Editorial Note: We want to make sure that the mid-week pressure and long lab hours are not blurring your visions. ”Look out beyond the horizons of academia”. Are you now wondering how to do that? Where to start from? Or are you just tired of beating around the bush? We hope that this article will provide you with some perspectives.
It encompasses the basic queries and suggestion for those who are looking towards a STEM career transition. Dr. Sudhakar Bangera systematically breaks down the current job market scenario in India, talks about how to bridge the gaps between the expectations of the employer-employee, how to train oneself and discusses the major challenges faced in Indian Bio Industries.
We are sure this article will broaden your myopic vision and help you take a lead in your next venture. – Rituparna Chakrabarti
Dr. Sudhakar Bangera is currently the Vice-President (Medical Affairs), Bharat Biotech International Ltd., Hyderabad. He started his career as a medical practitioner and a teacher, later moving on to clinical research. In his 26 years of health care profession, he has successfully led several start-up companies, the US subsidiary of India and governmental organization. His main forte encompasses business and program management of clinical trials of new drugs and medical device. In this Face-to-Face interview with CSG India Team, he talks about the Indian job market for life science professionals and the employer-employee expectation gap. We highly appreciate Dr Sudhakar’s effort and time in helping the young researchers and science students to improve their stand by sharing the views of “people on the other side of the recruiting table”. His willingness to help young researchers and science students is evident from his dedication in meeting CSG members at MNR Educational Trust office at Hyderabad for half a day on a Sunday in sharing his experience and providing guidance to Scientists from academia and Industry.
Image source: Pixabay
Q1: What is the expectation gap between the students (potential employee) and the industry (employer)?
There are four entry levels: Fresher, junior, mid and senior level. Each of these four levels has different expectations. I have gone through all these four levels as an interviewee and an interviewer, hence it is easier for me to speak about it.
For a fresher just out of college, the technical skill is not the priority to be judged as there are various streams and not everything related to the job/position requirement subject is taught in the school. At Bharat biotech people with a background in life science like biotechnology, microbiology, molecular biology, medicine, pharmacy and other life science backgrounds are recruited. I have also recruited people with multiple backgrounds in my team. During the interviews, subject related questions (technical questions) are generally avoided, such questions are asked only when the interviewee himself directs them or provokes them to test his/her knowledge. In most of such instances, the interviewee tries to kill himself with his own axe. This interview pattern is only for the fresher’s. For the other cadres, technical questions are asked according to the post.
Each division particularly chooses the candidate with Masters over Bachelor’s or a Ph.D. over masters because of only one reason and that being “age”. With age comes “maturity” which is a must in any profession. This maturity is attained by the experience we get while dealing with different people. During masters the people we interact the most are the classmates (limited interactions). Whereas, during Ph.D. the interaction is at much broader level because of the diversity of the people we interact.
Ph.D.s/MDs should also realize that they don’t know everything. They will learn more as they work. There are few areas where a medical grad understands medicine and physiology and anatomy better, and a Ph.D. understands a particular peptide/ enzyme better. People need to know their limitations.
Candidates coming from overseas or from big schools have huge expectations from the company in terms of position and salary which most of the time are not met. Many times when the job is accepted by the employee they don’t stand on the agreements made during job offer, they try to diverge away from it. For e.g. ability to travel, work on weekends, completion of assignment even if it needs staying back for more hours. Many times, the more a person is experienced, the more reluctant they are to change. Instead, they try to change the system in the new job place. Another issue with experienced employee coming from MNC culture is that they need to get adapted to the new system, for e.g. business class travel in MNC company versus economy class policy in Indian companies, perks and benefits may be different, the number of workdays in a week. Occasionally employer is also at fault because they expect deliverables on time but does not facilitate the whole process to run smoothly.
Not only the job seekers have shortcomings but also the industry. From an industry point of view, it is the HR team who act as a front line in the whole process of hiring. Most of the times the HR team fails to convey the proper job description to the interviewee while contacting them. They also don’t send proper emails with all the relevant information about the interview.
Q2: Most of the life science job advertisement/ profiles in India states “M.Sc. with 3 or more year’s experience”. Why is the industry not willing to absorb Ph.D.s for the entry/junior level jobs? Does this unwillingness, to take or join the juniorlevel posts, comes from the industry or from the Ph.D.s themselves?
To answer this question we create two groups:
1) Ph.D. with zero experience, 2) Ph.D. with experience
When we take Ph.D. with experience: in such instances, the educational qualification of the person is not given value; it is the technical experience which gets the highest priority. In the West, for most of the high-level job entry, it is the years of work experience that is counted irrespective of the educational qualification. In India, the scenario is a little better because people still give some importance to the educational qualification, though the professional experience is given the priority while hiring. For a fresher, it is always soft skill rather than technical. The soft skills are generally not taught in schools and colleges.
Q3: Most of the Ph.D. face a problem of getting absorbed in a job market. Is it the real scenario in India or our approach towards the job market is different and wrong?
