Succeeding in Biotechnology

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If you can demonstrate a history of textbook learning and solid, on-the-job work performance, you will probably get the attention of a company's hiring specialist. Yet a job quest can be lost for you or any candidate who appears to be lacking other basic ingredients needed for productive participation in biotechnology.

These qualities might be considered as intangibles-hard-to-pinpoint personality traits with which one is born. However, the aptitudes and attitudes that please employers can be acquired and maintained. Know what these behavioral characteristics are, and make them a part of the way you conduct yourself. They do make the difference between a job offer and a job rejection.

This chapter outlines worthwhile ways of thinking and the conduct that biotechnologists should practice. Many are applicable to scientists in all fields. Others are especially unique to a pioneer science that, quite frequently, expects its personnel to be flexible enough to master challenging assignments not yet covered in textbooks.



COMMUNICATING

Biotechnologists must relate to people who may have more or less sophisticated education than they do. The knack of communicating on all levels is crucial. There may be a tendency to view the wonders of biotechnology from an intellectual perspective, forgetting at times the "down-to-earth" duty of keeping customers of your company happy and informed. Biotechnologists, therefore, should possess the sales abilities to tell clients how products will help them.

Regardless if you are a scientist, executive, or marketing person in a corporate setting, you are always selling your ideas. You are attempting to convince others that your thoughts make sense. The more you enjoy and take pride in your work, the more persuasive you will be. If you can get someone to think of something in the same way you do, even if that individual does not come to your same conclusion, you have accomplished a sales job.

COOPERATING IN THE LAB

In the laboratory, be willing to endure long hours to get a job done. Have the perseverance to attack problems from a variety of angles that may or may not be taught in classrooms. Realize that when you complete an assignment, you may not necessarily be finished with it. Always look for that additional something that could be done to draw your work to a successful conclusion.

Work as a team player. Do not limit your efforts only to your assigned job. Help others in your research group with their projects.

It is commendable to be able to focus upon a goal that has been set by a research and development group. Be dedicated to the completion of the project you and your scientist peers deemed so important yesterday. But if the priority of the undertaking changes be able to adjust to keep in tune with your current needs.

Keep in mind that scientists in this field cannot do whatever they feel like doing. They must profess willingness to be controlled by some other person or group of people responsible for making the decisions as to what can be attempted.

If you are comfortable working by yourself to compile research details and then exchanging your findings with others in your company, you will do well in biotechnology. The ideal person in this field is someone who is an "introverted extrovert," who can give birth to theories but gear those ideas to the real world.

MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR EXPERIENCE

Some human resource officers and personnel agencies seek job candidates with B.S. or M.S. degrees who have solid, broad foundations in the hard sciences of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. They believe this background foretells an ability to be versatile on the job. It also indicates learned discipline that will be beneficial to a researcher as he or she moves up the job ladder of biotechnology.

College degrees are proof to employers that those who hold them are willing to be trained. This is important in an industry where on-the-job learning is the rule rather than the exception.

Of course, college diplomas also are evidence of goal set ting and fulfillment, regardless of how long it takes. In the workplace, workers who have accomplished this goal are often aggressive self-starters who are able to get their jobs done with little or no close supervision.

Surprisingly, if your resume shows you have worked in a company that has undergone change, you may be of special worth to some hiring officials. Your job record backs up your ability for adjusting to stress, something that might not be so obvious if your work history stated you worked with just one employer for a long period of time.

COPING WITH FRUSTRATIONS

Those who work in the pharmaceutical end of biotechnology admit to a presently unavoidable job frustration. They think they must resign themselves to what they call lengthy waits for new drug approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sometimes, this means that interested employees cannot see a project through from inception to completion unless they are willing to pursue such goals over a period of years.

At the same time, research scientists in all areas of bio technology live with another type of tension-competition. The competitive nature of this demanding field can contribute to job stress.

Of course, it is human nature for a person to want to make a name for him or herself in a field that is itself making history. Today's reputation is tomorrow's legend. This motivating force to excel is healthy as long as it is exhibited in a positive manner. Competition among firms in the industry should be welcomed, too. The innovation it fosters is good news for all.

