Author Topic: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science  (Read 1164 times)

YummyRaisins

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Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« on: December 18, 2021, 09:38:24 PM »
Looking for some sage advice on how to deal with what feels to me like career stagnation.

I'm 37, married with 2 kids, and I've been at my current company for 5 years. It is the first and only job I've held since transitioning from academia (wrapped up a postdoc and decided I'd had enough). The company has a lot going for it: AFAIK a very good salary, bikeable commute, good benefits, plenty of PTO, and generally a healthy work culture, though perhaps not so much in my specific case. I would like to find a way to stay, but that feels untenable in my current position.

The role I was hired for is product development and my experience with it for the for the first few years was great. I had the independence to choose how I conducted my work and my interactions with other groups was collaborative. My supervisor was and continues to be an easy-going person that doesn't give much constructive feedback, the reviews are always positive. The company felt flat then in the sense that there wasn't much of a hierarchy, but that has changed with rapid growth spurred by COVID.

I'm at a point now where I look around the company and try to imagine where I'll be in another 5 years. Increasingly, the impression I get is that I'll be doing the same thing I'm doing now, but with more people thinking I report to them. This stems from vague boundaries between research and development at my company and the fact that my easygoing boss tends to let others dictate to us what we should be doing and whether or not we're doing it well enough. From my perspective being in product development is denigrated by research, though we're all equally credentialed. This bothers me, maybe inordinately so, and I've let my supervisor know. I don't expect them to do anything about it as this arrangement works for them since they aren't knowledgeable in the specific scientific field we work in.

Within my division and pretty much company-wide there isn't much potential for upward mobility. There are promotions, but they are rewards for time served that come with a pay bump, but no increase in responsibility. I'll eventually hit a wall and there is no clear path to a manager/team leader role. There isn't a ton of movement in terms of people leaving for other companies, which means management shakeups are rare.

I've been checking our recent job postings and most of the openings are entry level or positions I'm over-qualified for. There is one in business development, but I'm unsure if it's something they would consider me qualified for as I have no business background. I also don't know who to talk to at my company about transitioning to a different role. If word were to make it back to my supervisor or division head, I imagine that would result in some awkward conversations.

As for FIRE aspirations, the Case Study Spreadsheet suggests I'm about 8 years out. I don't know that I plan to stop working altogether once I hit that mark. Even so, I'd prefer to not be miserable while I'm on the path.


DaTrill

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Re: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2021, 12:23:16 PM »
This is the corporate structure of many mid-tier slow growing companies.  My experience nearly 20 years ago in this kind of organization resulted in more matrix level corporate supervisor strategies over time.  Time at current rank (some random number based on what level you were hired and how long you were at that level) was more important than any merit.  I was offered a job in the organization but was told my salary would only increase $10k as opposed to 3x as this was the max raise for someone at my time/number.  In that organization, there was no way to navigate the HR rules in place. I left and moved to another industry.  The decision to leave was great for me.

These kinds of structures favor people like your supervisor who just go along and punch their timecard.  I never understood promoting marginal people with 20 years' experience over star performers with three years, but this is the common corporate policy (my experience).  I'd investigate new fields or punch your timecard for eight years.  Going to another company in the same field will likely result in the same outcome despite all corporations having "Unique cultures, family atmospheres, reward innovations, blah blah "           

bryan995

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Re: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2021, 07:38:26 AM »
We are at a similar point in life.  After academia, I stayed at my first company for 5 years. It was about 3 years too long. I switched orgs after the first 3 years (R&D) and moved to a product development focused group. Both groups had the same core issues. It was the company culture, dictated from the top down. Yuck. I also felt the struggles between PD and R&D. Perhaps it was by design... competing teams with >two shots on goals?

What you describe is unfortunately all too common.  The “old timers” run the show, and generally hire externally into their > director level ivory tower.  There is no incentive to rock the boat. You either join the “yes man” manager culture, punch the clock for a few years and await your turn or you stay as a lowly “doer”.  You have to fight for promotions, but generally it is just not worth it. More work, more responsibilities for 7% increase in base salary? No thank you :)

I and about 80% of the top performers have since left.

The fact that you say no one has recently left worries me. The field is booming right now and talent is incredibly hard to find.

Generally you need to be moving companies every 2-3 years. An external hire will always be preferred over an internal hire due to having additional experience / perspective. It is also the only way to keep salary & compensation competitive. The longer you stay put the more your comp shifts to the left of the distribution. From my experience, if you are not seeing a 15-25% increase every year you will fall behind compensation wise. Promotions should be every 9-15 months. Up until director / senior director where it then either can take longer, or again you jump ship to force the change :)

So if I were you - start looking and find another role elsewhere.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2021, 09:28:08 AM by bryan995 »

Askel

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Re: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2021, 09:29:32 AM »
Not everything has to have the relentless "up or out" advancement culture of academentia.   

It's perfectly OK (although maybe increasingly unusual) to show up to the same job for 20 years or more.   Sounds like you sort of like the place, and if everything goes according to plan, it'll be optional for you in 8 years anyway. 

YummyRaisins

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Re: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2021, 06:11:14 PM »
Thanks for the responses everyone.

This is the corporate structure of many mid-tier slow growing companies.  My experience nearly 20 years ago in this kind of organization resulted in more matrix level corporate supervisor strategies over time.  Time at current rank (some random number based on what level you were hired and how long you were at that level) was more important than any merit.  I was offered a job in the organization but was told my salary would only increase $10k as opposed to 3x as this was the max raise for someone at my time/number.  In that organization, there was no way to navigate the HR rules in place. I left and moved to another industry.  The decision to leave was great for me.

