How can scientists successfully transition from academia to industry? This question has come to mind repeatedly in a variety of settings over the last six months or so. In response to this question, I propose that the pharma/biotech* industry step in to fill the gap between teaching people science, which academia does very well, and the teaching people the business of science.
As part of my association with Quintessence, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to science graduate students and postdocs who want to learn about industry, particularly how to learn about the types of career they might find in industry. Most of the exposure these folks have to industry is when (and if) their former lab mates get an industry job and share their experiences. This practice is similar to when I was in graduate school more than a decade ago. Providing even a basic understanding of the wide array of careers in industry would likely help in recruiting and retaining bright and motivated scientists to critical positions in the pharma/biotech industry.
Drug development is filled with issues relating to the business of science – quality systems, regulatory affairs, clinic sciences, issues of scale, working in teams with hierarchy. These topics aren’t covered in most science degree programs but are essential for academic scientists to transition to industry. Providing a framework for what these areas cover and how they fit together within an organization would be a good place to start. Knowing what these areas entail would allow students to focus on areas that fit their interests and/or personalities.
For a variety of reasons, I believe industry should implement a “business of science” program. There are other groups with an interest in this type of endeavor.
- National Institutes of Health – This summer an NIH working group reviewed the biomedical workforce and came up with some suggestions on how to address the industry gap and their full report is here.
- Professional Associations – Some groups, such as Regulatory Affairs Professional Society and American Society for Quality, provide classes and certification programs, but their goal is more training of the specific tasks for a job rather than teaching people about what general opportunities are available and how they fit together.
When and Where?
The most straightforward way to implement such a program could be an online platform similar to Coursera. Once the courses are posted, anyone can sign up, attend lectures and take quizzes. While the goal isn’t certification, attendance and quiz scores can be tracked if there is an interest in assessing proficiency in an area. Providing resources online would allow for people to participate while they are in still in school/postdoc. If people found an area they were particularly interested in, they could pursue a more formal training, such as the certifications above.
While there are some in-person alternatives, most would require a deeper commitment from industry and potentially from academia. A longer term option, which would require deeper commitment from industry as well as a shift in academic programs, would provide for internships or cooperative experiences during science degree programs. Such programs are relatively commonplace for chemical engineers but seem rare in the sciences not affiliated with engineering.
What do you think of the pharma/biotech industry filling the gap between teaching people science and teaching people the business of science?
*While I focused on pharma/biotech, other industries that rely on scientists have similar concerns with quality, regulation etc. and could do something similar.