Pharma career change - bench to ?

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charley
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Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by charley » Wed Aug 07, 2019 7:40 pm

I think there are a few people with background in the pharmaceutical industry and I'm curious if anyone can offer some advice for my situation.

I'm a non-Ph.D. medicinal chemist in a mid-Atlantic state. I've weathered two major layoffs and advanced my career higher than I thought possible. My degree slightly limits my promotion potential in my current role. However, I don't think my value translates outside the company and finding a job at another company at the same level in the same geography would be difficult. I work with mostly wonderful people and mostly enjoy the work I do. However, I'm just not sure I would have a similar level of satisfaction for the next 20 years (at minimum). I've had this feeling for a little over a year. My company offers the opportunity to rotate into a different department for a year. It seems to be a great way to test the waters of a new job, and several people from my department have done a rotation and used it to formally transition to a new department. I posted a similar question 6 years ago, but I think I'm more serious about making a change this time.

I'm exploring options in a few areas, trying to focus on fields with higher growth potential (not limited by my degree) and more prevalence in my geographic area, and that leverage my scientific background. So far I have:

Project management - a facilitator role as I understand it, and not the top of my list
Supply chain management - roles in clinical supply chain management are probably closest to current role, but I wonder if this also opens up jobs in manufacturing SCM eventually
Quality assurance - there are a fair number of drug manufacturers in my area, so QA jobs seems to be prevalent
CMC - a number of people from my department have transitioned into this role, and unlike other parts of regulatory affairs, a PhD doesn't appear to be a requirement for higher level positions
Procurement - there are some roles related to acquisition of scientific equipment and reagents, and this can possibly translate into a non-scientific procurement job elsewhere


For those familiar with the pharmaceutical industry, have I missed anything? Of the paths mentioned, does one offer better opportunity for career growth or job security? I'm starting to speak with folks from these fields now, and will pursue the opportunity that interests me the most, but it would be helpful to know the prospects of these fields.

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Nestegg_User
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by Nestegg_User » Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:25 pm

well I can say that QC and procurement jobs aren't gonna fill the bill - - there's going to be no advancement and likely is going to churn through individuals at the lowest price point, as they are viewed as just a " bunch of hands", (QC usually requires overtime and odd shifts to get the product out) and most project management jobs that I was aware of required PhD, especially for pharma.

if you search Chemjobber site, you'll get a peak of how bad the situation is for medicinal chemists; I'd imagine that it would be worse for those without a PhD.
http://chemjobber.blogspot.com/

Jack FFR1846
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:29 pm

If you're outgoing enough, sales?
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HEDGEFUNDIE
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by HEDGEFUNDIE » Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:34 pm

I see an MBA in your future

seppatown
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by seppatown » Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:45 pm

Agree with Nestegg,

Your best chance of real advancement is making an industry jump into medtech, medical devices, digital health, or pharma software sales. Pharma and biotech are stuck in the stone ages with any sort of worthwhile non-biz/marketing/sales (read technical) position being offered only to PhDs. Pharma is decidedly career-development unfriendly, which is why you see so many trained chemists and biologists jumping ship to entirely different industries.

What sorts of skills can you sell outside of bench chemistry? Technical writing alone could probably land you a more lucrative job.

Lou354
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by Lou354 » Thu Aug 08, 2019 12:16 am

Patent agent

ohai
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by ohai » Thu Aug 08, 2019 12:19 am

I think you should consider MBA or even law school (shudder).

Topic Author
charley
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by charley » Thu Aug 08, 2019 6:52 am

Nestegg_User wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:25 pm
well I can say that QC and procurement jobs aren't gonna fill the bill - - there's going to be no advancement and likely is going to churn through individuals at the lowest price point, as they are viewed as just a " bunch of hands", (QC usually requires overtime and odd shifts to get the product out) and most project management jobs that I was aware of required PhD, especially for pharma.

if you search Chemjobber site, you'll get a peak of how bad the situation is for medicinal chemists; I'd imagine that it would be worse for those without a PhD.
http://chemjobber.blogspot.com/
You've hit on some of my fears about non-discovery jobs. I'm reaching out to contacts who have made the transition to the development side of the business, and the day-to-day work generally sounds less engaging than drug discovery. That said, some of the jobs still involve problem solving.

