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Sunday, December 03, 2006

PhDs and Labs

I saw an ad from Merck with a bunch of middle aged men in women wearing white lab coats and working in a lab. The CEO came on and explained that Merck is now, and always has been, serious about science. It has been my observation however that the scientific landscape of the drug companies is littered with PhDs working out of cubicles, all trying desperately to become an executive. The benifits of such a promotion includes job security and huge bonuses. Very few non-PhDs scientists stand a chance. The non-PhD scientist has a lifetime of reality checking them at every step. If you are going to get into the business you must go all the way with your education. Get a PhD and focus on becoming an executive.

Companies begin when a PhD or MD doctor has an idea. He or she will pump up the idea much like George W. Bush pumped up the war in Iraq. A picture is painted. As we begin to lift the curtain on reality we only expose the things that look like the picture. Those who understand this process will be rewarded and given speaking roles in the company. That means no lab coats. The lab coat people are to be young and easily manipulated. None of them should stick around for long due to the obvious wool being pulled over the eyes of the investors.

PhDs learn how to write grants. They learn how to talk in meetings. It is imperative that a PhD contributes to conversations that are started by those above them. To remain silent would mean that you are not understanding the genius of the higher ranking person. You need that person to advance your career. You must always agree with the higher ranking person but in subtle ways. If they say the earth is flat, you must suggest ways of not driving off the edge. Thus, agreement can be assumed and a suggested advancement of the idea is duely noted. If you are concerned that the false assumption will bite you in the ass further down the road, you are not thinking clearly. You, and all other important people will not be around for the fallout. That's the genius of PhD advancement. You must take on more and more responsibility. When a project destined to fail enters its final stage you make sure it is not high on your list of priorities. You've delegated and your people failed. They may need to be let go. That is the courage of leadership. Some might call it audacity but it does take courage to set up people and convince them that only they can save a project.

When a company fails, the leadership takes what is left over and move on. This is not failure. This is called learning. It takes courage to put yourself at the top of a company chain of command. People expect great profits. You have learned a thing or two when a company goes down. The next company might fail but it won't be your fault. They are expected to fail. You must convince investors that you are the only thing in between certain failure and the big bucks. You'll do everything you can, but there is risk in investments.

And that is the lesson of becoming a successful PhD. You must get where there is no risk. You can make a fortune and never produce one single drug. You can work for one sinking ship after another. Never put yourself in a position where failure can be attributed to something you thought up. Rule number one: Stay out of the lab. Them cells and that DNA can't be told what to do. They are leading all of us and our future as a species. Nevermind that and get yourself into a position of as little risk as possible.

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