Tuesday, September 7, 2010
The LabSpaces carnival on work-life balance
was so much fun, we decided to do another! Your votes have told us we should write about "what I wish I knew before..."
I think a lot of people are writing about what they wish they knew before they started grad school. Having never gone to graduate school, I have no words of warning there (as a funny aside, my boss & I were talking about conferences, and I mentioned that I had never gone to one, and he said, "Really? Not even in grad school?" and I said, "Umm... I never went to graduate school." "Oh yeah," he says, "I forgot."). My husband went to grad school, and a hefty fraction of my friends went to grad school, so it feels
a little like I went to grad school, but I did not and can't speak to it.
What I can speak to is what I wish I knew before starting at a pharmaceutical company. Overall, I've been rather successful in industry, so this won't be a post about things I would do differently (though there is one glaringly obvious exception that I do wish I had done very differently). These are a few things I've learned over the years, and a few things I suppose you could say that I wish I knew before I started.
- If something is a very sucky and annoying task, you should fail at it the first time you try. Otherwise, if you perform well at the sucky annoying task, you will be repeatedly asked to complete said sucky annoying task. Failure prompts the asker to search out another person who is "more capable". [Insert diabolical snicker here]
- As quickly as possible, determine how recognition is measured. At my first pharma job, it was imperative that your objectives were as perfectly written as possible, so that at the end of the year, your beautifully crafted description of everything you had done could be compared to everyone else. At this job, it's much more important that you demonstrate your awesomeness by kicking ass at as many internal meetings as possible. Knowing how to improve your standing within your department is always a good thing to keep in the back of your mind.
- Don't be a hermit. I know I'm really bad at this one, but the longer I'm at a company, the more I realize it's something important to do. You need to talk to other people outside your own circle (in my case, I rarely talk to people outside my boss's direct reports), have a passing impression of what they do, and of who they know. Expediency is the name of the game in pharma, and if you remember talking to someone at a social hour who knew something about something that can help your project move forward, you look awfully smart for suggesting "Hey, maybe we should talk to PersonX - they know TechniqueY." Knowing how to connect the scientists between you and something you want to do is also important - if PersonX can get you to PersonY, who knows TechniqueZ, that's just as valuable.
- There is a huge amount of variation between companies, between sites within a company, and between departments within a site. I was under the mistaken impression that I knew quite a lot about pharmaceutical companies after having worked at my first job for a year. I can see how wrong I was - things are massively different at my new company than they were at my old one. Don't make the assumption that you understand how things work after having been someplace for a short time. Absorb the politics of your department as quickly as you can before even considering taking sides in any sort of debate.
- What people think you do is equally, if not more, important than what you actually do. If you are perceived to be a very hard worker, then you are a hard worker. This perception can come from actually working hard (like I do), or from fostering the belief that you are a hard worker. Relatedly, it is important to maintain a positive attitude about as many aspects of your job as possible. I don't mean to say you should be all unicorns and sunshine about every single thing - far from it - but it's detrimental to be perceived as someone who is always quibbling with every decision coming their way.
I think this may make me sound calculating and clinical about my job. I guess that's fair - I do try to approach what I do with the understanding that appropriate maneuvering can get me a lot farther than simply showing up and doing a good job. It seems like a lot of people don't consider their "moves" before they make them, nor do they think ahead about the impact of their decisions.
(Wait, you're saying that I did exactly
that - not thinking about my decisions and not thinking ahead - when I wrote about people behind their backs, right? Well... yeah. See, these are things I wish I knew before
I started at a pharmaceutical company. Learn from my mistakes.)