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Monday, July 23, 2012

More Than a Bachelor Degree

I recently read that higher degrees in computer science are not all that desirable. The skills needed are learned during an undergrad education and mastered on the job.

I was talking with a couple Pfizer scientists. They had a task that they were going to hire a temp to tackle. They needed that person to develop a method to grow their virus in a particular cell line. They went on and on about the virus, the cell line and how the virus was going to be used. They had their narrative down to... a science. So much so that they got the okay to go out and find the temp to do this job. There was two things missing in their narrative regarding the temp. They failed to say "upstream process development" or "design of experiment".

During this talk the Pfizer scientists mentioned that they had very little written information. The new kid was suppose to show up, read their minds, and complete their project. Ultimately, his/her job would be to figure things out and train his/her superiors how to talk about his/her work. There would be a technology transfer, from the kid, to the people who need to know.

One of the reasons biotech/pharma and science in general has had such a dismal record lately is our faith. We have faith in the PhD. We have faith that the university is spitting out highly skilled minds. We have faith that a PhD is THE prerequisite for getting the job done. In the Pfizer example however, they have no intention of getting the job done. They will sit there like their advisory committee passing judgement, but not designing proper experiments.

What is the purpose of the PhD if they are not the ones designing the experiments? They certainly do not work in the laboratories. When a new biotech/pharma scientist is hired, is it assumed that they know about upstream versus downstream processes? Who trained them to be in the business? Who trained them to be leaders? Do they know how to put together a team? Can any of this be sussed out in a conversation or two that is had during the hiring process? I say no, and the only way to ensure that the PhD gets the additional training is to actually train them.

I give these Pfizer scientists little chance at creating an upstream process for their virus project. They plan on hiring a junior scientist to do all of the work. They have done a fine job of describing the Cargo that they hope for. They have pointed to the sky and explained that the Cargo will come from there. The only thing left is to find someone who knows the proper ceremony to perform. They'll know if he/she succeeds by staring at the sky and waiting.

1 comment:

Dr Skeptic said...

Dear Cargo Cult Scientist,
You rock.