Top ten tips to identify the companies you want to work for

by Lauren, CEO of propel careers

this post is reposted from the propel careers blog.

Numerous options exist to identify potential companies to work for, especially those companies that are innovative, but not (yet) well-known. Below is a top ten list of ways to uncover exciting and innovative companies relevant to your area(s) of interest. The advice provided below is applicable to all industry sectors, but the specific examples have been tailored for the life sciences sector.

Tip 1: Utilize your connections

Your connections include college and graduate school classmates, lab mates, friends, clubs and social groups, connections from industry associations, neighbors, mentors, teachers, and people you meet at networking events and conferences. These connections should extend to alumni of your academic institutions. Even though you may not know these individuals personally, you share a common experience that can be leveraged for your career search. Your connections may not be involved in your exact area(s) of interest (i.e. cancer research or cardiovascular medical devices), but may have connections to those who are. Develop your elevator pitch/email and share it with your contacts to succinctly inform them of your background and what you are looking for (i.e. research in a small biotech or consulting in a boutique firm). Use LinkedIn to keep in touch. Build out your profile so that your connections and potential employers can see your background.

Tip 2: Industry News Feeds

Every industry has news sources that profile advances, industry trends and companies in the sector. Sources such as (entrepreneurial technology/life sciences oriented companies), (life sciences companies), or (medical device companies) are a few examples. Hundreds of news sources exist (from general to extremely specific), so seek out news feeds relevant to your interests and subscribe to them.

Tip 3: Publications

Search Google Scholar or Pubmed to identify research related to your interests. Recent publications in your area of interest can tell you a lot about who is currently working in the space.

Tip 4: Conferences

Conferences are ubiquitous in every industry. In the life sciences industry, there are large conferences such as BIO or AdvaMed , disease focused conferences such as AACR or Society for Neuroscience - and smaller focused conferences such as 2nd Annual Predictive Preclinical Models in Oncology conference Once you identify conferences relevant to your interests, look at the speakers, posters, and exhibitors. This will help uncover companies that work in your area and provide insight into organizations which may be a fit.

Tip 5: Industry Associations and Trade Groups

Organizations such as MassBio and MassMedic have a wealth of information on biomedical research companies in Massachusetts.s. Similar resources are available in most states, and most countries have organizations that represent and focus on specific industry sectors. These organizations are an invaluable resource. Sign up for their newsletters and newsfeeds to keep yourself current.

Tip 6: Industry Reports

Many consulting firms like Ernst and Young and PWC compile extensive industry sector specific reports or white papers. Their life sciences and medical technology reports are very informative and provide tremendous information about companies, trends, and issues related to the industry.

Tip 7: Venture Capital Organizations

Look into websites for venture capital organizations that fund companies in your area of interest, especially if you are looking to work in a start-up. Many of these organizations profile companies they have invested in on their websites. It is not uncommon for portfolio companies to initially operate in “stealth mode,” therefore it may be hard to find information about them from other sources.

Tip 8: LinkedIn

Search LinkedIn using the advanced search feature. In the keywords section, enter your areas of interest – i.e. prostate cancer therapeutics, oncology microfluidic diagnostic platform, or atrial fibrillation. Search by 1st degree connection and see what comes up. If only a few people appear in the search results, then expand the search criteria to 2nd and 3rd degree connections. Click on the profiles and see where the individuals work. This may identify companies of interest and will also show you information about the backgrounds of people who work there.

Tip 9: Blogs

Many thought leaders in each industry write sector specific blogs. Follow these individuals to keep up with the latest industry news, trends, and companies.

Tip 10: Web Searches

Search the internet for specific key words relevant to your area of interest to identify companies working in the area. Review the company websites and read pages such as, about us, company history, scientific advisors, advisory board, management team, investors, and partners. These pages provide useful information about the focus of the company and may help you learn about other companies. For example, the investors tab will often highlight the venture capital firm or firms that have invested in a particular company. Reviewing this page may help you identify a VC that you were unaware of. Review the VC’s webpage to learn about other companies that this firm invests in. Then add “companies of interest” to your “target company list”.

