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Career Transitions for Life Science Scientists

You’re going to be doing what?

The reaction of many to the confession that I was leaving a PhD behind to pursue a career in pharma recruitment went from incredulity and dismay to sympathy and compassion. What could have possibly gone so terribly wrong for me to decide to, as some would call it, leave science?

Leaving the Known

My career transition from academic research to life-science recruitment has been one of the most challenging and enriching experiences of my life. For one, it’s emotionally taxing to put a stop to the career path and profession you have identified with for a significant part of your life. However, this adjustment not only taught me very valuable lessons about myself but also about the scientific world, including how we scientists perceive ourselves as professionals.

It is a striking contradiction that people who dedicate their lives to finding the most creative answers to complex scientific questions can be surprisingly traditional when it comes to evaluating themselves as professionals. Scientists are innovative, adaptable, persistent, accurate and analytical, and yet, there’s a tendency among them/us to look at ourselves as the sum of the techniques and experiments we have learned to master, or the molecules and pathways that we’ve studied and worked on. What about all the other skills we have learned along the way?

Career Transitions for Scientists

As we develop ourselves as scientists, we are not frequently made aware of the skills that we acquire beyond the strictly science-related ones. A successful scientist needs to have great organizational skills, be a thorough project manager, an expert in multitasking and master of problem solving. What about communication? Written and verbal skills are also fundamental in science. And above everything else, scientists are creative.

A number of scientists have fully-realized careers in research, and we should all be glad and grateful that this is the case. But also, there are scientists like myself who, as passionate about science as we might be, don’t find our professional fit in science – or, rather, should I say in research – and we often don’t know where to look for alternatives, or if there are any, after years of scientific training.

In pursuit of Happiness

Asking yourself if you enjoy your job can be scary, but a truly terrifying question is asking yourself if you like where your career is going. You made it into a good school, finished a BSc, a MSc, started a PhD for which you managed to secure funding…quitting is not what you do; you’ve chosen your path and it’s too late to look back.

But it’s not. We spend one third of our lives at work. When it’s phrased that way, it can sound like an ominous burden – but it doesn’t have to be. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves more: what do I enjoy doing? What am I good at that makes me happy? Just because you have a certain academic background it doesn’t mean the obvious career choice is the right one for you. Or maybe it was at some point, but it’s not anymore. That’s okay, too.

In my “new life” as a biotech recruiter, I find it exciting to work on new positions, and learn about the fascinating new therapies that companies have developed from the ground up. I love being a part of the process of finding the right people to help them grow and succeed. I don’t feel I have left science; I feel that I’m still very much part of my community. But I feel that I’m contributing to science from a role that’s better suited for me, and that makes me happy.

So, what makes you happy?

Written by Anton Ameneiro-Alvarez, specialist in biochemistry and biotechnology recruitment. Contact Anton ( to learn how you can change your science career trajectory, or how your pharmaceutical or biotech company can recruit cutting-edge scientists and staff.