These kinds of structures favor people like your supervisor who just go along and punch their timecard.  I never understood promoting marginal people with 20 years' experience over star performers with three years, but this is the common corporate policy (my experience).  I'd investigate new fields or punch your timecard for eight years.  Going to another company in the same field will likely result in the same outcome despite all corporations having "Unique cultures, family atmospheres, reward innovations, blah blah "           

Your description of the corporate structure is pretty spot on, though the people in my immediate vicinity reached their positions through a combination of luck in life and timing (supervisor is a legacy, for example).

Your point about moving within the org and not getting the pay bump the position deserves is something I hadn't considered. This makes staying less desirable.

The fact that you say no one has recently left worries me. The field is booming right now and talent is incredibly hard to find.

Generally you need to be moving companies every 2-3 years. An external hire will always be preferred over an internal hire due to having additional experience / perspective. It is also the only way to keep salary & compensation competitive. The longer you stay put the more your comp shifts to the left of the distribution. From my experience, if you are not seeing a 15-25% increase every year you will fall behind compensation wise. Promotions should be every 9-15 months. Up until director / senior director where it then either can take longer, or again you jump ship to force the change :)

There are a few factors that probably contribute to the low turnover. I'm admittedly naive here, but the company generally is a good place to work for the reasons I laid out in the OP. We're also relatively remote and opportunities in the area are not nearly as plentiful as in Boston. If you move out this way to work here, you're locked in. You'll have to move back to the city for other opportunities or suffer an awful commute. This makes hiring very difficult especially given the current market for talent. It's also the biggest reason why I would avoid moving, if possible.

I've heard the advice about moving every 2-3 years, but times were good and I was complacent. 15-25% raises every year sounds unbelievable. Yearly merit raises are capped at 6%, and few get that. Maybe I just don't know my value well enough. One recruiter I did talk to said the number I needed to even consider a move was a director-level salary. This gave me that golden handcuffs feeling, but he likely was BSing me. Salary data sure would be helpful.

Not everything has to have the relentless "up or out" advancement culture of academentia.   

It's perfectly OK (although maybe increasingly unusual) to show up to the same job for 20 years or more.   Sounds like you sort of like the place, and if everything goes according to plan, it'll be optional for you in 8 years anyway. 

I vacillate between what you describe and then feeling like I've outgrown my role and can't imagine doing it forever. I'll have a good stretch of days/weeks where I'm doing my thing, generating data, attending meetings and giving reports. Then I'm pulled back to reality when somebody who isn't my supervisor critiques my work, directs me to do something (usually R&D), my results are shared without me being credited, or I'm not invited to an obviously relevant meeting with a big customer.


bryan995

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Re: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2021, 07:36:10 PM »
Are you more-so on the wet-lab side? Or the dry-lab?
PM me if you want to share more details on your current level/comp.  I can offer what I know!

A (good) director at a large CA biotech is making in the 250k base + 30% bonus + 800k/4 range.

There are plenty of good places to work.  I'd jump ship ASAP :)
The days of staying docile at a single company for 20+ years are dead!



« Last Edit: December 20, 2021, 07:53:17 PM by bryan995 »

YummyRaisins

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Re: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2021, 08:56:11 PM »
I appreciate all the assistance.

I'm primarily wet lab. Focus is on new product and application development, but lately I've been getting pulled into assay development and CDMO project management.

Management experience is what I lack, and I'm not going to get it in my current role.


ObviouslyNotAGolfer

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Re: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2021, 10:12:34 PM »
Your biggest goal should be to get past the HR people, because they seem to know nothing in this field (my field, although I took the academic route after becoming extremely disgusted). I have known people with stellar credentials--zillions in grants, loads of Science/Nature papers, etc, etc. HR will not give them the time of day. Then, they will hire someone's little sparkle-pony with 1/10 of the credentials. This field seems very much about who you know! Even more than most others. Get past HR and you may stand a chance.

I am not recommending this for you, but I am glad I stuck it out in academia because, while my salary is likely not comparable to yours, I have a ton of freedom, free time, and I love my job. I have no boss--just a Dept Chair I try to avoid! I have time for side projects like writing a book, photography, travel, etc. After a few years of kind of hating it, I am thriving and starting to reap some very nice rewards (including financial)! I also will collect a nice pension, and I look forward to retiring early and moving to Ireland (I am a dual U.S./Irish citizen)
« Last Edit: December 20, 2021, 10:23:16 PM by ObviouslyNotAGolfer »

YummyRaisins

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Re: Early/Mid Career advice - Industry Life Science
« Reply #8 on: December 21, 2021, 12:31:32 PM »
Thank you for the suggestion. I did a lot worrying about getting through HR to the hiring manager when originally applying for jobs. It's funny, almost immediately after I was hired, recruiters started cold-calling me where before I couldn't get a reply to my applications.

That has ramped up recently, but most of the time the recruiter gives almost no details about the role without a phone call first, which I find irritating.

Deciding to leave academia was tough, but the aspects of it that I enjoyed were outweighed by those that I disliked.

Finding a new role isnt something I worry about. It's whether or not I should be looking at all. How will moving affect my family? Will I be happier with fewer bosses, but more responsibility?

 

Wow, a phone plan for fifteen bucks!