Industry Science: Pivoting Career Trajectory In A Company

Scientific industry companies, like pharmaceutical companies, can be massive networks that connect many fascinating departments and fields. For example we might find ourselves in a computational biology department but there are many other departments including statistics, drug modeling, molecular biology, medicinal chemistry, etc. Even further beyond this research scope are departments such as regulatory affairs, business development, marketing, supply chain, and the list goes on.

Being in such a highly interdisciplinary environment presents some unique opportunities to learn about fields we may not have much experience with. Sometimes this even leads to new and exciting career interests. So the big question we can often ask ourselves about industry is what this type of exposure and career switching can look like at a company? How easy is it to switch and how much do companies support it? In this post we will explore some perspectives on these questions.

We can begin with the career pivot path we probably know most about, and then talk about some that are a bit less well known. Probably the most visible path to pivoting careers or specialties is to get a new job somewhere else. Projects in industry can be highly interdisciplinary and we sometimes identify new and exciting fields we want to pursue for the next stage of our career. Getting some experience related to something like (for example) regulatory affairs can open opportunities to apply for jobs in the space and join a new company and team. Sometimes this happens internally as well, and people pivot from something like a research position to a regulatory position within the same company.

A somewhat different path that I didn’t know about until I joined industry is “career rotations”. In this case, a person’s management and company can support them to do a rotation in a different department so that they can learn about that space. For example we may be a scientist that is really fascinated by the business development side of the company. Perhaps that would be a great future career path? We can talk with our management, the business development team management, and other relevant parties and get their support for a rotation (these rotations usually seem to last a month or two). Once everything is lined up, we pivot from our scientific group and spend our (paid) full time in the new business development group, learning all about what they do and seeing how much we like it. At the end of the rotation term we can decide between returning to our scientific group with new understanding of the greater company, take a position in the new business development group if they have an opening, or if there is no opening we can take an opportunity at another company. This can be a really great way for companies and management to support the career development and education of their teams, and it can result in great career opportunities.

Yet another way companies support the freedom to pivot careers is through official management accelerator programs. This is another one I didn’t really know about until after I started working in industry. In this case, companies will accept a cohort of individuals (some existing employees and some external applicants) and provide dedicated development support and opportunities that allows them to take on higher level positions in new divisions of the company. One opportunity at my current company is called the General Management Accelerator Program (GMAP). As online material points out (read more here and here), this program supports employee career pivots through visibility to the company CEO, development of general skills important for the company, and support for two rotations (one domestic and one international, both being twelve months in duration).

When working in industry, there can be a lot of career development and pivot opportunities. This can range from opportunities to learn on projects, to rotation programs, to management accelerator programs. If we are looking at prospective position at a company, it can be really valuable to ask about what opportunities are offered (remember, different companies can be very different) and how supportive management can be. If we are already in industry, it’s important to keep thinking about where we are going with our careers and what development opportunities we might want to pursue.

Did I miss something? Any questions? Do you have more perspective to add? Please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!

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