I want to work in the life science industry: How do I become more commercially aware?
As a PhD student or postdoctoral researcher, you may be considering a job in the life science industry. Without any previous industry experience, it can be an uphill struggle to show that you understand the sector, how it works, and how they make their money. This knowledge is known as commercial awareness and can take some time to develop. Often, it is developed once you are in a sector, as you become familiar with how the organisation works. However, many employers want you to illustrate that you have commercial awareness on your CV and in an interview. It is therefore worth doing some research and trying to gain a little more expertise in this area. It will make a big difference to your chances of securing an industry job.
Here are four tips on how to do this:
Hang out where industry people hang out!
Membership organisations such as OBN, OBR and OneNucleus often organise networking events where you can learn about current trends in life science and meet people from industry. Go along to an event, update your knowledge of the sector and speak to people about their jobs. It sounds obvious but networking within academic circles will not improve your understanding of how industry works.
Understand the sector
The life science sector has undergone a lot of changes over the last 20 years, with new business models evolving. Do your research to understand what is happening e.g. new business models now means that research and development happens within a range of organisations such as biopharmaceutical companies, medical technology companies, contract research organisations and not for profits.
Begin your research by reading online publications and following relevant people and organisations on Twitter e.g. The Government Office for Life Science. The following articles also give an overview of the life science sector in both the UK and globally, respectively:
- Strength and Opportunity 2015 The landscape of the medical technology and biopharmaceutical sectors in the UK.
- 2016 Global life sciences outlook. Moving forward with cautious optimism
Enter life science business competitions
There are several competitions that can help scientists learn about the commercialisation of research, which is an important part of developing commercial awareness. Try to enter such competitions as they often provide some training as well as exposure to industry experts.
- Biotechnology Yes – Applications usually open in May.
- Merck Biopharma Innovation Cup – Happens once a year.
- One Start – Happens once a year.
Get some work experience
This is difficult to achieve whilst continuing to do your research. You are already in a full-time job, after all! Some researchers take annual leave and some work at the weekends to broaden their expertise. If potential work experience will benefit your current research or your PI, it might be possible to organise some time away from the laboratory.
Here are a few ideas for gaining work experience that will improve your commercial awareness:
- Look out for part-time work opportunities doing consultancy work. These are sometimes posted on the Kings College London Graduate School Blog. Also look at the OBR website or Freshminds for occasional consultancy opportunities.
- Sign up to the Kings Research Consultancy where you have the chance to work with an external organisation on a topic that relates to your research.
- Look out for part-time work opportunities or project based work that can be done alongside your research. Look at Kings JobOnline for such opportunities and look for roles that have a business or commercial focus.
- Keep up to date with business issues that relate to King’s researchers, by subscribing to and reading the Kings College London Graduate School Blog. Search in the ‘Business’ category on the right-hand side.
Many thanks to Dr. Tracy Bussoli for this guest blog. Find more about Tracy here.