable growth potential, now more than ever.
Since the life sciences are interconnected, a degree becomes just one of many pieces to finding a career path that suits you. Don’t overthink it: your degree in chemistry could easily lead you to a position in biotech!
Based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Outlook Handbook, employment in life, physical and social science occupations is projected to grow faster than the average. According to Indeed – one of the world’s leading job portals – the most in-demand position in biotech, medtech and pharma appears to be.
- Clinical Technician (Lab Technician)
- Biomedical Engineer
- R&D Engineer
- Clinical Research Scientist
You have noticed that product and marketing roles are not listed here, right? However, rest assured that if these are the global most in demand positions, there are plenty of open positions in regulatory, safety, IT and commercial roles. Just check our jobs section!
So, keep calm, there’s a lot you can do with a life science degree! You’ll find your fit, and you’ll have a successful career – especially if you pay attention to the next section.
At headcount we speak science, and as a life science graduate eager for a brilliant and satisfying career – whether if you graduated last month or five years ago – you undoubtedly understand us. So we will go straight to the point: how to ride the wave of the deep changes in the industry without feeling overwhelmed or overshadowed by the competition – aka by your classmate who hasn’t had the chance to read our blog?
Earning a relevant degree in biology, biochemistry, pharmacology or a related field in a top-tier University is an excellent starting point, but that’s precisely what it is: a starting point. One of the key metrics that recruiters evaluate – the secret is out – is the candidate’s commitment to continuous learning.
While a Master’s or PhD is great, there are several other ways to stay updated. Try to attend relevant workshops, seminars, and conferences but also consider online courses or certifications to acquire new skills.
Speaking of skills, soft skill matters: teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and adaptability are non-negotiable in today’s job market.
One last thing about education, have you ever thought about get a certification? Depending on your career path, you can find value in obtaining a relevant certification such as EU Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) or Good Manufactory Practices (GMP) or some regulatory affairs certifications are very useful pieces of paper.
As I mentioned before, education alone is not enough for a well nourished range of roles. Whether you are still a student, a newbie or have been in the job market for 1-3 years, make gaining practical experience an absolute priority. Internship, co-op programs, research positions are highly evaluated by recruiters.
And once you have these experiences, leverage them: mention them in your resume, refer to them during interviews and highlight the skills and contributions you made.
I’m not suggesting flexing them as if you have 20 years of fieldwork – if it was a 6 months internship – but strive to make each experience add value to your career in life science.
Once you’ve secured your dream job (at least for now) try to stay relevant for the company’s transformation. Continued education is a solid strategy to put yourself in the position of being able to pivot your career towards high-value and high-demand roles when the opportunity arises. I saw many commercial leaders successfully transition into digital leadership roles in the past five years – remaining relevant for the company’s transformation.
Also, don’t forget to keep moving. I see a lot of excellent talents make the mistake of sitting still on their roles, doing what they asked for (right) but never asking for the next challenge. Laying on your role and failing to be proactive makes you less and less relevant each single passing day.
Making mid-career changes in life science is NOT as difficult as it may seem, especially when pursuing internal changes within a company. Being well perceived internally, knowing the company, the people, and the products can make this transition smoother. Capitalize on this opportunity!
Long story short: I’ve had many people with 500k+ packages get unexpectedly laid off, terrified about what to do next. Building a strong professional network within the industry gives you the possibility to pick up the phone and secure a new brand-new job in less than six months (which I’d say is average at VP level).
Even if you land in a good position, where you feel secure and satisfied, keep attending industry events, join professional associations, and connect with colleagues on platforms like LinkedIn. If you have an entrepreneurial mindset, you might consider going independent or starting a consulting business once you have appropriate experience.
The life science industry is expected to continue growing: the pharma market alone was valued at USD 1.48 trillion in 2022 – and it’s expected to continue growing. Good news, this growth is likely to create numerous job opportunities in various subfields.
Moreover, life science careers are becoming increasingly intertwined with technology. Professionals in the field will need to adapt to and embrace technological advancements, such as automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, which are transforming research, diagnostics, and drug development – we explored here the relationship and perspectives between AI and biotech.
The increasing technological component also implies a need for deeper interdisciplinary collaboration. Professionals with cross-functional skills and the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams will be in high demand.
All these changes, in a 10 years time frame, will reshape the trajectories of every life science career.
The winners are likely to be those who embrace a mindset of lifelong learning, development, and adaptability.