The amount of information available regarding companies, research, and exciting opportunities is staggering. By focusing your search efforts, you will uncover new and exciting companies aligned with your career aspirations. Tailor your approach to increase your effectiveness and efficiency, otherwise you may find yourself spending hours searching for that needle in the haystack. Through this process, you will learn about companies and the industry in which they work. The information you obtain will be invaluable as your career develops.

cookie monster

I am happy to report that Drosophila geneticists have not lost their sense of humor in the last 40 years. This paper from 2003 describes the cloning and characterization of a novel meiotic arrest gene, which they name cookie monster, “because the cells look like a whole bunch of cookie monster eyes”.

cookie monster and cookie monster- very similar don't you think?

Cookie monster is a meiotic arrest gene that plays an important role in spermatogenesis. In order to produce viable sperm, a large number of genes have to be transcribed in a specific sequence. This sequence is partially orchestrated by cookie monster, which binds to chromatin and facilitates the unwinding of this DNA-protein complex prior to engagement of RNA polymerase II.  In the absence of cookie monster, spermatocytes fail to complete meiosis, leading to sterile male flies Female flies don’t mind not having a cookie monster.


J. Jiang, H. White-Cooper (2003) Transcriptional activation in Drosophila spermatogenesis involves the mutually dependent function of aly and a novel meiotic arrest gene cookie monster Development 130, 563-573.

Dancing Science

The seminal and most hilarious (in my opinion) science dance video on you tube, is the one where a rather large group of students danced the prokaryotic translation on a football field at Stanford in 1971.
Since the 70s quite a lot of science themed dance videos were posted on youtube, or wherever they got posted before youtube.  Sometimes they are part of biology classes in college and often hilariously bad.However dance and music are great ways to explain the basics of science to students who aren’t interested or have very little background. As for more complicated science: there is for example this great optical illusion, which really blurs the border between arts and science. And this video, which tries to explain the action potential by and to medical students via interpretive dance. Since the style is very similar to the original Stanford video, it can be assumed that they have at least been inspired be it.
There are also a couple of more professional science/music/advertising videos produced by large lab supply companies.
The “music videos of science” movement cumulates in the “Dance your PhD” contest which is held annually for the past 5 years and is sponsored by the AAAS. Last year’s competition included such diverse dances as the Generation of Haploid Stem Cells via Immaculate Conception with Ethanol to the tune of ‘I Get Knocked Down’ by Chumbawamba and Hydrogen Retention in Damaged Tungsten at High Surface Temperatures danced in a physics lab with great light effects. The winning video explained the formation of a superalloy using a mix of circus and silent movie. Entry into this year’s competition recently closed and the videos are now online. So if you have 30 minutes to spare have a look at them. I especially liked E.coli adapting to stress.


I have previously written about Oscar, recently I found out that there is also Oskar which is is involved in Drosophila embryonic development. Oskar is transcribed from maternal mRNA and absolutely crucial for establishing the anterior-posterior axis of the developing embryo by localizing the germ line cells at the posterior pole of the embryo.

The red stain in this picture is Oskar mRNA at the posterior pole of the oocyte. The protein Oskar keeps other posterior determinates, such as Staufen in the correct location.

Unusually enough, Oskar is not an acronym, the authors (R.Lehman and C. Nuesslein-Vollhard), who described the gene decided to name it Oskar after the main character of the novel “the tin drum” by G.Grass : Oskar, a little boy refuses to grow up and stays a pre-teen throughout the novel spanning 30 years. This is similar to a drosophila embryo that is missing Oskar, it will never develop past the embryonic stage of its life. The authors explicitly state their naming in the materials and methods section.

and then even cite the novel in their references.

The novel was later adapted into a movie which won an Oscar. Here is a picture of Oskar from the movie, he doesn’t look like a protein or an embryonic fly at all.

How to identify “relevant” recruiters

by Lauren, CEO of propel careers

this post is reposted from the propel careers blog.

Finding a good recruiter who works in your area of interest can be extremely beneficial for your job search. With thousands of recruitment firms, ranging from one person companies that focus on specific roles, i.e. director level clinical affairs roles, to multinational organizations that focus on many functional areas and level of roles (c-level, VP, director, etc), how do you identify the one(s) which are relevant for you?

Search job boards

Recruiters often post roles on job boards to provide visibility and attract candidates to roles on which they are working. As you search these job boards (i.e. the MassBio Careers page, Indeed, Biospace), you may notice recruitment firms in addition to the biotech/pharmaceutical companies hiring directly. Make a list of these recruitment firms, research them, and email the relevant ones your resume. Some of these firms have newsletters and/or blogs that you can subscribe to which cover job openings, industry trends, and career development articles.

