Making the leap to the darkside

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R Bishop
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Making the leap to the darkside

For 17 years I resisted the darkside and lived in the academic bubble. 18 manuscripts, 3 funded grants later I am the President of this company. You might have heard of it since your reading this on its' website right now, Scientist Solutions.  One day you interviewing for faculty positions worried about funding, and what kind of post-docs you can attract to Kentucky, the next Im worried by web analytics and traffic growth. Seem like a weird choice?  It wasn't a hard decision, I hope to tell you why, as well as collect my thoughts for everyone looking for an alternative career outside of the hallowed halls.
Come to the Darkside Rusty!
 
Why did I think it was the Darkside?  I read all those Dave Jenson Articles on Science Careers about "leaving the ivory tower" and "crossover skills" and, it scared the bejesus out of me. Was it really that cutthoroat out there? My old grduate PI would be super disappointed in me, so I haven't told him yet.  My most recent PI encouraged me to the Darkside (lately I've been wondering what that says about what he wrote in my reccomedantion letters, hmmm).  I thought the business world would radically different from the lab in nut shell.  Well it is.
That said Im having a great time not doing experiments helping all of you to do yours. All my western blots work and I haven't had a fungus infect my cultures in a month except yours' of course.  I'll tell you one thing,  Now that Im here yeah its a little scary, but many things remain the same, competition, experimental successes and failures, and I still get up an go to work everyday albeit at my house!
I hope this encourages you to share your stories or thoughts on leaving academia.  I'll be happy to answer any questions (that arent proprietary).  Also continue to let us know what you the scientist want out of Scientist Solutions, we are adaptable and evolve at your needs.
Rusty Bishop
President Scientist Solutions, Inc

FirstPharmaJob
FirstPharmaJob's picture
Hi Rusty,

Hi Rusty,
I'm glad you shared your post on Twitter.  I left academia a couple of years ago, and it has been an interesting and somewhat frustrating journey so far.
Looking back, I didn't manage my career all that well even when I was still in school.  I started an MSc, and had the option to switch into a PhD program after the first year, but decided to continue and get the MSc degree first.  My logic was that you never know what can happen. In retrospect I would call that career mistake #1. It was more than a year later that I finally did complete that MSc.
I still wanted the PhD. Mistake #2 was deciding to do my PhD in the same lab where I completed my MSc.  Don't get me wrong, it was a great lab; we had fun and I think we did good work there.  But a change would have broadened my horizons, given me exposure to new techniques, and expanded my scientific network.  I should have looked to the future, and tried to move into a lab doing "sexier", more cutting-edge work.
There were other mistakes along the way but I don't want to dwell on the past.  In any case, by the time I finished my PhD I was feeling pretty burned out on lab work, and I didn't really have experience or the network to help me move into a great postdoc. So instead of going for a mediocre postdoc in a not-very-sexy corner of science, I cut my losses and left the ivory tower.
I was unemployed for a few months.  I naively thought that a PhD in biological sciences would make me attractive to the pharmaceutical and biotech sector.  Maybe if I had lived in a real biotech hub like Boston or California that might have been the case, but in Ontario I was just another scientist with no industry experience.  I finally got a call from a recruiter who specialized in the pharmaceutical industry, and he pitched me an idea out of the blue: come and work for him!  I would learn business skills, get real insight into all aspects of the industry, and make a lot of contacts.
He was right. Recruiting was hard work, and very very different from doing bench work in a lab, but it pushed me to develop a kind of confidence that I never had as an academic.  My PUBMED skills came in handy searching databases and the internet for candidates, and the experience of lab work, where you have to pick yourself up and keep going even when your assay fails for the millionth time, helped me deal with the ups and downs of the process.
However, after 2 years in recruiting, it was time for a change.  I had always enjoyed writing and wanted to put those skills, and my scientific background, to better use.  I am now working as a freelance writer.  I also decided to use some of what I had learned as a recruiter to set up a blog dedicated to job-search and career advice specific to the pharmaceutical and biotech sector.  I'll try to share what I know on this site as well.
 
 

R Bishop
R Bishop's picture
Thanks for sharing your tale.

