Two words that can evoke either feelings of pure excitement or pure fear: Startup Company.
Startups are common in the biotechnology world, as there are many brilliant scientists and business savvy people with innovative ideas and plans of how to implement them.
After finishing my PhD in medicinal chemistry/structural biology, I was faced with a choice. Stay in the lab or go to industry. It is a common choice and no matter the decision, you can’t go wrong. I took a position as a postdoctoral research associate for 2 years after which I decided I wanted to pursue technical writing. I was attracted to technical writing because I could use my education and science background while still learning and communicating about science.
I was hired as a technical writer for a molecular diagnostics startup company, and I hit the ground running. In a company of 20 people, anything and everything that needed to be written would be passed to me, from protocols to poster presentations. It wasn’t long before the startup gained momentum, and we entered a limbo period where our staff of 20 wasn’t quite enough to support all our functions, but there still wasn’t enough work for a larger headcount.
This is where the beauty of working for a startup comes into play. You’ll often hear the term “wearing many hats” when people refer to a startup. In my four years at this startup diagnostics company, I evolved to do the jobs of 7 people: Technical Writer, PR/Marketing, Regulatory Affairs, Legal Assistant, Clinical Trial Manager, Business Development, and Quality/Data Auditing.
It wasn’t unusual for someone to ask me “What is your exact role here?” or “Is there anything you don’t do?” And I loved it. I was able to explore many non-lab, science-related positions that I never knew existed. During my first two years there, I was able to foster close relationships with the CEO and senior VPs, something that could take years to do at a large company, if ever. As the company grew and partnerships were formed, it became difficult to maintain the workload of 7 functions. However, at that point, I fully understood which aspects I liked and wanted to keep, and which were better suited for a new hire.
Each passing day in a startup company is a chance to learn more about different aspects of the inner workings of a company, and hone in on what your true career passion is. I have since moved on to a larger company in a regulatory affairs position. When I was looking for my next opportunity, the possibilities seemed endless, and it was my decision which path I wanted to pursue next.
While the reality is that numerous startups don’t make it, the experience is invaluable. If you are unsure of what you would like to do with your life and focus your career on, startups provide the chance to explore many different options while becoming an expert in one scientific area. Don’t get me wrong, working the job of 7 people has its downside. You will work long hours and weekends, but if you love it and embrace the learning experience, it will serve you well!