Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse Blog

Alicia Varughese 09-02-2016

How to Venture Into the Business World from Academia

Networking, networking, networking! Chances are, if you’re a college student, you’ve heard this before. The best way to set yourself up for success after graduation is through networking with professionals within your desired field. Of course, this is a very important step to transition from academia to the business world, but there are several other tactics one should keep in mind when trying to break in to the professional world of life sciences.

Since starting my role as an Executive Associate at the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse (PLSG), Western Pennsylvania’s only pure life sciences investment firm, I have had the opportunity to attend several life sciences networking events throughout the city where I’ve fielded questions from many recent grads who are eager to break into the business side of the field. You might think that these students, who have put in the time to pursue such a challenging degree, would be able to do this with ease, but that is not always the case! I can assure you, it is not as easy as it may seem. As someone who has successfully done so, I’d like to share a few myths associated with the field and ways to combat the fears and limitations you may have.

MYTH:   “A researching role is my only option as a Life Sciences Professional.”

FACT:  Many Masters and PhD level graduates have a preconceived notion that their only option after graduate studies is a post-doc which leads into either more research or a teaching profession. This is simply not true. If you’re ready to throw in the towel on research following your collegiate career, there are many options out there to choose from. Here are a few of them: Tech transfer, patent law, investment analysis, market research, competitive intelligence, entrepreneur, etc. Remember to do your research to find the right career fit for you.

MYTH:  “I’ve spent my collegiate career thus far with a very niche focus. I worry my experience won’t be enough to land a job and that I do not have the business skills necessary to succeed.”

FACT:  You’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money pursuing this specialized degree but you feel you are missing out on learning business-focused skills. This is a common problem with many students on the life science track. I would strongly encourage that you take up a few business courses during your time at school to brush up on your business skills. In addition, you can glean valuable experience from researching and learning on your own, networking, volunteering at university-based business consulting programs and internships. At the PLSG, we offer a year-round internship program to encourage students to pursue positions in order to gain necessary experience and work skills.

MYTH:  I love my STEM degree, but I don’t think I’ll be able to get a job with it. There aren’t a lot of options for me.

FACT:  Nonsense! The STEM field is growing and at a rapid pace. And it pays well too. The average wage for all STEM occupations is $85,570, nearly double the average for all occupations. My advice to you would be to pay close attention to the changing trends in the industry. Job opportunities rise and fall, so you must be nimble and be able to change with the tide.

MYTH:  I don’t need to network. I’ll earn my degree and everything will fall into place.”

FACT:  I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again; network, network, network! Networking is crucial. Based on personal experience, I have found the power of networking to be the most effective way of connecting with people for job opportunities and gaining an understanding of the life sciences career track. In addition, LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool that many people do not use to its fullest potential. I recommend connecting with people whom you aspire to be like. The more you can leverage the power of networking, the more it will be clear for you about the path you plan to take. Even better, try to connect with professionals and students who have taken the same leap as you plan to take.

Now that we’ve dispelled a few myths associated with a career in life sciences, I hope that you feel confident in pursuing your career! Remember, do not feel limited. There are many ways you can cross the bridge from academia to the business world.