Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making the Transition: Selling Science

Making the transition from academia to industry can present several challenges due to a general lack of exposure at all levels to industrial trends and processes. Being a fairly recent graduate from an MSc program (UVM, 2006) the opportunities (read challenges) are continuous reminders of the stark differences between the two career options. While contemplating career choices during our final years of graduate school, many of my peers and I discussed the prospect of leaving academia and pursuing a career path in industry via either an appropriate scientist level position or the mythical (or at least very elusive) industrial post-doc. Jump forward to 2011 (and thanks to LinkedIn), I am amazed at the variety of career paths that my colleagues have taken and how they are currently making a living; patent lawyers, product managers, technical writers, liaison officers, editors, and the occasional research scientists or professor, just to name a few.

An equally rare, exciting and challenging opportunity was presented, here in Vermont of all places, as I began a search for a career opportunity in industry. BioTek Instruments, Inc. was unknown to me and those who I attempted to query for guidance during that search, as was their business model: design, manufacture and service high-quality, high-value microplate instrumentation. So, how would a background in cellular and molecular biology and biochemistry (and previous mechanical training in the USMC) transition into supporting the company’s mission and vision? To condense a few years (and keep to the essence of a blog) in my first position, as a Technical Assistance Engineer, I supported both technical and applications based inquiries. Shortly thereafter, the leadership at BioTek took a huge leap (some say of faith), determined to close a gap in the organization, by constructing and staffing a fully capable applications laboratory to support both customers and marketing and sales.

Here is where things get interesting; what is the role of a scientist in marketing and sales. Turns out for some it is the best of both worlds, allowing one to perform both scientific experiments, many as part of collaborations, while partaking in the business (read customer facing) side of the microplate applications and instrumentation space. Here, customers take on the role of both internal customer (R&D, sales staff, and service) as well as external such as distributors, reagent manufacturers, biotech, academia and Pharma, in a global setting. More recently I had the opportunity to stand-in at a few regional events, LRIG in Boston, MA, USA and Merck Symposium, Parsippany, NJ, USA for our sales folks (in the aftermath of hurricane Irene). This was a great opportunity to discuss the current capabilities of the BioTek product line with both existing and prospective customers by talking shop; most conversations would include a relevant, recent application(s) performed on BioTek instrument(s) by one of BioTek’s multitalented applications scientists. On several occasions the conversations provided a useful learning experience as other scientists shared novel uses or methods they had employed. While under no pretenses do I consider myself a good sales person, however I certainly enjoy these types of experiences and hope I influenced at least a few future purchases.

By: BioTek Instruments, Peter J. Brescia, Jr., MSc, MBA, Applications Scientist

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