Three Tips for entering the Business Side of Research 3

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After a two-year stint as a high-school biology / chemistry teacher (at an acclaimed high school in Fullerton, CA called Troy, right at the time it was developing a STEM magnet curriculum which was right in my wheelhouse, so to speak), I was ready to go back to school way-back-when to get into ‘real biology’ and the ‘biotechnology revolution’. Fast forward twenty years or so, and it now has been a balance – about 10 years of behind the bench research (mainly in cancer immunology) and about 10 years of working for different life science vendors in different commercial roles.

What advice would I give an aspiring post-doc or laboratory manager or bench technician or scientist who is looking into a career shift? Just a few things come to mind, and I’ve boiled it down to three. 

The first thing is a good assessment of where your particular skill-set lies. What Color Is Your Parachute? is a perennial favorite for this kind of exercise (and an eye-opener for me in graduate school), and a few years ago I took an assessment called Strengths Finder 2.0 which was also accurate, although IMHO not particularly eye-opening. At a prior employer, the DISC assessment was remarkable in its usefulness as a model of personality and work style, worth looking into. (Sorry, no link to a book as it was shared in the context of a corporate training.) And once you have that information, determine exactly where in a business or corporation you would best fit? Would it be in a customer-facing role, such as field-support, marketing or sales? Would it be in R&D, knowing full-well that a customer facing role is the absolutely last thing on earth you would be interested in doing? Or perhaps something different like legal or operations? (Legal involving perhaps going back to get a law degree.)

This can be the most difficult of all, as we do not see ourselves as others see us, and the truth is often somewhere between the two. The determination of what you are uniquely suitable for is not a static thing, and often discovered through a long process of introspection and data-gathering, which periodically needs to be redone, and is frankly a lot of work. But the ‘Parachute’ exercises were relevatory to me personally, as I knew that I loved to teach and communicate, that I loved to learn and implement what I had just learned, and that I loved to solve different kinds of problems and have a certain unpredictability and uncertainty in my day. All traits that served me well in my teaching career, my time in the lab, and now for the past 10+ years working for different companies.

The second is to start with a Big Company, and whereever you start work hard to define your ‘to-go’ area of excellence. A Big Company can be whatever fits your definition of it, in the vendor research tools space I’ve read that there are some 300-odd companies of various sizes. Thermo-Fisher (TMO) is $11.7B, LIFE is $3.7B in revenue, Sigma-Aldrich (SIAL) is $2.7B,  BioRad (BIO) is $2.0B, QIAGEN (QGEN) is $1.0B, Illumina (ILMN) is $1.0B as well. That’s the life science vendor space (there are others like BD and GE Healthcare that have a lot of other business wrapped up in it, and could be mentioned here too, but you get the point). If you have another market segment (say BioPharma, or Healthcare, or CRO’s) you’ll see the same dynamic of many companies that compete, from Big Companies to small companies to startups, and frankly the best place to start is Big Company.

Why? You’ll get to understand very clearly how things work in this particular Big Company, you’ll have a well-defined role that you can excel and shine in, and lastly it is a great place to establish and build your personal network of sponsors, mentors and colleagues who happen to become your friends. (It may go without saying, but if many of the great people you work with happen to become good friends, it can be good for many things, not the least of which is your sanity when things turn less-than-sane, which they sometimes do.)

And what if you have an itch to start the Startup to Take Over the World, or to join Small Specialized Niche Company? Two or three years in you will have that opportunity, if you wish to do so, but you need to fully understand the Big Company culture and processes firsthand.

And lastly (thirdly) – spend the extra time and effort in the beginning of the corporate life to be that ever-so-slightly better, faster, and higher quality than your peers, whoever they may be. You develop good habits that accrete over time. It is like the effect of taking $100, and compounding the interest at 3% over 30 years, and coming up with $242.73, a 242% increase. Think of your additional efforts over time like that 3% compounding interest – after 10 or 15 years people will look at you like you are extremely fortunate, but rather you say like Seneca the Roman Philosopher, ‘Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.’

About Dale Yuzuki

A sales and marketing professional in the life sciences research-tools area, Dale currently is employed by SeqOnce Biosciences as their Director of Business Development. For additional biographical information, please see my LinkedIn profile here: and also find me on Twitter @DaleYuzuki.

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3 thoughts on “Three Tips for entering the Business Side of Research

  • Shawn Baker

    Nice article, Dale, but I’m not sure I’m sold on point #2 (join a big company). I would say it’s better to focus on joining a ‘good’ company with good people that you can learn from. Small companies, while often hectic and chaotic, can offer more opportunities for doing a variety of things and growing quickly with the organization. For me, joining Illumina as a start up (15 people) gave me the opportunities of expanding my R&D skill set and switching to marketing (without having any traditional commercial experience). I’m not sure I would have had the same opportunities at a large company. Just my two cents.

    • Dale Yuzuki

      Thank you for taking the time to respond Shawn.

      My hat is off to >anyone< who had the great good fortune to join a meteoric startup like yourself, especially as employee #15. However, from my limited understanding of the VC business, they may make 10 bets on 10 companies and lose 100% of their investment on 8 of them, if 1 of them doubles their investment and 1 of them becomes a '10-bagger', giving a 20% overall return (in this simple example). Examples abound of hopeful startup employees who may go from one struggling company to another, and successes are only reported on, rather than the ones that go under altogether.

      I can't argue against your experience as it has grown from a 15-member startup to a 1,700 major corporation with over $1B in revenue, and the experience you've gained along the way.

      However for most of us regular folk who don't have that kind of good fortune, the Big Company has the structure and the experience and the resources to give someone new to the industry an example of how 'it is done', in terms of processes and best practices and what is considered the norm. You just don't get that in places where the depth of experience and tenure as an organization isn't very deep.

      I'm trying to remember a book I once read with a golden egg on its cover, and covered this exact same point about working for a Big Company just out of school. Alas it's title eludes me, it was a business book about careers, the author from one of the big investment houses. Would welcome the title if anyone happens to have read it.

  • Nate Smith

    Hey Dale,

    This is an old post, but I just stumbled upon it as I was conducting NGS research for a project I’m working on. I think you’re right about starting at a big company right out of school. I started with a BS in Biology, and after a year of benchwork in a reference lab started working on an MBA because I like the strategy and business side of life sciences. I’m really early in the process and looking for internships, and every piece of advice I’ve heard so far has been to start at a big company (like those you mentioned) and in 2-3 years you’ll be better equipped to enter a start up. Thanks for the post.