Ask connections

During your informational interviews, ask your connections if they know of recruiters who work in your area of interest. This will uncover recruitment firms that you can add to your list and may also provide you with a warm lead into a firm. Recruiters value referrals. Don’t be shy to email a recruiter and say, X person suggested that I reach out to you since you recruit for companies in the clinical research area.

Career Panels at Industry Conferences

Many industry conferences dedicate at least one panel during their conference to a career related topic. Pay attention to who is on the panel since these individuals may be recruiters relevant to your area.


Search LinkedIn using the advanced search feature and then the keyword and title tabs. For keyword, type in “clinical research” and for title type in recruiter and then hit search. This will yield a number of recruiters (both internal and external to firms). You can then narrow this list by 1st, 2nd, 3rd degree connections, or geography via zipcode. When you identify recruiters of interest, add them to your list and email the recruiters, preferably via their email address. Most recruiters list their email address either in their LinkedIn profile or on their company website.

When you identify a recruitment firm, ask the firm what level of individuals they typically place. If you are a recent Ph.D. graduate and the firm only recruits at the C-level (CEO, CSO, CBO), they won’t be able to assist you. Also ask what type of roles the firm works on. If you want a research role and the firm only does financial roles in life sciences, again, they won’t be able to assist you. If they cannot help you, ask them if they know of other firms you should reach out to. Your diligence in this process will allow you to connect with “relevant” firms which should increase the chances for a successful outcome – a new job for you.

Popular Science Articles-Something for Everyone Part II

compiled by Noah

1. Why are there still so few women in science? (NYT Magazine, October 2013)

Women still unfortunately face many challenges in establishing a successful career in science. This article serves a timely reminder of these issues and also highlights a number of approaches which are being taken to increase the numbers of women in science and perhaps just as importantly to retain those who have had early career success.

2. End harassment (Nature, October 2013)

A powerful Nature editorial highlighting the sexual harassment often faced by women scientists and the measures that should be taken to crack down on this. Written in response to a recent scandal at Scientific American blogs which resulted in some brave, honest and open blog posts on the subject, see:

(a)  Jezebel



(d)  monicacatherine

3. A shot against Malaria (New Yorker, October 2013)

An overview of Phase III trial results of GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine candidate. This vaccine has been in development for almost thirty years and although it is much less efficacious than standard childhood vaccines, it may have the potential to moderately reduce the overall burden of disease caused by malaria in parts of Africa and South East Asia.

For an alternative viewpoint

4. What’s the point of finding cancer mutations (Slate, October 2013)

The author elegantly describes our increasing understanding of the genetic basis of cancer due in large part to the introduction of new sequencing technologies, but also highlights the lack of drugs which are currently available to exploit this new knowledge.

5. The last laughing death (The Global Mail, November 2012)

A brilliant account of Kuru, the devastating and fatal prion disease which was first reported in Papua New Guinea in 1957. Research into this disease has resulted in the recognition of a new form of infectious disease, a Nobel Prize and was invaluable in enabling rapid research into the cause of CJD in the UK in the 1990s.


by Juliane

I like interns. I know that as a good postdoc (and PhD student for that matter) I should detest those time-sucking parasites, who need three hours to load an agarose gel, ask what temperature a 37C waterbath is at and manage to contaminate a cell line kept at 10x pen/strep. (the last paragraph is intended as sarcasm, however two out of three things really happened to me).

I like interns, because I like having new people in the lab, I like talking about my science and explaining it in layman’s term to an interested audience, I like how they make me think about my work, and I like teaching the next batch of potential scientists and hopefully make them like science as much as I do.

If you like interns as well or at least can live with them for a while you might consider taking a German RISE student next summer. RISE stands for research internships in science and engineering. German undergraduate students come to America or the UK to work in a lab for up to three months during their summer break. The DAAD (German academic exchange service) pays for their flights and accommodation. All you (or your PI) have to invest is some time and consumables.

With interns, as with all colleagues, you need luck. If you get lucky and get a brilliant intern, who is smart, interested, fun to work with and has good lab hands, you are set. He or she will help the project along, might even produce useful data and invite you all out for lab lunch.