Thanks for sharing your tale. Can you give us the link to your blog?
 
Rusty

FirstPharmaJob
FirstPharmaJob's picture
Yup, it's http://www

Yup, it's http://www.yourfirstpharmajob.com .  It's in my profile -- I wasn't sure whether it was kosher to post it or not.

Jason King
Jason King's picture
 

 
How challenging is it to work as a freelance writer? I'm thinking about the income being irregular and how banks (especially at the moment) treat freelancers who have a mortgage....Or is there a lot of work out there?

R Bishop
R Bishop's picture
Last week, I wrote about my

Last week, I wrote about my decision to follow Vader and join the Darkside.  So I plan to continue this story each week by adding to it.

"A beginning is a very delicate thing" - Dune

(Ok, I admit it.  I'm one of those SciFi loving geeks that just quoted Dune.)

So where did this road begin....

I grew up in Mississippi, the Deep South land of cotton and Billy Bobs.  All those sterotypes you see in the movies about slow talking fat cops and beat up little towns, they're mostly true. But its a beautiful place too.  Almost tropical and teeming with life. There's a reason all that cotton grows so well down there. If you haven't been, I highly reccomend it. So that is first thing that attracted me to science I guess. I've always been fascinated by nature, because I grew up spending hours in the outdoors catching frogs and crawdads (think tiny lobster), fishing, hunting, and playing the woods.  So naturally, I always loved Biology in school.  Come to think of it, I actually loved school.  The funny thing is my seventh grade science teacher once told me I would never amount to anything in Science (I did my science project on fossils, she didn't think paleontology was science, guess I should have made a volcano).  I sent her a copy of my thesis after I got my PhD.  Mrs. Albright, thank you for doubting!

 
"My first real science experiment"

In 2009, you may not recall that people once did acceptable science without PCR and DNA isolation kits. To date myself, I didnt have email in college much less a personal computer. When PCR was first published, my professor was so excited about it, she had us do it by hand in my undergraduate Molecular Biology Class. There wasn't any such thing as thermocycler at that time, so we heated three water baths and took turns moving the tubes by hand from bath to bath for 40 cycles.  Sound boring, yep it was.  It worked though and we amplified a gene from the Sindbis virus doing PCR by hand. Incidentally, we ran the gel in gel tray made of straws from McDonalds!

 

 

Ivan Delgado
Ivan Delgado's picture
Here is a short version of my

Here is a short version of my story. 
I spent a total of 12 years in academia. A B.S. and a PhD in plant genetics. Towards the end of my PhD I decided that going straight for a permanent position was not for me (I didn't want to write grants for a living). In many ways I was lucky that I was young enough to be reckless with my career decisions because the professors I worked for where important enough that they could have gotten me a position.
I wanted to expand my horizons, so I completely switched fields (many people thought that I was crazy). I did two post-docs in human research (one in muscle and one in brain research). I was two years away from getting a permanent position when industry called. My human research had gone so well that I was split between staying and leaving. In the end I felt that academia was not for me (the rationalization is as long and as colorful as we are different from each other). My PI was not happy at all, mainly because I was running her lab and had raised the quality of her research significantly (plus I had a grant in the works).
At this point even my college advisor, who I keep in touch to this day, told me she was disappointed that I had not chosen the ivory tower path. I respect her greatly since she introduced me to genetics in college (until that point my plan had been to get a farming degree and, you guessed it, farm for a living), but this time I saw beyond her advice and set my own path.
I've been in industry over four years now and I admit I have no regrets. I learned a lot in academia and I enjoyed the laboratory work immensely. I think the decision to stay or leave academia is a very personal one. You need to ask yourself what is it that you really want to do with your life. In my case the change gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons and try new things I likely would have never been able to experience in academia. There will always be people make you feel like you are making a mistake if you leave academia. I think that anybody that leaves academia, for whatever reason, is a very well prepared individual that has many of the tools necessary to succeed no matter what they decide to do.
As a side note, my work in industry has kept me very close to those same types of laboratories where I used to work, and even perform laboratory experiments. So in some ways I never left; I remain associated with academia, much in the same way that a significant component of industry still is.