The push for progress should proceed on a high moral plane. If you are a scientist reporting what you are doing, you have to communicate the truth. As with all endeavors, there is always the temptation to enhance the facts. Good scientists record what they see, whether or not it fits into their preconceived theories.

The temptation to "fudge" that some might consider is not unique to biotechnology. However, due to the nature of this embryonic science, its practitioners are vulnerable to wanting to make fast strides. It should be emphasized that intellectual honesty has not been a major problem in biotechnology, and it is not expected to be so in the future by those in the field. There, too, exists the possibility of more and more review boards coming into being to double-check research results.

BEING SENSITIVE TO PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS

Remember, biotechnologists are altering life-forms. Do not ignore an underlying popular fear that monsters might escape out of some laboratory or that some scientists deliberately release genetically engineered organisms into the environment. It is smart to stay in touch with public opinion and be able to answer it as it relates to the ethical considerations of biotechnology. Any science that is manipulating nature must be subject to public scrutiny and control such as legislation and permits.

Polls and surveys have shown that the American people have mixed feelings about biotechnology and its regulation. On the one hand, many feel that the risks of biotechnology have been greatly exaggerated, and that unjustified fears of genetic engineering have seriously impeded the development of valuable new drugs and therapies.

Yet while many Americans believe the risks and fears of genetic engineering have been exaggerated, they also ex press concern about them. Many survey respondents have agreed with statements such as "the potential danger from genetically altered cells and microbes is so great that strict regulations are necessary."

It appears that the public recognizes both the unreason able fears associated with biotechnology as well as real risks. The former are seen as having delayed significant benefits from this technology. But the public still comes down on the side of strict regulation of the field, because it perceives potential dangers from the innovations.

While relatively few members of the general public can articulate any type of specific dangers about which they have heard or read, many believe that genetically engineered products are at least somewhat likely to represent a serious danger to humans or the environment. Such perceived dangers include:
  • the creation of antibiotic-resistant diseases
  • the production of birth defects in humans
  • the creation of herbicide-resistant weeds
  • the endangerment of the food supply
  • the environmental release of organisms that mutate into a deadly disease
  • the change of rainfall patterns
  • and an increase in the rate of plant or animal extinction
THINKING CREATIVELY

Being sympathetic to the real and imagined fears ex pressed in public opinion polls and having the talent to respond to them are not the only exercises of abstract thinking you can expect as a future biotechnologist. You will be called upon to visualize many things that, on the surface, laypeople might think to be products of unbridled free thought bordering on science fiction. In reality, they are the results of care and scientific expertise.

Some biotechnologists follow a step-by-step progression and think in an orderly fashion as they move to complete their research projects. Others work best when they experience flashes of insight. It is equally acceptable in this field to methodically heed all the conventional instructions when you work with your laboratory instruments as it is to "play around" with your instruments as you experimentally follow your educated instincts to achieve assigned goals.

ACCEPTING FAILURE

Regardless of your approach, you must be ready and willing to accept failure. It comes along very often. True, it is hard to take. The joys of success, however, equal or exceed the sorrows of falling short of your expectations. You will not advance in your career if the way you think and act is hindered by an apprehension of faltering. It is not wise to think nothing is happening just because nothing is happening immediately.

Sometimes, your work may seem to be dragging on a slow, day-to-day basis. Spark your excitement with the knowledge that you are heading in the right direction to create something that will be helpful to humanity.

You may be hearing about or actually confronting desperate individuals pleading for cures and treatments if you are specializing your efforts in disease research. Public pressure should not foster shortcuts, compromise, and haste in the research laboratory. Testing and retesting until the time is right for scientific acceptance should be part of the biotechnologist's creed.

The various aspects of temperament discussed in this chapter could be characterized as the little things that, when blended together, make a biotechnologist candidate more likely to move up the ladder in his or her chosen field. Paying attention to all these extras often may spell the difference between your having a bright future or none at all in the field of biotechnology.
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