So, it’s been a while… about 3 years actually. A lot has changed.
I left my post-doc to try something different. I started to worry that the only reason I was “doing science” was that science was all I knew. I had been working in a lab since I was 18 years old, with an actual research position since I was 20. Maybe instead of a mid-life crisis, I was having a mid-career crisis. Is that a thing?
I took a position that might be classified as an alternative career in science, working in regulatory affairs, getting in vitro diagnostics cleared by the FDA. I had great hopes that my love for science would still be satisfied while having a greater contribution to the family bank account, regular hours, and without the fear of a lack of funding. Well, I was mostly right. The pay was pretty good – certainly better than post-doc pay. The hours were MUCH better, no midnight timepoints for me! But, I wasn’t scientifically challenged. In fact, I found myself challenging the scientists at my new company. Had they thought of this, did they consider that, etc. They didn’t appreciate it, although, my department was thankful for someone who could break through the science-ese. But I often found myself at the end of the research and development phase where these questions were just a little too late.
So, I started implementing some projects. To appease my need for academic collaboration, I started a “journal club” for my regulatory department to discuss relevant FDA guidances. I learned later that there are whole departments dedicated to this at larger pharmaceutical companies where it’s called “Regulatory Intelligence”. I also started a study group where entry level specialist could prepare together for the Regulatory Affairs Certification. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was recreating a collaborative research experience, just outside of the lab. All that distance was making me miss the lab, the research, the collaboration. I need to get back into research ASAP.
Having recently moved due to my husband’s career, I have an opportunity now to do just that. I have a little hurdle to jump, in that I need to explain my absence from the lab for a couple of years. While I might not be as up to speed on the latest and greatest breakthroughs, I don’t regret my “sabbatical” one bit. For me, it confirmed that yes, I am a scientist. That is what I am meant to do. Also, I was able to build enormously on those “translatable” skills that you hear about all the time but aren’t always possible, depending on your lab. I was able to:
- Demonstrate ability to learn and apply new information outside of my specific training
- Think strategically
- Work cross-functionally and collaboratively
- Develop communication skills
- Lead meetings
- Communicate in writing
- Develop project management skills
- Perform according to a schedule
- Meet deadlines
- Create management tools for tasks, schedules, tracking progress
- Demonstrate flexibility
- Worked on multiple assignments
- Transitioned easily to new assignments according to business needs
So, if you’re thinking of trying an “alternative” career, go for it. You might just find something you love. You might just develop the skills necessary to be successful wherever you land.
Of all the “successful” people I’ve met who have shared their career paths, not one of them was ever a straight line. I zigged a couple of years ago, now I’m ready to zag.
What’s your crooked line?