Posted: October 2, 2017

Successful Training for Graduate Student and Postdoc Careers in the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry


Graduate and postdoctoral training in the sciences generally does an excellent job of facilitating the development of critical thinking skills, imparting extensive knowledge of a particular science field, promoting acquisition of superb technical skills, and cultivating the ability to work independently. While these skills are valued by industry employers, they also express frustration that trainees fail to understand some of the fundamental operating principles in the for-profit world. Anecdotally, PhD scientists seem poorly prepared for careers in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, or medical device arenas. With support from Burroughs Wellcome Fund, we initiated an industry consulting group (PICO-Postdoc Industry COnsultants) focused on consulting experiences with science-related companies to prepare postdoctoral fellows and graduate students at the Medical College of Wisconsin for careers in industry. In this group, PICO consultants volunteer with biotech, pharma, or medical device companies for 5 hours/week for 2-3 months to complete business-related projects such as market analysis, company valuation, formulating a business plan, and FDA regulatory assessments. Overall, this has been a resounding success. PICO has completed 45 projects for 31 different clients. 22 of 38 consultants have found permanent industry employment and they attribute their successful transitions to participation in this program. A recent survey of PICO alumni (n=25) reveals that 100% feel that PICO made a positive contribution to their professional development, and 100% would encourage other MCW trainees to join PICO. The survey data further suggest that participation did not impair their laboratory productivity. Our six years of experience suggests that this model for industry training provides academic scientists with an intuitive understanding of the biotech industry, gives them valuable real-world experience, and helps them transition to permanent positions.


Internship, Trainee training, Postdocs, Graduate students, Industry, Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical


Julie Tetzlaff, Medical College of Wisconsin

Philip Clifford, University of Illinois at Chicago