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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« The Price of Desperation | Main | Sneaking Out for an Interview »

April 19, 2005

Getting A Job

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Posted by Derek

I've been seeing quite a few candidate seminars recently, so allow me to pass on some advice to those of you out on the first-job-in-the-drug-industry trail.

First off, some presentation tips: Speak up, if possible. I hear ten too-soft seminars for every too-loud one. Don't give your talk to the screen - either the one on your laptop or the one on the wall. Give it to the people in the room. Look up, turn around, do what you need to do to give them the sense that you're passing information on to them. Find a way to sound somewhere between the extremes of here-is-my-script and gosh-I-don't-remember-this-slide.

As for that information, slides in a scientific presentation should have a medium amount of information on them. A whole slide with one big reaction on it is OK during the introduction, but you'd better fill things out a bit as you move on in the talk. Your audience can tell if you're padding things out.

But don't make the opposite error, putting all your information on one slide in One Big Table. You might think it looks more impressive that way, but it's just irritatingly illegible and uninterpretable. Spread those big data heaps out a bit into coherent piles - put all the aliphatic examples on a slide, followed by the aromatic ones, and so on. You'll find more things to talk about that way, too.

Be honest. If you have to come in with a thin talk, for whatever reason, admit it to yourself and be prepared to admit it in some fashion to your audience. Find some ways to show them that you know more than your slides can illustrate. And don't try to pretend that your results are groundbreaking and exciting, unless they really, really are. Exciting results usually speak for themselves, and your audience will know 'em when they see 'em.

Be prepared for the obvious. If you put a weird reaction up on the screen, someone is going to ask you about the mechanism. If you have some unusual results in a series, someone's going to ask you why you think they came out that way. Be ready with some ideas - it can be fine to not know the answer yet, as long as you've shown that you've thought about what the answer might be. Looking unprepared for down-the-middle pitchs like these will get you crossed off the list very quickly.

And look as if you can learn. No one comes into the drug industry knowing what they really need to know. It comes with experience, and you need to make it clear that you're the sort of person that experience is not wasted on.

That should help. I'll settle for a fee of 10% of your first year's salary, OK?

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Academia (vs. Industry) | How To Get a Pharma Job


1. jsinger on April 20, 2005 2:43 PM writes...

First, this reminds me -- I owe you a huge heap of gratitude. I've been working in pharma for about a year now, and your blog has been extremely helpful in clarifying pharma culture and practices in general, and those chemistry labs I'd otherwise know nothing about, in particular.

Now a question: What about your second or third job talk? Academic labs pretty much allow you to present anything you've done, but how do you present yourself at company B when you've been at company A for five years? What is acceptable?

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2. A Chemist on April 21, 2005 5:35 AM writes...

Interesting points, and I'll take note of them :)

However, another aspect of the interview process that I seem to be falling foul of recently is that of a "lack of experience". I don't mean general lab experience - I've been working in the lab now for the equivalent of 3 years or so, but with a lot of false starts due to short-term contract roles.

So I know the basics of chemistry (I think, and hope), and have been reasonably sucessful in getting through to interview stage. However, I seem to be failing at the last hurdle a lot, simply because I haven't done (either much, or at all) of the types of chemistry that seem to be wanted for the specific jobs I'm going for. A chemical viewpoint - it's like because I've not needed to make many secondary amines I've not had much experience in reductive aminations, or to use a more general analogy, it's like wanting a carpenter, but not hiring because they've not worked much with Oak.

I guess I could try and "wing it", which I may be able to do for a bit, but may fluster on specifics, just because I haven't had the chance to be a bit more widely read, preferring to an extent to try and improve practical skills when I am in the lab, and only reading around when I get the chance - both of which aren't easy to continue when you're not in the immediate environment.

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3. DrugHunter on April 21, 2005 12:58 PM writes...

One other piece of advice to those who get a debilitating adrenaline rush when speaking in public (you know who you are) - go to your MD and get a prescription for propranolol. A 10 or 20 mg dose an hour before your seminar will get rid of your shaky voice and hands. This drug changed my life. I had always avoided public speaking before discovering propranol. This was not only a disadvantage in interviewing, but also in performing on the job when public speaking was required. My 10 year career in the industry would not have been nearly as successful without having used propranolol.

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