Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job title and company: Senior Scientist, Oxford BioTherapeutics
I am a senior scientist at an immune-oncology biotech where we develop novel antibody-based drugs in the cancer space. I have been here almost 6 months. My career started at Lancaster University where I took a degree in Biochemistry, hoping to get into medical school upon graduation. I fell in love with the lab during my honours project where I was working on cytokinesis in budding yeast and decided at that point to pursue a career in research. Upon graduation, I pursued a research-based MSc in cell biology, again at Lancaster where I could study cytokinesis in more detail. I developed expertise in imaging, cloning and molecular biology at this stage of my career.
I decided that I wanted to transition from studying model systems to more translational biology for my PhD so I pursued research in oncology at the University of Liverpool, working on the p53 pathway in renal cell carcinoma. At this point, I worked quite intensively on cancer cell biology, focusing on apoptosis and proliferation assays, transfection and cell signalling. After this, I pursued a short postdoctoral position at the University of Manchester, working on other aspects of cancer biology but with a focus on live cell imaging and systems biology.
I had been trying to transition to the biotech industry during and after my PhD and after my postdoc. I felt as though the skills I had developed would be more suited to work in industry rather than academia. I was exceptionally lucky to have joined one of Europe’s leading biotech companies, Immunocore, straight after my postdoc, where I stayed for two years. I found the atmosphere in industry to be strikingly more pleasant than what I had experienced in academia. The transition was not as easy as I had expected, I needed to develop much better organizational and time management skills in industry as the pace of work is different to academia. I then moved on to a global leader in immune-oncology, Oxford BioTherapeutics.
My work is currently centred around developing new models and assays for studying the effect of immune-modulating molecules on cancer cells. I have some line management responsibility but most of my work is lab-focused. I still apply many of the skills that I’ve acquired from academia but the focus is more on problem solving and trouble shooting rather than getting to the very core of a scientific question. Because I transitioned from cell biology to immunology, I am constantly learning new things every day. I wouldn’t discourage this kind of scientific transition because if you love biology, it opens up a completely different world and style of thinking to what you’ve been previously exposed to.
How do you get that first job in biotech?
I would say that while a PhD isn’t essential, it will absolutely help your career progress faster in the long term. For people in PhDs and postdocs that want to transition to industry, study what is required to take an idea to a marketable product, whether that be a drug, a medical device, an assay kit etc. Think about that process and where you think your skills fit in. It doesn’t matter how obscure you think the field of research your PhD was about, you will have developed technical and non-technical skills in academia that are useful to the industry.
Once you have identified those skills, target your job searches to positions where you think those skills would be useful. For example, if you worked on gene modification of crops for your PhD, you’d be fine applying to all jobs involving a lot of molecular biology.
Don’t talk yourself out of applying to a position if you don’t fulfil some of the criteria. If a position is advertised through a recruiter, be sure to call them and discuss the job before applying. Also, network as much as you can.
Set up a LinkedIn profile, talk to the industry scientists at conferences, make connections. Reading websites like Fierce Biotechand Fierce Pharmawill keep you abreast of industry trends that will make your interviews easier.