I have a reader here in the Northeast with a question about taking on a new job that I thought would be of some general interest. She’s been in the industry for a few years now, working at a pretty large site, but (as with many others), layoffs have sent her to a smaller company in another area.
Much smaller. The new gig has a dozen or so chemists on staff, and while it’s true that there are smaller places still than that, it’s still going to be quite a switch after BigCo. There aren’t many direct reports; it’s a pretty flat organization. She has several questions. For one thing, if it becomes necessary to seek another spot in a few more years – and with a site that size, that’s always in the cards – how will this job look on the c.v.? Can this be turned into a step up, or will it always look like a holding action? Second, how to adjust from having all kinds of equipment and instrumentation to the rather more Spartan lab environment of a small outfit?
My take on the first question is “It depends on what you do with it”. Duties in a place that size are going to be much different than in a large department, and you have to try to make sure that you take on things that will help out your career. You’re probably going to have a lot more say in how things are going than you did back in the old place, so make the most of it. You may, depending on how they’ve been hiring, even be one of the more experienced med-chem people there. If that’s so, try to get over your unease at the thought of someone listening to your advice and become a resource. There may be several of your fellow chemists who’ve never had the chance to see how a big research department does things.
Of course, some of those big company habits may be things you’ll have to shed. There’s no place to hide in a department that small, so you’ll have to step up and produce. You’ll also, after a suitable grace period, need to be heard in meetings – no more sitting in the back of the room, because the room isn’t going to be so crowded. And you’ll have to get used to decisions being made with less data, and in less time, than you’ve had to before. But that’s something that can be portrayed in a good light if you move on later.
The lack of direct reports for you will be something you’ll have to watch out for if it comes time for another job, as you’ve probably already figured. By that time, you’ll be at a level where people will expect you to be able to handle some people reporting to you. The best advice I can give you is, if it comes to that point, to sell/spin it as having had to work in a matrix-style organization, where you had to give some orders without line responsibility. Doing that well isn’t easy, so it’s valuable to show that you can.
The equipment problem is a harder one to deal with. Instrumentation withdrawal is nasty, but there’s no way to deal with it other than going cold turkey. You may feel at first like you don’t have enough equipment to do your job, but look around you: your colleagues are (presumably) doing theirs. Emulate their techniques, if they seem to be working for them. (If and when you move on, you can try to make people draw the conclusion that if you could accomplish as much as you did under those conditions, you must be pretty good). And try not to complain too much, or talk too much about what you had back in the old shop – it won’t make you feel much better, and it’ll definitely make other people around you feel worse (and lower their opinions of you).
Again, you may feel as if you’re being asked to move things along with less certainty than you’ve had to before, but the flip side of that is that the projects themselves will (or at least should!) move faster. If you find that things are really being run in a scientifically irresponsible manner, of course, you’ll need to either try to change that or (more likely) move on before things fall apart, but that’s an unlikely case. (And some pretty marginal projects and decisions can be found in the big departments, too, for that matter, as you’ve probably already noticed). All in all, you’ve most likely got a better chance of having your fingerprints on a clinical candidate than you did back at BigCo, so make the most of it. And keep your contacts with your old colleagues, and keep your resume updated, which is good advice no matter where you are.