As chemjobber points out, the situation outside Boston and SF isn't great. I think it was much worse 5 years ago, as there has been hiring in the past few years.
Jack FFR1846 wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:29 pm
If you're outgoing enough, sales?
Good suggestion, but unfortunately I don't think I'm cut out for sales.
seppatown wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:45 pm
What sorts of skills can you sell outside of bench chemistry? Technical writing alone could probably land you a more lucrative job.
I've risen to the ranks of a mid-level PhD, so I have a fair amount of writing and presentation experience. I've done some rudimentary programming to streamline data workflows using proprietary software. This is fairly interesting. The IT organization appears less degree-focused, but the logistics part of IT seems a little soul-sucking.
HEDGEFUNDIE wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:34 pm
I see an MBA in your future
ohai wrote:
Thu Aug 08, 2019 12:19 am
I think you should consider MBA or even law school (shudder).
Would this be a full-time MBA? Am I too old (35) for that? The supply chain management organization seems to be more heavily populated with MBAs than PhD at the upper ranks, and I suspect they sponsor part-time programs.
Lou354 wrote:
Thu Aug 08, 2019 12:16 am
Patent agent
Good one. I seem to remember this being a common career switch when I started, but I haven't heard much about this lately. I'll look into it.

xenochrony
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by xenochrony » Thu Aug 08, 2019 10:48 am

I'm a scientist in big pharma and have a few thoughts. First off, its not clear what your goal or objective is. Is it purely enhanced career devt/progression? Staying clear of the presumed glass ceiling for a non-PhD med chemist? Is it job security? Relocation?

As pharma incrementally jettisons early pipeline discovery efforts in favor of in-licensing and M&As to acquire interesting things further down the pipeline, medicinal chemists are being expunged by the boatload. Our firm (in the top 15 globally) laid off 100% of all med chemists. These guys are having a tough time seeking re-entry; really tough. Not all pharma follow this model, but many do.

Lateral moves into other depts that are fundamentally different from what you do can be very difficult to achieve. If you have an opportunity at your current firm to do this, you may want to take it very seriously. Going from chemist to sales is a 180° career change, despite being in the same industry.

Process development chemistry seems like a much better fit. As you know, these folks are way downstream of discovery chem working in development and are much closer to "product." Your current skills would likely be a reasonable fit. The right QC (chem) position could also work out really well for you. Have you thought about moving to a CRO or CMO as an analytic chemist?

flarf
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by flarf » Thu Aug 08, 2019 2:29 pm

There is huge demand right now for legitimate contract manufacturers of cell and gene therapies and very few players. Lonza is the gorilla here and has their two US facilities in Houston and Portsmouth, NH. If you're at all interested in bioprocessing I'd take a look at some of their up-and-coming competitors.

megabad
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by megabad » Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:45 pm

It seems like you are successful and work with wonderful people so I am not sure what the goal is here. You have suggested widely varying fields. Most of these fields do not seem to focus on science. This may be what you want or it might not.

I am not in pharma/chemicals but in the megacorps I have worked in spanning multiple industries, the supply chain mgmt people are typically people with random business/generic degrees and are mostly entry level folks. Same goes for procurement. Quality folks are typically entry level engineers. There are a select few that advance, but you would be at a disadvantage starting over I would think. I think you would have to love these roles to make that kind of transition at this point. I would think the work would be easy but dull for you and the pay would not be attractive over a career compared to a scientific position.

The project management role in my experience is about 50% technical folks and about 50% of random degrees. I can see this being a better marriage/transition role for you, but it requires a specific mentality to be good at it or enjoy it. Of course, there are a great many project managers that make good money and are not very good at it...so maybe that is not a consideration for you. In my experience (not pharma), project management is a safe field. Maybe not the highest pay, but the job has some enjoyable aspects, isn't impossibly difficult and usually pays decent with a clear progression path (PM1 PM2 PM3 etc).

I know nothing about CMC but if it is science based, I would definitely look at that hard as a possibility if you are a science/technical/chemist focused person. I know a large number of folks that moved out of technical roles into PM/management etc and some of them regretted it so much they quit and reverted to their old roles.

I would add that, at my companies, if you want to be management (real management--Vice President and up), you must have sales experience. Just my two cents. I would think pharma may be the same.

Kayak
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by Kayak » Fri Aug 09, 2019 7:07 am

I'm in Pharma and this is a great opportunity for you to explore another field within your company. Reg CMC would be a great fit given your background. I agree that Quality is not the best avenue for you to take if looking for continued growth. In Reg CMC, you can bring your science background, build upon project management skills without having that be your full time job, as well as building upon strategic thinking and negotiation skills. Pharma companies need Reg CMC. If clinical studies are cut, supply chain won't be in demand.

renegade06
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by renegade06 » Fri Aug 09, 2019 9:18 am

I am also in the pharma industry and am looking to change companies. I work in government affairs for a pharma company. If anyone works for a small-midsize biotech or medical device company who needs government relations, please let me know!

