About this Author
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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« Two Weeks Off | Main | Now With Ethyl Mesylate! »

July 8, 2007

Starting Up Again

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Posted by Derek

I'm back! This entry comes from temporary quarters in Cambridge, which will be my home for about another six weeks. The second half of that period will find the rest of my family in here with me, but for now it's just me, an internet connection, and some take-out souvlaki.

Going to work tomorrow will be a novel experience, after a solid five-month break. But this isn't the first time I've changed jobs, and like everyone else in the industry, I've seen a lot of turnover around me. Both vantage points have suggested some avoidable mistakes when starting a new position.

First off is badmouthing your old company. It's tempting - I mean, after all, you left the place for a reason, right? And isn't the new place so much better, and shouldn't you make everyone happy by telling them so? Actually, no, you probably shouldn't. There's a real risk of coming across as someone who does nothing but moan, and most labs have enough of those folks around already. Keep in mind that you just started, and that people haven't heard you talk much. You don't want your co-workers to realize that half the things you've said so far are complaints. Hold your fire.

You can screw up in the opposite direction, too, of course. (You always can, a general principle I try never to forget). Talking about how things were so much better back at the old gig won't win you any friends either, obviously. Sure, maybe it was easier to order supplies, or get instrument time, or whatever. But no one cares, and you shouldn't either.

This it-was-better stuff turns, very quickly, into another method of complaining, and we're back to the same place as with the first mistake. My view is that grousing about work conditions is something that should be done only among peers that you've worked with for a good while, people who know you and have seen that you can get the job done. At a new job, you don't have anyone in that category yet, so it's better to keep quiet. And anyway, how silly does it look to start in on how things are done when you haven't done anything yet?

Other mistakes: coming on as if you're the answer to everyone's prayers (because that, of course, makes the inference that everyone was doing it wrong until you showed up - if you really are the answer to said prayers, that'll become apparent on its own pretty soon, wouldn't you think)? And its opposite - starting off so quietly that people start to wonder why you were hired in the first place. It's normal (and a good idea) to shut up and listen for a while at first, but that can be taken too far. Eventually, you'll need to speak up.

Well, I won't be making these particular mistakes, I hope, but that just reserves me the right to make some others. At any rate, it's good to get back to research, and no mistake about that.

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: How To Get a Pharma Job | Life in the Drug Labs


1. bob on July 8, 2007 9:06 PM writes...

welcome back and good luck with the new digs.

so what is the new co. name?...we are all wondering.....

and you are so right on the money with comments about "the old place"..better to keep one's own counsel on such matters...

anyway, welcome back..

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2. KinasePro on July 8, 2007 9:59 PM writes...

Hey! Best of luck, and yah - you pick a name yet?

I vote: med-chem foundry

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3. milkshake on July 8, 2007 11:01 PM writes...

In my previous company people were treated in rather nasty ways and there was a great amount of stress. I was suggesting to my superiors few little things they may want to change, to make the lab people happier - but I guess they did not really care and they got rather annoyed with me, for comparing them with the previous job. I did not win friends among management there.

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4. Pharmacoepidemiologist on July 9, 2007 12:47 AM writes...

Happy landings! It's always nice to get on with life. I'm also looking forward to the name. If you're working at the pharmaceutical company Novartis, doesn't that mean you're writing from the municipality Cambridge? (I hope somewhere there's an ad copywriter who's cringing.)

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5. Doc Bushwell on July 9, 2007 5:33 AM writes...


Congratulations on the new job! Re; laying low and not complaining - sound advice from someone who has obviously made previous moves.

At any rate, it's good to get back to research, and no mistake about that.

Color me envious. I'm in the midst of midyear reviews and metrics .

- Doc B., former Cantabrigian.

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6. tom bartlett on July 9, 2007 9:08 AM writes...

Best of luck, Derek. I have enjoyed the start-up experience more than my previous Big Pharma gig. And I loved that job and would have stayed with it, given the choice.

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7. Joseph on July 9, 2007 9:09 AM writes...


back to passionate area!! That's just nice. Have a great time and good luck.

Your advices are worthy and valuable too.

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8. Kent on July 9, 2007 10:15 AM writes...

Bury yourself in interesting research, and the rest will probably take care of itself.

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9. Roadnottaken on July 9, 2007 2:49 PM writes...

out of curiosity, Derek, do you get recognized as the author of this blog much? If a new employee showed up that just happened to write a very popular blog about his daily experiences I might be a bit reluctant to talk to him at first...

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10. Kramylator on July 10, 2007 7:17 AM writes...

Hey, Derek..........It must feel great being able to earn a paycheck again. Best of luck in the new situation in Canbridge!
Nicely thought out piece of advice.
Continue to be your old self; your new employer is very fortunate to have added you to it's ranks.

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11. Jerry Murry on July 10, 2007 12:38 PM writes...

Don't get the hippo disease. If you look carefully at a hippo, they have VERY small ears and a giant mouth. I have changed jobs a couple of times and your advice is right on. Good luck.

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12. Anonymous on July 10, 2007 2:08 PM writes...

Mmmmm... take-out souvlaki. Moody's Falafel Palace?

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13. Anonymous BMS Researcher on July 12, 2007 6:05 AM writes...

Best wishes at your new job, Derek, and I do look forward to following your transition on your blog, especially since I've been with my current employers for long enough that to lack recent career transition experience. I have learned a few things watching my wife's fairly recent search (she started with her current company in summer 2005). And in late summer 2006, when morale at BMS reached its lowest point in recent memory over the Plavix debacle I had a number of sessions with a career counselor preparing myself just in case...

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