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How do you get a computational biology job in biotech?

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

Melyssa Minto, Kaylyn Clark, Jenea Adams


On Friday, September 15th, 2023, the Black Women in Computational Biology (BWCB) Network partnered with Genentech, GSK, and BioSkryb Genomics to host the Biotech Bootcamp: Career Panel, which focused on bioinformatics and computational biology careers in biotechnology. This panel featured scientists Dr. Nehemiah Zwede (Genentech), Dr. Mariah Faelth Savistski (GSK), and Dr. Tia Tate (BioSkryb Genomics), and recruiters, Geneva Trivella (Genentech), Mackenzie Day (GSK) which all gave perspectives on how to secure positions in biotech as well as what it is like to work in biotech. The panel was for BWCB across all professional stages, keeping in mind that most of our members are PhD-level- and Early-Career scientists. BWCB also held a prep session prior to the panel, where we discussed how to best interact with the representatives on the panel and get the most out of the event. This article will share the major takeaways from the prep session and the panel.


Major takeaways:

How to get in the door?

Most large biotech companies have various early talent programs and positions that are designed for various levels of education, experience, and interests. Both Genentech and GSK presented their PhD-level/postdoc positions, rotational programs, and internships.

  • PhD-level/postdoc positions: For PhD-level candidates, companies may offer full-time positions or post-doc positions under the realm of bioinformatics and computational biology. Typically, these positions require a PhD and <1 year of professional experience. These roles tend to fulfill a specific niche of science.

  • Rotational Programs: Rotational entry-level programs tend to be geared toward Masters and Bachelors-level candidates. They are typically multi-year training programs in which selected candidates rotate through different teams across the company to gain experience working on different projects and receive coaching to develop leadership skills. GSK has a Future Leaders Program, and Genentech has an X program both with applications opening in October.

  • Internships: Internships are typically offered to current students (both undergraduate and graduate). Internships are usually short-term, over the summer, or part-time during a semester. Like the rotational programs, the focus is on training in specific technical skills and leadership skills. These are great opportunities to take advantage of during the last years of undergrad/grad school, as they can lead to full-time positions after graduation.

Which computational biology job titles should I be searching for in biotech, and how much do job qualifications matter?

When looking into positions and job titles, it can be unclear what exactly to search for. You may have questions: “Do I look for bioinformatics or computational biology?” “What is the difference between a research associate, analyst, or scientist?”. This can be hard to navigate because different companies use different nomenclature for internal job levels. From what was discussed in the prep session, BWCB members found that job titles that have “associate” or “analyst” are most likely bachelor-level to masters level career positions, whereas roles that have “scientist” can be masters level to Ph.D. level positions. Job titles can vary company by company, so when looking at roles within a specific company, be sure to check out the education and experience requirements to get an idea of what job title matches your background accordingly.


Do you need to meet all of the job requirements to get the job? The short answer is no. Job qualifications are usually broken into two sections: preferred qualifications and required qualifications. You want to meet almost all of the required qualifications. HR departments typically carry out the initial screening of candidates in which they screen for the required qualifications. It is important to make those requirements clear and use the language in the job description in your resume/CV, especially since the HR professionals who carry out the initial screening will likely not be technical experts. As for the preferred qualifications, I have seen recommendations for having met as little as 50% of those. You want to be in a position where you feel comfortable starting off but still have room to grow. So evaluate the preferred requirements and ask yourself, “Do I have half of these skills, and are the remaining skills things I would want to gain experience in?"


To postdoc or not to postdoc?

Each of our panelists answered this question similarly. They recommend that if you are unsure which industry you would like to go into, a postdoc is a great chance to explore those. One panelist and BWCB member, Dr. Tia Tate, shared her experience doing a postdoc in academia and government to find which one matched her career goals and lifestyle the best. She noted that academia was “slow” and that she really liked her government experience despite now being a Senior Computational Biologist at BioSkryb Genomics, a small biotech company. Nonetheless, if you know you want to go into biotech, then a postdoc is not needed.


Salary?

This was discussed in the prep session. Recently, this Reddit survey of biotech salaries surfaced, which also includes information on the main factors that go into salaries including (job title, roles, years of experience, education, and location). This is a good resource to use to get an idea of what salaries you should expect and ask for when on the job hunt. Other resources to consider are websites where professionals share their salaries, including Glassdoor.com and levels.fyi. Some US states, including Colorado, California, New York, and Washington, have salary transparency laws in which salary ranges must be included in the job posting. If the companies you are interested in have sites in these states, you can check to see if they have site-specific job postings and extrapolate the salary range for your role while factoring in any cost of living adjustments.

When discussing salary, tact must be used. In a perfect world, companies would have more salary transparency and list the salary range on the job description. More likely than not, you will instead be asked, “What is your expected salary range?”. These conversations typically happen with the recruiter at the beginning of the interview stages, at the end, or both. When these conversations arise, you should ask for the budget for each role. Typically, the higher end of the range corresponds to having met more of the job requirements, and the lower end corresponds to having met only a few of the job requirements.


How do you leverage your network?

Referrals make up a huge percentage of hiring at some companies where current employees can officially refer you for a specific position in which they will receive a bonus if you are offered and accept the job. Informational interviews are a good way to form deeper connections with people in your professional network. Reach out to your LinkedIn connections or your BWCB network and find people who work at companies you are interested in. Send them a short email or message with the following structure:

  • Introduce yourself.

  • Tell them how you are connected and how you found them

  • State why you are reaching out

  • Offer available times to meet, either in person, over the phone, or over video

  • Attach your resume/CV/personal website.


Example:

Hi [Name], I am a junior majoring in computational biology and beginning to explore internship opportunities. We are both members of the Bl by ack Women in Comp Bio Network and I came across your profile in our member directory. I see that you are a Bioinformatics Scientist at [Name of Company]. They are offering internships that I am interested in but wanted to get your perspective on the company before applying. Would you be able to chat next week to discuss your experience at [Name of Company]? I am available Tuesdays and Thursdays between 3pm and 5pm. My resume is attached for your review! Best, [Your Name]

There are usually two main objectives of informational interviews: getting to know a person's career path and getting to know the company culture. To get to know the company culture, be sure to ask questions about work-life balance, company benefits, team/company structure, scientific niche, and scientific autonomy.


Conclusion

There are several unwritten rules when it comes to the job hunt for those looking for computational biology positions in biotech. This article contains some helpful tips for navigating this, including what positions to look out for, salary expectations, and how to get a feel of the company culture. Below, we have exclusive BWCB member resources, including the recording of the Biotech Bootcamp Career panel and prep session where you can hear directly from people who work at Genentech, GSK, and BioSkryb Genomics, and the accompanying slide decks they presented. We also encourage members to use the BWCB Member Network Directory as a way to connect with like-minded professionals.


  • Recording of the main sessions from the Biotech Bootcamp: Career Panel

  • Slides from GSK and Genentech

  • Recording of the Prep Session

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