Finding a job after completing studies at an educational institution is a defining and daunting moment in one’s life. Success enables you to embark on a journey of applying what you have learned, learning on the job, fostering your passion and making a contribution to society. Devendra Mishra, Executive Director of BSMA, had the unique opportunity to interview Diana Bartlett, the author of the book, “The Grad Student Guide to the Life Science Industry“, to understand how to search for a job. [To obtain this book, click here.]
In Bartlett’s current role, as Corporate Engagement Lead for Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, she is responsible for building a comprehensive industry program to benefit a diverse population of pharmacy, health science, and public health students and faculty. In her 15 years’ experience in life science academic-industrial collaborations, prior to this responsibility, Bartlett was Associate Vice President of Corporate Partnerships at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI). There, she recruited over 300 corporate-sponsored projects, launched professional development programs, and chaired KGI’s intellectual property and tech transfer committee. Before entering the field of higher education in 2004, Bartlett spent many years working for companies such as Johnson & Johnson and GE. Diana Bartlett has an MBA in marketing from the University of Chicago, and a BA in journalism from the University of Iowa.
Highlights of the interview captured below reaffirm that her extensive educational and industrial experience has produced a rare playbook for aspirants of careers in Life Sciences.
MISHRA: Your book is about careers for recent graduates. Why should a supply chain professional be interested in such a book?
BARTLETT: Two reasons: First, it can help them become better interviewers. I wrote the book because students – at least in my experience – have very little understanding of how industry and companies actually operate. The content essentially highlights those knowledge gaps. Therefore, the book can serve as a topic checklist for an interviewer. For example, while most hiring managers will interview for technical knowledge, they will fall back onto standard behavioral questions such as “Tell me about a time when you…” Instead, why not ask questions that probe for industry insights as well as critical thinking, such as “Please compare and contrast supply chain in the typical biopharmaceutical company and the typical medical device company.”
Second, the book is a compendium of publicly-available information about life science industry sectors. So, if someone wants a handy reference for total diagnostics sector market cap, number of employees, list of largest diagnostics firms, etc., this is the resource.
MISHRA: Is there a systematic approach to a job search for a graduate?
BARTLETT: Yes, there is. I like the two-track model: one track is self-knowledge, and the other, the pool of potential employers.
In the first track, the applicant should perform a realistic assessment of his/her strengths, experiences…all the things that will enable the candidate to bring value to a company. It’s all about answering the value question. In the second track, the applicant maps that value to sectors and ultimately to companies.
The companies can then be prioritized around various criteria such as reputation, therapeutic area, technology, geography. I call these portfolios in the book, but that’s just another way of saying that a person picks companies around some theme. And that theme should reflect both the candidate’s self-knowledge as well as interest in company types.
MISHRA: How does an entry level job seeker confront the five major sectors of the industry, for each one of them demand a set of educational background qualifications?
BARTLETT: The good news is that many STEM skills translate well across the sectors. For instance, a microbiologist may be in demand in all five. Or, a regulatory affairs background will certainly be in demand in biopharmaceutical, medical device, and diagnostic sectors.
Layered onto this are the graduate’s leadership experiences, extracurricular activities, internships or co-ops, capstone projects and other information. These can help focus the general degree background more tightly around a sector. For example, someone with an MS in microbiology who interned one summer in the QC lab of a medical device company can be more relevant to that type of firm than an MS in micro who has never been inside a corporate setting, but who, instead, spent all summers and semester breaks performing tests on large blood analyzer equipment at a local hospital. It’s not that the latter won’t eventually break into the medical device world, it’s just that his path probably will be more circuitous.
MISHRA: Knowing that your Guide is designed to help an intern, co-op and full time job seeker, what do you envision are the formidable challenges for a graduate seeking a full time job in the Life Science industry?
BARTLETT: Before the COVID-19 crisis, the most formidable challenge was match. Students tend to think more about a full time job and less about how well they match that job. Now that the virus effects have upended the life science industry, students, of course, have additional challenges.
Some of these are strategic, such as how a far a field to try to position oneself. By that, I mean that the Masters in Microbiology may want to lever a volunteer experience at a blood bank for a job with a bio-fractionation manufacturer – even though the volunteer experience lasted only one week. Others will be tactical, such as how to succeed in an online interview with a team of interviewers.
MISHRA: How would you describe the sharp needle points of a compass used in a career guide?
BARTLETT: The first three are goal, strategy, and tactics. The goal tells us which way is north, where we are headed. Strategy is south, balancing the goal with a specific path toward that goal. Tactics could, in all honesty, be either east or west, as they provide the adjustments against the north-south axis.
The most difficult one, in my opinion, could be any compass point, and that is persona. Goal, strategy, and tactics are primarily conceptual. They are the thinking part of the plan. But persona is the heart, it’s what memorializes candidate A over Candidates B, C, and D. Persona is personality, presence, relationship, energy, and all the characteristics that make the hiring manager want to work with this person, and only this person.