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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Unemployment In Biotechnology

Have you ever received training at your biotech job? Did you show up, get your paperwork, fill it out, and start training? How long before you were on your own.

Biotech has a personality disorder where the science employees are very protective of their image. Without the uniformity that comes from official training, each individual develops their own way of doing things. Many will wait until it's quiet time in the lab to go in and do their work. I've seen some strange techniques. Some are detrimental to others, such as adding DTT to the entire tube of running buffer. It was assumed that the DTT would remain stable. When this worker, a supervisor of lab techs, was asked if he had put DTT in the buffer, he said, "oh, sorry, I meant to label it + DTT." He didn't know that the DTT is added to just the amount you will be needing, in a separate tube so as to not contaminate the running buffer with DTT. His embarrassment led to further isolation and unsanctioned detrimental techniques.

It is these tedious little things that cause people to work in solitude. If they rise up the ranks, (the few that do) their faulty techniques become the law of their silo. And I do mean silo. Each group, whether it is in biotech, big pharma, or academia, has a leader who has his own silo. The best methods can be done by anyone, anywhere, with just a protocol. The worst can only be done in the silo, by specific people.

The unemployment issue then becomes far more confounding for those in biotech looking for work. They didn't come from the silo they are trying to climb into? They weren't that specific person who was the only one trusted to get the required results. When interviewing you end up discussing the two silos, trying to see if the belief systems are compatible.

Some places however, have a great respect for training and the uniformity that it brings. The orthogonal approach to problem solving is also represented in training. Bring in someone else to train you to do what you think you already know. While working in my silo in Seattle, we had a very smart individual from GE Healthcare who offered free consultations. Obviously he wanted us to buy GE products but you could take his advice or leave it. If you took it, you had a real piece of advice that you could test. If he was wrong you would know it. He was also intimidating due to his rapid fire responses. His questions were upper level. You needed to know the lingo and you had to answer his questions in order to get good advice. As a result our leaders got the hell out of the building when he showed up. It was the equivalent of working in the lab when no one was around. They didn't want to talk about their work, logic and the progress. They took the silo with them so no one could look in.

The last time I saw our GE friend, before I left the biz, he was on his way to train scientists in Germany, some of whom had over 30 years of experience. The Germans were paying for the training. We were turning down free chat sessions because we were embarrassed by our ignorance.

What happens then when a company has such leadership and they want to hire a new member to their team? Do they seek individuals like the GE expert or do they screen for people who fit their silo? Will there be training? The biotech method, especially small biotech, is to hire someone who is ready to go. If they make it through the interview process, they have proven themselves to be work ready. If they fail, they can be blamed for not living up to their resume. But having an excuse or scapegoat does not lead to success.

This article tells it best:
Unfortunately, American companies don't seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs.
Imagine a PhD coming out of a highly specific post-doc experience trying to get a paper published. The next thing he has to do is become a supervisor of the molecular biology group. Chances are molecular biology was only a small part of the post doc work. Furthermore it was just a means to an end. Now it's the entire job. Rather, a better supervisor would be someone with a strong grasp on Vectors NTI. If you understand the software, you understand molecular biology. Leave the dreaming and scheming up to the PhD who just finished his post doc.

In my utopian society, non PhD laboratory professionals would all enter the work for based on their degrees. Biochemistry grads would tackle different problems than cell biology grads. A career path would exist for both but they would be different, not simply biotech research associate. PhDs would use these professionals in the lab to conduct experiments that they would design. The measure of their minds would be in the results of their experiments. Even negative data should provide insight as to what to do next. There would be much cross training so that everyone would be able to understand what is going on. What we do is not rocket science. It's much easier than that at the lab level. At the living organism level it's much more complex than rocket science.

Once career paths become defined, clearly defined job descriptions will begin to exist. A recent post doc will be given a project. He will learn to communicate as a leader. He will learn the equipment and methods that will be at his disposal. The young lab staff will learn their trade then progress to supervisory roles. They will become liaisons with the PhD levels. A structure will emerge that will prevent both classes, lab and management, from the current state where the best bullshitters prevail.

We've lost the faith of the investment community. They've seen the dishonesty from researchers of all walks of life. It needs to be cleaned up. Ironically, creating more jobs that we train people to do could be the answer. If you hold the purse strings, wouldn't it make sense to change business as usual and begin to train the workforce? As Dr. Capelli says,
"It helps build the supply of human capital in the economy, as well as opening the pathway for more people to get jobs. It's an important instance where company self-interest and societal interest just happen to coincide." 


V. K. Sinha said...

jobs in biotech
Your Information is so Informative.

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