Very few interns have all those abilities, just like very few technicians, PhD students, or fellow postdocs do, but when you get a RISE intern you have the choice between several applicants, so you can choose the one you think fits best to your working style.

Hosting a RISE intern is like a mini-trial run for the real deal (mentoring/supervising students in your own lab in the future): project design, choosing from several applications, supervising the work, making sure your intern learns something and has at least a little fun.

It lasts only three months, so why not give it a try.

Golden tickets to a marathon

by Juliane

I got a PhD. Doing it was very normal: I did research in a laboratory, during the 2nd year I started to realize that my supervisor wasn’t the all-knowing wise man I thought he was, and after my third year he finally grew tired of having me around, so he let me graduate. Then they gave me a piece of paper and told my that I am now allowed to introduce myself as Dr. Juliane.

And I felt nothing. I was sure I would be happy, proud, full of joy or at least relieved, but I wasn’t. Something really big, something that used to be my life had ended. The goal, I worked so hard to reach was achieved, but it didn’t feel like an achievement at all. Because, the minute after you get it, your PhD doesn’t matter any more! A PhD is your entrance ticket into the world of science. It proves that you are smart (or obsessed) enough to join the club. In the world of science everybody has a PhD and because of this it is nothing special. It is a little bit like learning how to walk, it is hard while you try, but after you mastered the task it is no big deal anymore, and just because you can walk it doesn’t mean you are a great athlete or endurance hiker. The same is true for science, just because you did a PhD, you are not a great scientist or even a mediocre scientist. Now we can walk, or have got the PhD, the real work begins. We have to stay in training, because you are only as good as your latest paper, or maybe your PI’s latest grant application. Often when you are busy writing three papers at once and trying to produce data for a grant application, it is akin to doing a PhD thesis all over again and it never really stops. Is this really the life I dreamed off when working on my PhD? The life I want for myself until I retire, always trying to have ideas good enough to convince editors and grant application committees? Never stop thinking about science and deadlines? Do I have to run, just because I can walk?

While I was working on my PhD, I and the other students were told that the goal is the PhD and everything else will fall in place after that; this is simply not true. With the little piece of paper that allows me to call myself Dr. Juliane, I stood in front of the gate leading into the gigantic mazy space that is ‘academic science’ and realized that it is just the very beginning of the big adventure. And exactly at this point, standing at the gate with the ticket, a life changing decision had to be made: Doing my PhD was great and I am proud of it. However, just because I got the ticket doesn’t mean that I have to go in. Just because you can walk, doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon, lots of people are much happier taking a stroll or doing some recreational jogging.  The same holds true for science, there are a million different ways of using the basic skills we obtained during the PhD training: self-discipline, a high threshold for frustration, scientific thinking and understanding, critical reading, presenting data, efficiently working with eccentric personalities and on top of all this, the knowledge of our field and methods. Self-discipline is very important to start your own business, in science or otherwise; critical reading abilities and scientific thinking is a skill highly needed in banking and patent law, as well as scientific writing and editing; presenting data and getting other people’s help with your projects are great skills for freelancers as well as managers; and the specific skill set you acquired performing experiments in the laboratory might as well make you the expert some pharmaceutical company is looking for. Often we will have to build on the basic set; just like there is walking, but also running, skipping, jogging, strolling, sprinting, etc, there is basic science, applied science, law, management, starting your own business or becoming a movie director.

Enough with the walking metaphor, here comes the chocolate factory metaphor!! You have your PhD, it’s like finding the Golden Ticket; but just because you got the Golden Ticket, doesn’t mean that you will get the chocolate factory. You get a chance at getting it and what you do with this chance is entirely up to you. However, maybe you don’t like chocolate or after spending some time in the chocolate factory, realize that too much chocolate is bad for your health and that you would rather have a grilled cheese sandwich.

That is the great thing about our golden tickets, only the entrance value into the world of academic science expires (sort of). If you take it and frame it and put it on your wall, people you know who are not scientists will believe that you are a very smart person, since getting the ticket is already a great accomplishment. They are absolutely correct, most of them haven’t even tried. And just like I would never want to run a marathon, but admire people who train for it and finish 10099 out of 12000, people outside the world of science admire us for getting this far. At the very least getting a PhD proves to ourselves that we are smart and able to function under immense pressure. So let’s use our golden tickets in whatever way feels right to us, right now.


