The life science industry is as large as it is varied: encompassing fields such as pharmaceutical, biomedical technologies, biomedical devices, biotechnology and more and, as such, there are a number of roles and business opportunities you might want to explore.

For example, you might want to make a name for yourself as a medical imaging expert, dipping your toe into the world of life science consulting after building years of experience in the industry. Or, maybe you’ll hope to take on the life science giants by establishing a business that rivals the likes of Novartis, Pfizer and Roche.

Whatever the case, here are five lessons to put into practice if you want to climb the life science ladder…

1. Earn your credentials

The life sciences industry is a demanding yet rewarding environment, and it requires a real aptitude for education and self-development. At the very least you’ll need a degree from a good university in a subject such as biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, physiology or chemical engineering for example.

However, don’t expect to complete your studies at undergraduate level; the most interesting and lucrative life science careers require post-graduate qualifications such as masters and PhDs.

2. Head to the right location

Climbing the life science ladder also requires giving thought to where to settle. The US is the world leader in life sciences, with regions such as Boston and the Bay Area enjoying the highest concentration of opportunities for those looking to break into the industry.

However, there are life science hotspots right across the world, from Belgium to China and everywhere in between. Global Mobility in Life Sciences found that the UK is one of the best places in the world for career progression in the life sciences industry, with 71% of Western European respondents who had moved to the UK saying that they’d experienced faster career progression in the UK than in their native country.

Brexit, of course, places a question mark over the suitability of the UK as a prospect for EU nationals hoping to break into the life science industry, but given that the industry contributes so much to the UK’s economy, it’s arguable that the government will want to continue to encourage international talent.

3. Know your market

As well as understanding where the best locations are for you to further your career, it can pay to know a little more about those individual markets. For example, which locations are experiencing a persistent skills shortage? The Social Market Foundation and EDF’s recent report has highlighted that more than 600,000 vacancies are predicted within the STEM sector over the next six years, and ABPI has highlighted that there’s a growing need for skills in areas including bioinformatics, statistics, and data and informatics.

4. Climb the ‘crooked ladder’

Be prepared for the course of your career to take twists and turns if you want to progress. As David G Jensen writes in Sciencemag “…these days, when you make a career move, you don’t necessarily go straight up the ladder… it’s inevitable that you’ll run into broken rungs on the ladder or potholes in the road; career progress is never a straight and narrow course. Very few of you will move from postdoc to CEO via a straight line. Instead, there are all kinds of surprises and learning opportunities that come up along the way.”

This might mean making the decision to take on administrative roles as well as managerial roles, or moving away from a scientist position to one in business development or regulatory affairs. The key thing to keep in mind is that while it’s useful to have a general idea of your direction of travel, it’s worth letting life surprise you; consider options that intrigue you, and weigh up your options at regular intervals.

5. Stay aware

Finally, a great deal of your career progression is going to depend on taking the time to look up from your work and see what’s going on in the world, and in the life science industry in particular.

Keep abreast of industry news (as well as political and economic events that inevitably affect the industry), join life science communities (such as the Institute of Clinical Research) and consider subscribing to industry magazines and websites to maintain a degree of commercial awareness.

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Debbie Fletcher
Debbie Fletcher is an enthusiastic, experienced writer who has written for a range of different magazines and news publications over the years. Graduating from City University London specializing in English Literature, Debbie's passion for writing has since grown. She loves anything and everything technology, and exploring different cultures across the world. She's currently looking towards starting her Masters in Comparative Literature in the next few years.

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