The Ph.D. is very focused on a specific topic and most of the time the research is on basic science which is not that useful to an employer in the industry, where the focus is more on the commercial aspect. As an employer in a fresh graduate (Ph.D.), I look for overall knowledge, non-technical skills, adaptability, and flexibility. We take people with minimum basic knowledge and then try to train/mold them according to our requirements in the industry. In this process of molding and training, not everyone reaches to our standards and expectations.
Q4: What are the different ways we can train our students so that their chances of being absorbed in the industry increases?
When a fresh grad is interviewed, the most important thing we look for is non-technical skills. One of which is communication fluency (in English) both oral and written. Many times I find the interviewees speaking in Hindi or their regional language during the interview. When I receive a CV, I first scan for the overall presentation in the CV, like font type size, margins, and layout. Most of the time I receive CV’s which are merely filled template. There is no time and energy invested into the making. Even when writing an Email for a job application, people generally don’t write a covering letter, they just mention in one line that “my cv is attached and kindly look at it”. All the basics of communication and behavior are not laid down in schools, and the schools are not paying adequate attention to this aspect of education which is reflected later on in their job applications and interviews. The graduate students should be trained more on the non-technical skills like body language, attire, transparency, follow-up on assignment, questionable on loyalty by staying long term, travel, enthusiasm.
Q5: What are the kinds of non-technical questions raised in the interview?
My way of judging people: when I interview people, for the first two minutes I go through their CV, in these two minutes I observe them for their behavior from the corner of my eye. I watch their body language, attire and communication skills.
Q6: Why in life science we get paid so less as compared to other streams
The salaries are benchmarked; they are always compared with the pre-existing employee salaries where people are working for lower salaries than offered in the job market.In the end everything boils down to “Supply and demand”!
Q7: What according to you is the apt time to transit from academia to industry for Ph.D. holders
Soon after Ph.D. is the best option. If experienced, then years of post -Ph.D. experience counts. Companies then require specific technical skills and that matters. Education then becomes obsolete. If transitioning many years after Ph.D., then salary, title, expectations become an issue.
Q8: What are the other options /allied career in science for a Ph.D. Fellow?
The answer to this question is influenced by the gender. As a woman, one prefer a job involving no travel and usually look for a stable job. They generally prefer bench work. This might be due to many reasons and family being one of it. Whereas, most of the men perceive and try to go up the corporate ladder. Based on this it depends on where one wants to go.
In the Indian perspective, many companies may not have R&D if they have it can be of two type-a generic formulation R&D or innovative pharmaceutical or vaccine R&D. Another division coming up these days is R&D for medical devices and IVD (in vitro diagnostics). The last two areas generally don’t hire Ph.D.s because the medical devices are run by engineers and IVD companies are very close knit and have 4-5 people with higher qualifications and rest of the staff is just bachelors or masters who do the groundwork.
Among the first two R&D types, in India we hardly find any pharmaceutical industry working on innovation (i.e. finding out new drugs). Most of the pharma industry runs on making “the generics” for which the industry requires only 1-2 Ph.D.s at the top position and few chemistry and pharmacy graduates. Ideally, there are not many positions in a pharma industry for a Ph.D. graduate, and the Ph.D. doesn’t like to tone down their expectations and take a job of a master’s student. My advice/suggestion to all the fresh Ph.D.s is to join at a lower level, don’t go after designation and salary. Prove your worth/caliber to the industry and climb up the ladder. The more the number of skills you present on the table the better your position becomes and then one can negotiate about the designation and salary.
In an industry, a Ph.D. is hired mostly for R&D. If they are open to new arenas and willing to acquire new skills they can also be hired for Medical & Scientific Writing, Regulatory, Project Management, Clinical Operations, QA, Data Management, Proposal Writing, Business Development or Compliance in my line of work.
The take home message
“Start from scratch, forget the education, title, show your skills, enthusiasm and passion. Work hard, let people recognize your caliber and climb the ladder”
This interview was coordinated and conducted by Dr. Hema Mohan (L), with support from Dr. Reetu Mehta (R) and Dr. Viswanadham Duppatla (Extreme R). They pursued their Ph.D. in Neuroimmunology, Microbial Genetics and Biochemistry respectively. All the three of them chose to move from bench science to alternative careers in science. Hema is presently working as a Senior Research Manager and exploring opportunities in Science Management, Reetu has explored patenting opportunities and Visu is interested in improving science education and working as COO of MNR Foundation for Research and Innovation, Hyderabad
Editor: Rituparna Chakrabarti
Rituparna pursued her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Georg-August University (Göttingen, Germany) and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Biostructural Imaging of Neurodegeneration (BIN), Göttingen. Over years, she has gained technical expertise in electron and high-resolution light microscopy, in order to study the nanostructures of specialized chemical synapses in the sensory systems. She likes to have a bird’s eye view of her undertakings and gets excited with analytics. Passionately believes in, correct simplification of science, therefore engages in different scientific communication and public outreach projects. To unwind herself she plays mandolin and eagerly looks for a corner at a coffee house to slide herself in with a good read or company.
Featured image source: Pixabay
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.