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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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September 27, 2005


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Posted by Derek

There are some pretty big cultural divides in the drug industry. The preclinical research people and the development people always think that they have one of the biggest, but that's not true. They do argue a lot, but the arguments are phrased in terms that each side understands. "Your synthetic route can't provide enough compound" "You're testing at too high a multiple for a toxicity dose" - these are worthy points to disagree on. Someone's going to win, and someone's going to lose, and both parties will know it, and they'll know why. That's why the discussions are so intense.

Try the space between marketing and research - now there's a canyon for you. During the periodic attempts to get these two groups to work with each other, each one feels as if it's making First Contact with an alien race. Marketing is such an imprecise world compared with the physical sciences (which are so cut-and-dried compared to marketing, as far as they're concerned) that sometimes they just talk past each other.

But for real extraterrestrials (as far as the research folks are concerned), you just have to go to HR. Of course, they feel exactly the same about us. Part of that is because the scientific habit of asking "Hmmm. . .I wonder if that's true?" doesn't make many HR presentations go more smoothly. I'll admit that it's hard to get real data on how well most human resources initiatives and techniques actually work, but you wouldn't know that to talk to some of the more enthusiastic practitioners. What's interesting is how they're generally just as perky about the next managerial fad, which generally comes along every three to five years.

I'm certainly not saying that scientists would be any good at the HR jobs, although we'd probably be better at theirs than they would at ours. Still, putting us in charge of problems that can't be settled by collecting more data probably isn't a good idea. Then there's the personality problem. Even though the real crazies are found mostly in academia, plenty of industrial researchers have people skills that need some fine sandpaper work and a coat of rustproof primer. No, you don't want a bunch of chemists and biologists running that shop. . .but just who do you want running it?

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. Kay on September 28, 2005 7:21 AM writes...

Please tell us more about the relationship between the marketing tribe and the R&D tribe. How has low NME productivity affected the relationship?

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2. JSinger on September 28, 2005 10:01 AM writes...

Part of that is because the scientific habit of asking "Hmmm. . .I wonder if that's true?" doesn't make many HR presentations go more smoothly.

There's also the utter inability of some scientists to grasp the most basic notions of dealing with money. At my old job, there was a guy who was convinced that the key to financial success was exploiting every angle to max out his medical savings account, like he was going to win a prize if he managed to be sicker than anyone else.

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3. tim mayer on September 28, 2005 10:06 AM writes...

I think what we have here is a lack of communication. All of us are behaving in a matter inconsistant with company policy. Hostile attitudes are not something found in the gene pool. It is a learned trait. Now, your continued success at this company depends on your abililty to create profitable products.
So shut up and get back to work!

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4. Timothy on September 28, 2005 10:53 AM writes...

No, you don't want a bunch of chemists and biologists running that shop. . .but just who do you want running it?

Not the perky blonde girl with the BA in Business Management either, although she's usually nicer to look at that the scientists.

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5. milo on September 28, 2005 8:05 PM writes...

You know, I would love a chemist in HR! I am currently hunting for a job (org. chem. based), and boy, I am frustrated with all the online application systems. I know I am going into some awful database that was set up by some HR guy who might not even be able to spell PhD. It would be nice if I knew someone on the other end could understand my resume, and that I did not have to cram it with "keywords"!

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6. Nathan on September 29, 2005 12:41 PM writes...

I would be interested to know how many scientists are hired from these "HR resume engines" and how many are hired because they were refered by a current employee. I have sent dozens of resumes over the years to these HR web sites at major pharma companies and have never heard anything more than an automated email reply. My only sucess was by sending my resume to someone I actually knew at the company. I want to know: why even bother running these big resume databases if no one is hired from them??

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7. Timothy on September 29, 2005 3:56 PM writes...

why even bother running these big resume databases if no one is hired from them?? To keep somebody in HR from having to throw away all those resumes.

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8. qetzal on September 29, 2005 5:57 PM writes...

OTOH, there's at least one situation where things are inverted. When it comes to performance appraisals, it's the HR guys insisting on objective, measurable outcomes, and us research types who argue that science is too unpredictable to quantify in that way.


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9. somebody somewhere on October 2, 2005 5:24 PM writes...

HR is the least of my troubles at the mid-sized company I work at. It's all the Sarbanes-0xley related hassles the accounting department's putting us through right now that really bring me down.

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