Lab to Office: Advice for Your Professional Transition

Whether you have made up your mind, are curious or just stumbled here, reading this article will provide you with more insight about how to transition from chemistry to business. Once you make that decision to leave lab, prepare yourself for the next steps to ensure an easy and efficient transition.

UTILIZE YOUR RESOURCES & NETWORKS

When I made my transition, I was lucky enough to have many resources to help me make the appropriate move confidently. Utilizing academic advisors and professors is a great resource when you’re still in school. It is important to not only talk to those working in the College of Science, but also journey over to the College of Business to learn more about opportunities outside of lab. Do you want to work in management, marketing, operations, sales, design, or product development? This is the time to ask for help determining your future direction. For those still in school, you have FREE resources that will provide insight into industry and disciplines. For those out of school, you can utilize your immediate network of coworkers, family and friends, who can connect you to the right person in the field you’re most interested in.

In fact, don’t just utilize your network at school and work, but also utilize your network online. LinkedIn is a great tool to help connect you to those who can provide guidance and even a referral for a job. I would also look online at professionals with the job title I want (product manager or technical marketing manager), working at a company I’d like to work for to see what skills they have and the terminology they use in their profile.

PRO TIP: Get introduced to recruiters. I’ve had some amazing talks with recruiters in the biotech industry that have directed me to the positions they thought I would like and they are always spot on!

PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE

Do you attend local, regional, or national conferences? This is the time you should!

My first national ACS conference was in Indianapolis, Fall 2013. I wasn’t presenting, but was so excited to learn more about current research and meet more likeminded scientists. I had no idea that the ACS had so many resources, from career counselors to local executives, to committee members who can help you find opportunities. My coworker and I were very persistent and ended up meeting a group of students involved in the Younger Chemists Committee (YCC). From there, we decided to create a local YCC section and get more involved in local programming. It was the start to my career in the YCC and my transition out of the lab, and it wouldn’t have happened without attending ACS conferences. I also have met many professional contacts that have helped me get my foot in the door in industry.

Although I attend ACS meetings twice a year, I try to attend local events as well. I am involved in my local section in San Francisco where I get to meet successful, driven chemists who have the potential to mentor me or can provide contacts for those interested in mentoring. Don’t know how to get involved? Check out the YCC website to find your local section. If you don’t have a local section, contact us and we’ll help you set one up! (info@ycc-acs.org; http://ycc.sites.acs.org)

Finally, get involved in organizations outside of chemistry and science. One great organization for women is HBA, Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association. This is a great place to network and meet new people in the biopharmaceutical and healthcare industries. Another great organization is Toastmasters, which prepares you for public speaking, such as leading work meetings and giving presentations. Interested in something else? Look online to find some other interesting organizations and networking events in your area. Platforms like Meetup.com make it easy to find events near you in your area of interest.

LEARN SKILLS OUTSIDE OF YOUR DISCIPLINE

One of the best things I’ve done for my career is take classes in the College of Business. I focused so much on chemistry in school that I never really thought about my career outside of chemistry. My school offered a “Business Minor” to allow for science and engineering students to receive additional skills for their future careers. And you know what? This was the best decision of my career! I ended up completing the entire program to receive my MBA. Microsoft Excel and Adobe InDesign were software programs I had never really learned before these classes. Have you worked with Asana, Basecamp, Trello, Salesforce or Slack? These are other great tools that the industry uses that will help you prepare for most industry positions.

Expand your knowledge outside of chemistry; learn more about valuable skills in your field of interest such as data science, project management or computer programming. Online courses through edX and Coursera help you learn more about the foundation of the skills you’ll need for your office job. Lynda.com is another great source that actually teaches you how to use applicable programs and software, such as Adobe and Microsoft.

Finally, remember that a chemist outside of the lab can be unstoppable; you have the skills to analytically think and strategize, while being able to communicate technical information effectively.

Jamie Schwarzbach, MS, MBA

Article by Jamie Schwarzbach, MS, MBA

Jamie Schwarzbach is a Product Marketing Manager at Clinical Synergy Formulas, a research-based dietary supplement company in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her MS degree in chemistry and MBA from the University of Nevada, Reno and her BS degree in chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is an associate member of the national YCC in the communications subcommittee.