Thursday, February 14, 2013

40+ and alternative careers?

Respected commenter and reader The Aqueous Layer has this to say on the alternative careers front:
I think this line of thinking is great for people under the age of 35. When you start pushing into your 40s and beyond, it becomes much harder to transition into an alternate career, from both ends. Employers are going to be much less willing to take on a 45 year old with no experience. The adage about "It's easier to find a job when you have one" is also true as well. HR and/or hiring managers might not admit it, but there is a bias towards hiring people who already have jobs... 
50 and older it becomes more of 'what will I settle for' or 'what can I do to help make some money to pay the bills'. Unfortunately, I know several people who ended up in that boat, cobbling together small teaching gigs earning less than $25K total.
As someone who is in TAL's gray zone (i.e. NLT35, NMT41), I would be interested in hearing from readers who have successfully (or unsuccessfully!) transitioned away from traditional bench/research-related work to something else. Please tell us in the comments or write me at chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com.

9 comments:

  1. I think this has always been the case. My recollection from biotech 10 years ago was that there were precious few people with grey hair. I used to wonder "where do the old people go"....

    I think, but don't know, that it's always been tough to get a job once you get >40 (note, I'm > 40). Like most professions, chemistry is "up or out". Unfortunately, unlike law or accounting, it's tough to just put up a shingle offering your services as a chemist.

    I did find this: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/feb/06/the-who-debuts-new-drummer-in-san-diego/, amusing: "as they both approach 70, this legendary English band's two surviving co-founders -- guitarist-singer Pete Townshend and lead singer Roger Daltrey -- realize the potential pitfalls of declaring in song: Hope I die before I get old."

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  2. My question is this ... how has your role changed during your employment? I have seen people at this age move from the bench to regulation or safety or other similar moves. It does appear possible, but is within the realm of what your current "job responsibilities" are. I don't know that anyone up and does a complete change. Changes, more often than not, are incremental to the person who is going through them. However, to someone observing from the outside, a change from the bench to regulation/management/other might seem like a really big switch.

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    1. My perspective is one of a traditional medicinal chemist transitioning careers. I know many folks in the last 5 years who have moved from the bench into other roles: Reg. Affairs (several), Project Management, EH&S, Finance etc. Most of them were younger than 40, only one had a PhD. All of them, save one, were actively employed when the change was made.

      It can be done, without question. Your typical 40-something bench chemist who loses their job in a RIF will find it a much harder road. Many of the reasons were discussed in Derek Lowe's blog

      http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2013/02/06/trouble_hiring_whom_exactly.php

      Right now many companies don't want to train people, they want to hire in folks with that direct experience. After 25 years as a bench chemist, it narrows your options quite a bit...

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  3. I was laid off for the second time in 2008, when I was 38. I was offered another pharma job, but I predicted that I'd be laid off again, and I knew it would get harder and harder to find another job when I was over 40. I saw what happened to my coworkers over the years. (And this was before things really got bad!) I looked into going back to school to retrain in some kind of health field, although that was a scary thought (student loans at 40!). But then I heard from a friend-of-a-friend who worked for the federal government. I interviewed and got the job. There was a steep learning curve, going from a research to regulatory, but at least the government was willing to train me. I thought I'd miss the bench more, but I really don't. If you like to write and don't mind a desk job, it's a great career change.

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  4. I'm 25 and attempting to transition into Regulatory Affairs (any advice?) I already work as a chemist for a big Pharma company.. but thus far.. even though I've been applying internally I'm still seeing precious few jobs posted where people are actually LOOKING to fill an entry level position... and I can't help but feel that the prescreening questions (which always ask about your experience) automatically eliminate my resume.. preventing it from even being looked at by a human being..

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  5. The best way to transition and get noticed for internal Regulatory Affairs positions is to get outside training. Many schools offer a Regulatory affairs masters course. My wife applied to one of these positions internally and was told by the intervierwer that she should take those classes if she wanted to switch careers like that, because most of the applicants for the position had that certification. Bench experience was not considered important or advantageous.

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  6. I turn 40 in 6 months. I started working at my alternative career 3 months ago. So with my n of 1 I say horse-hockey! If you have a wide variety of experience that applies to a large variety of situations AND you're adaptable you can make the transition. If you're rigid in your thinking and your abilities...well...you're going to have difficulty everywhere on the job market.

    Oh, wait! I've got an n of 2 now. Friend's wife was in her 50s when she transitioned from PI to safety officer.

    I really don't see how functionally it's all that different from transitioning to administration after working in an academic lab.

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    1. Anon2:53p, if you'd like to tell us more about it, please do. I invite you to tell your story in the comments, or better yet, e-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmaildotcom. Confidentiality guaranteed.

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