I agree with some of the earlier comments... you can leverage your scientific background in a number of different ways. I'd try to shoot for the innovative companies in areas like gene editing, cellular therapies, etc. What do you think would make you happy? Consulting could be another area if you want to get more on the business side while leveraging your science skills.

tnr
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by tnr » Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:12 pm

If you enjoy looking at data and using the computer, check your local university for courses in data science. Your company would pay for such courses. Degrees aren’t as important as expertise which can come with certification. Pharma companies use data scientists primarily in their business units, mining claims and Rx databases. And data scientists are in demand in lots of industries so if you leave pharma, you’d have lots of other options.

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FlameChemist
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by FlameChemist » Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:19 pm

I'm also in big pharma (top 10 company) on the east coast. Joined just out of school and have been there for ~5 years. I'm a chemical engineer by training but find myself doing process development and CMC work from pre-clinical all the way through registration. This has worked well for me as it offers quite a variety of activities and people to deal with, getting to see several projects making it to market. I would recommend this space as it would translate well from medchem and offers good progression, though caution that as piplines flex from early-mid-late phase depending on project cycles the development organization will shrink/expand to fit the need.

I would also recommend transitioning into the large molecule space or cell/gene therapy if you have the opportunity. The process development world is largely translatable between small/large molecules and there is A LOT of opportunity in large molecules right now. Most big pharma is expecting portfolios to be in the 60/40 large/small range or beyond within ~5 years.
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Topic Author
charley
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Re: Pharma career change - bench to ?

Post by charley » Tue Aug 13, 2019 9:27 pm

xenochrony wrote:
Thu Aug 08, 2019 10:48 am
I'm a scientist in big pharma and have a few thoughts. First off, its not clear what your goal or objective is. Is it purely enhanced career devt/progression? Staying clear of the presumed glass ceiling for a non-PhD med chemist? Is it job security? Relocation?
megabad wrote:
Thu Aug 08, 2019 7:45 pm
t seems like you are successful and work with wonderful people so I am not sure what the goal is here.
Rereading my original post I see I left out a few details and a mission statement. I enjoy the problem solving and critical thinking involved in drug discovery, but I have concerns about long-term career development and job security. With continued hard work and no layoffs I can see a path to senior PhD level at my present company. But given the cyclical nature of the pharma industry and a palpable shift toward larger molecules, I have low confidence that I will be able to stay in this job until retirement. I think I'd feel more comfortable if we were near a hub like Boston or SF, but our family is close to our present location and we're reluctant to move. As a non-PhD I think my share price is higher at my present company than externally. My management has rewarded hard work and I haven't bumped into the non-PhD med chemist glass ceiling yet. But I suspect I would be treated differently outside of my company, as I have seen postings for my level and below that require a PhD.

I also wonder if I'm starting to feel the beginning stages of burnout. This might be more perception than reality, but it seems that salesmanship sometimes trumps science. While I'm sure this happens in many companies, I've become more cynical about this in recent years. Rather than get bitter and self-destruct, I think making a change to a new department might change my perspective and be reinvigorating.
xenochrony wrote:
Thu Aug 08, 2019 10:48 am
If you have an opportunity at your current firm to do this, you may want to take it very seriously.
Kayak wrote:
Fri Aug 09, 2019 7:07 am
Reg CMC would be a great fit given your background.
FlameChemist wrote:
Fri Aug 09, 2019 1:19 pm
I would recommend this space as it would translate well from medchem and offers good progression, though caution that as piplines flex from early-mid-late phase depending on project cycles the development organization will shrink/expand to fit the need.
I'm most seriously considering CMC. Some colleagues have made this move and it utilizes some of my current skills. While I realize it's still a pharma job and therefore somewhat unsteady, there are many more CMC jobs in my area than medchem jobs. Looking through linkedin, it also appears that degree is much less important - I've seen VP's with bachelor degrees. Promotion to the highest level isn't my goal, but it's nice to know that the ceiling is likely higher than in my current role.
tnr wrote:
Fri Aug 09, 2019 12:12 pm
If you enjoy looking at data and using the computer, check your local university for courses in data science. Your company would pay for such courses. Degrees aren’t as important as expertise which can come with certification. Pharma companies use data scientists primarily in their business units, mining claims and Rx databases. And data scientists are in demand in lots of industries so if you leave pharma, you’d have lots of other options.
This is an interesting one. I do enjoy looking at data and have developed some simple coding and visualization skills in my current role. I hadn't considered a formal role, but I'll look into it.

Thanks for all the suggestions.

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