November 10, 2017 – Biotech or Big Pharma?

Two Michigan alumni, Joel Beatty and Mitch Keylor, came to Ann Arbor to share their experience in pursuing a career in biotech and pharmaceutical industry. Both Joel and Mitch did their dissertation research under the guidance of Prof. Corey Stephenson, and they received their Ph.D. in chemistry from U of M in 2016.

Joel kicked off the seminar by describing his experience working as a researcher at Arcus Biosciences, a new biotech start-up in Hayward, CA. He pointed out that start-up company typically has an aggressive timeline for their projects. That could mean frequent changes in project’s goal and researchers might have to switch between projects at similar pace. However, Joel also mentioned that there is a high transparency practiced by the management team at Arcus Biosciences to explain most strategic decision, which is a good exposure for the team members to gain experience in corporate decision making. In addition, the culture of a start-up company evolves overtime, and small team at start-up helps to cultivate a great sense of ownership of the company. At the end, Joel listed a few things to consider while looking for a job at a biotech, including funding situation and age of a company, which correlate to job security and opportunity to participate at different developmental stages of the company. He also encouraged people to research into the management’s track record and the leadership goals to see if the company is a good fit for them.

For the second part of the seminar, Mitch shared reflections on his experience as a post-doctoral researcher at Novartis in Cambridge, MA. He pointed out that post-doc positions are supposed to be temporary, and they are meant to help to advance the career goals of PhD graduates. Therefore, people should have clear goals in mind before they decided to join an industrial post-doc program, and they need to make sure that the program has a structured training plan as a key component. He advised people to be independent and proactive while they are participating in an industrial post-doc program. They should be pursuing research projects that are in line with their development goals, actively engage with their colleagues, and take advantage of the ample technical support and recourses that are available in industrial labs. Mitch also made a generalized comparison between academic and industrial post-doc. He pointed out that academic post-doc experience is more valuable for a career in academia, and it offers better letter of recommendation and more opportunity for publications. On the other hand, industrial post-doc offers better scientific resources, professional networking opportunity, higher salary, and good work-life balance.