If you follow this link, you will be able to listen to trance music, which was really popular in the 90s. Interestingly, at the same time a D. Anderson from the group of L. Galibert in Seattle and B. Wong from the group of Y. Choi in New York published papers about TRANCE the TNF related activation induced cytokine, maybe while listening to trance music. So if you are less interested in techno music and more interested in immunology you might find TRANCE a lot more fascinating than flashing lights and funny hair styles. However, if you get bad flashbacks about the 90s just by hearing the word Trance, you can also call it RANKL or CD254.

Trance has previously been mentioned in this blog, because of its interaction with OSCAR. As such it is involved in osteoclast differentiation and bone resorption. However, most research on TRANCE is done regarding its function in the immune response. As the name sort of indicates, TRANCE is a cytokine, that is involved in TNF (tumor necrosis factor) signaling. TRANCE is expressed and secreted by dendritic cells and acts as a ligand for RANK on T-cells. RANK signaling leads to activation of NFkappaB which greatly enhances T-cell maturation and survival.


Anderson et al. (1997) A homologue of the TNF receptor and its ligand enhance T-cell growth and dendritic-cell function. Nature;390(6656):175-9.
Wong et al. (1997) TRANCE is a novel ligand of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family that activates c-Jun N-terminal kinase in T cells. J Biol Chem. 272(40):25190-4.
Wong et al. (1997) TRANCE (tumor necrosis factor [TNF]-related activation-induced cytokine), a new TNF family member predominantly expressed in T cells, is a dendritic cell-specific survival factor. J Exp Med.186(12):2075-80.

What Lauren can do for you…

by Lauren and Juliane

Last week Lauren shared with us her experiences starting her own business. Lauren also works for BU as a career coach for postdocs and PhD students. I asked her questions about what kind of coaching a postdoc can expect from her.

Question: What is your position/role at BU?

LC answer: I am a career coach for graduate students and postdocs at BU.

Q: What can a postdoc expect from career advising and what should we prepare to get the most out of a session?

LC answer: For the coaching work, we can talk about topics including the ones listed below.  Sessions are 20 minutes in length and occur either the 1st and 3rd Saturdays between 10-noon via phone or the 2nd and 4th Fridays between 3-5pm onsite at BU School of Medicine.  I try to ask questions about your background and what you are looking for in a career to provide useful advice.

  • Overview of Career Opportunities
  • Building and Discussing Transferable Skills
  • Resume Critique, Review and Revision
  • Cover Letter Critique, Review and Revision
  • Developing a Professional LinkedIn Profile
  • Developing a Career Search Strategy
  • Informational Interview Advice
  • Networking Advice and Insights
  • Formal Interview Advice
  • Building Thought Leadership during your career

We have a career questionnaire that Yolanta can provide to postdocs prior to coaching.  When a postdoc fills this out and emails it to me beforehand, it can help maximize the coaching interaction.

Q: You and other members of Propel careers are members of several professional associations.  Why is this? Would you recommend membership in organizations to postdocs?

LC answer: We are members so that we can build our professional network and meet people who also share the same interests and passions as we do.  A few of the groups that I am involved with are focused on entrepreneurship and women in science. I am happy to support the organizations and their mission. I think joining professional organizations can be extremely valuable  -  if you join one of these organizations, make sure you have time to get involved, network, and attend their meetings.  Otherwise, you will not get the full benefit of membership.

Q: How important is social networking for job hunting?

LC: Social networking, especially LinkedIn is very helpful for job hunting.  Some stats indicate that ~30% of people are hired via LinkedIn so it is important to create a professional profile.  The hiring does not happen overnight, but many HR people search LinkedIn for talent.  If you have a strong profile, you may appear on their “short-list”. This may lead to them contacting you and starting the job interview process which may eventually result in a hire.

Q: Propel offers a mentor program. How does it work?

LC: With Propel, the formal mentorship program involves connecting a mentor (a seasoned life sciences professional) with one of the individuals we place into a role to provide them with a resource to ask career related advice of.  Generally the relationship lasts for 6 months with meetings for 1 hour a month, but can go longer if the mentor and mentee would like to continue the relationship. Propel does not charge for joining the mentorship program, however there are usually more mentees than mentors, so we do not guaranty you a match. I can also provide people with advice on other mentorship programs, like AWIS, HBA, WEST, or other ones occurring in the Boston area depending upon what someone is looking for.