Consider post-doctoral training in industry
Nature Biotechnology 23, 151 - 152 (2005)|
post-doctoral training in industry
With the traditional walls between industry and academia falling, industry
post-docs offer the best of both worlds.
Is post-doctoral training necessary before getting a job in science? Since
publications are vital for obtaining a good position, and the post-doc
is the best time for producing publications and building a strong CV,
it seems logical that doing a post-doc is essential for getting a job
in science. Most scientists agree that post-doctoral training is critical
in the development and maturation of a scientist.
Where should you do a post-doc? Since there persists the belief that working
in industry makes it difficult to return to academia, it is still more
common to take a post-doc position in academia than in industry. My own
decision to take a position in industry was based on a desire to work
on a particular topicótumor necrosis factorówhich led me to choose Genentech
over Caltech. Though I was repeatedly told, "Do not go into industry because
you won't be able to publish," I have never regretted my decision, and
have published more than 10 papers and filed more than 10 patents on cytokines
at Genentech. I have been fortunate to have excellent mentors and collaborators,
as well as the resources and support for my work.
I began my post-doc, along with David
Lowe (currently a partner at Skyline Ventures) and Arnon
Rosenthal (now president of Rinat Neuroscience), under David Goeddel,
who cloned genes for therapeutic proteins including insulin, growth hormone,
interferon-, interferon- and tissue plasminogen activator. We learned
not only from our mentor, but also from other post-docs and scientists
who taught us their special techniques, discussed their projects and shared
ideas and experiences. Eventually, the three of us were promoted to scientist
positions and worked at Genentech for more than 10 years.
The industry advantage
What are the advantages of being a post-doc in industry? Although different
companies may have their own cultures, the following advantages are usually
present in an industry setting, though it is important to note that excellent
academic placements may have some similar benefits as well.
Industry resources and vibrant atmosphere. At Genentech, I benefited
from rigorous scientific training in a supportive industry environment
without worrying about funding or grant writing. My salary was better
than in academia, and I was eligible for bonuses and stock options.
Team productivity. I had the freedom to choose projects, and was
encouraged to publish after filing for patents. Moreover, I received bonuses
when my work was published in prestigious journals (e.g., Nature, Science
and Cell). I had access to core services and colleagues with industry
experience and proprietary reagents to share, which helped speed up my
discoveries. My projects were intellectually stimulating and relevant
to human diseases.
Valuable industry contacts. I was invited to speak about my work
at international conferences, and scientists from academia were eager
to collaborate with me. My industrial experience and contacts led to several
job offers, both from industry and academia. Many of the scientists I
met are now friends, collaborators, scientific advisors, directors and
investors in my new companies.
Symbiosis. The relationship between you and your company will produce
mutual benefits: your enthusiasm provides an impetus for new drug discovery,
and the company benefits from your innovative work. If the company is
no longer interested in your project, you may carry on in a university.
Most companies do not encourage post-docs to stay; however, people are
more likely to hire people they already know.
Christina Scheel, a post-doc at the Whitehead Institute for Medical Research,
says, "One concern often voiced by graduate students considering a post-doc
in industry is that they bar themselves from going back to academia."
The lines between academia and industry are, however, becoming increasingly
blurred. Industry recognizes the value of basic science, and academia
looks for opportunities to commercialize research. A successful, productive
post-doc from industry, or even a more senior industry scientist, will
have little trouble making the transition back to academia. In some cases,
it is possible for a researcher to take a discontinued project from industry
and continue it in an academic laboratory, or even start up a new company.
Tan, senior scientist at Eli Lilly believes, "Post-doc training is
not necessary for a job in biotech or pharmaóbut it does not hurt to have
one, especially in a good and reputable lab." Indeed, many companies will
hire scientists who do not have post-doc experience. Craig Gibbs, senior
director at Gilead Sciences says, "Whether a scientist can be hired without
a post-doc depends on the department. For biology, one must have a post-doc;
for chemistry, a post-doc is not required."
Wiley, chief technical officer of VLST Corp. and former senior scientist
at Amgen says, "We have hired PhDs for permanent positions without post-doc
training, but we will bring them in at a lower level than people who have
successfully completed their post-docs. These people are at first treated
like advanced technicians, but if they perform well for a few years, they
can become full staff scientists."
Post-docs often have the ideal combination of traits for helping to shape
and learn about the drug discovery process in a large pharmaceutical company.
"They are well trained in the most recent techniques, generally have up-to-date
knowledge of their field, and are often disposed to creative and higher-risk
research than scientists at later career points," according to Alexander
Sasha Kamb, head of oncology at Novartis. Adds Scott
Wadsworth, research fellow at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research
& Development, "Going to a larger company offers the added benefit of
seeing what other types of jobs are available to someone with a PhD, and
perhaps changing career direction. I've had people move into regulatory
affairs and competitive intelligence right out of their post-doc."
Ebner, formerly a post-doc both at Genentech and in academia (UCSF
and Stanford), emphasizes the dual gains for the post-doc and the company:
"Early exposure to corporate thinking can be a valuable experience. A
company, any size, will in turn profit from having post-docs under its
roof." Now principal scientist at Avalon Pharmaceuticals, he adds, "We
have known academic-to-industry career switches for a while nowóbut along
with the traditional walls between industry and biotechnology disappearingówe
are starting to see movement the other way as well."
In addition to Genentech, other biotech companies such as Amgen, Biogen
IDEC, Serono, Millennium, Genzyme, Chiron, and Gilead, and pharmas such
as Abbott, AstraZeneca, Aventis, Eli Lilly, Roche, Johnson & Johnson,
Novartis, Pfizer and Wyeth have post-doc training programs. All companies
should be encouraged to develop such programs, as they benefit from the
post-docs' enthusiasm and innovative thinking, whereas post-docs gain
invaluable industry contacts and experience.
A final word: I strongly recommend that you consider doing a post-doc
in industry if the company allows you to finish your project, publish
and collaborate. Find a mentor with a good publication record, follow
your interests and do good science. All options will be open. Participate
in the scientific community and develop a network of collaborators in
both industry and academia. Gain the trust and respect of your colleagues,
and produce fruitful synergy. Becoming an industry/academic hybrid can
enhance your opportunities on both sides of the fence. Doing a post-doc
in industry is, in many ways, like scientific heaven, and you may never
want to leave.