The Siren’s Song of Employment – Part Two
Submitted by Michael Salgaller on Wed, 2015-01-28 14:44
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Last fall, I was invited by Bio Careers to present a webinar on pursuing alternative careers. 

It dealt most specifically with transitioning from a bench career to one involving finance or business. Interestingly, what strongly resonated with attendees were the slides on how one’s skills could be applied to positions which, at first (and erroneous) glance, seemed a distinct departure from scientific responsibilities and demands. 

Many scientists stay affixed in place, hypnotized by the Siren’s Song of Employment, under the misguided belief that their talents are too narrow to go outside their degree-based comfort zone. In this blog post, I’m going to summarize my remarks about leveraging your existing, technical attributes to actively move, or at least seriously ponder such a move, to career parts unknown. 

The laboratory setting is a bustling hive of activity where professionals such as yourselves, plan and conduct experiments. Using the traditional scientific method, you develop and test hypotheses. You may not be aware that the scientific method, in one form or another, is used by many other types of jobs – including business.  

A hypothesis can be “our treatment drug is something promising that lots of people would want to buy,” almost as readily as something measured in the lab by a counter or meter. Certainly, testing a business hypothesis is less black-and-white at the onset. But, with both examples, you have an idea of what is possible – then set about seeing whether you were correct. Give some thought to how often you use the scientific method in your daily lives, and light bulbs will begin to come on about how you could use it in a business environment. 

You run an experiment and collect information. The collected data is put in a format to communicate it to others. You usually have not merely ideas about your information, but opinions about it as well. If the data doesn’t support a clear opinion, you collect more data as well as the input from others. 

This process also occurs in the business world. In a positive work environment, management supports a position, even one contrary to the original hypothesis, as long as a strong argument is made to support it. In the business world, this is known as the “elevator pitch” or being able to clearly explain your ideas in the length of time it would take for someone to ride in an elevator with you. Scientists are not known for being concise – let alone clear and understandable to those outside their circle. Admittedly, some skills will need to be honed (or perhaps even developed from scratch) in order to change careers.

By the way, your ability to collect and analyze information, and then reach a conclusion – or, at least, an opinion, qualifies you as an “analyst.” Analyst positions are entry-level gateways into the business and financial world. You don’t sit on the information you’ve generated, collected, and analyzed. You tell people about it, usually, in written form. 

Ever wrote (or helped write) an abstract, poster, or article? Even if at a lower-level position, ever contributed to an internal report or meeting? Likely, you’ve had to compare your work to what’s come before. Therefore, you’ve done “comparative analysis” – which is high-brow business lingo for comparing two things and determining which one you like better (and why). Even if your data isn’t better than what’s come before, you’ve conducted comparative analysis. Don’t confuse the process/skill with the outcome. Again, a positive business environment with good management will care only that you can support your ideas in the face of questioning and debate.

“Due diligence” is high-brow business lingo for researching a topic; e.g., learning the background and history. Are you aware you likely possess the skill to conduct due diligence? You do it when you read literature. You do it when you write a review article. You conduct due diligence when you help determine which piece of lab equipment to buy, when you look into what other labs are doing similar research, when you go to a poster session and ask questions. 

Due diligence and analysis overlap quite a bit because, even subliminally, you likely judge your work against others when performing this job skill … our method is better … their position is not valid because … our conclusions are accurate due to … etc.

Lastly, have you ever helped write a grant? Have you ever helped determine a budget? Almost every effort – whether in a lab or in business – involves a “value proposition.” A value proposition is determining whether an activity has sufficient value/reason to be carried out; i.e., why you think something should or shouldn’t be done. 

Since activities cost money, you express why you think something is worth spending money on. When you contribute to a grant application or budget, you indicate why an experiment is worth someone’s (the government, your company) money. You argue the case for why your research is worth thousands or millions of dollars. You place a value on your ideas/hypothesis.

Hopefully, you are beginning to realize skills you have that are applicable above and beyond the lab. These skills overlap, making you a strong individual fully capable of beginning to ignore that siren’s song. 

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