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Five Old-Fashioned New Year’s Resolutions Every Bioscience Worker Should Make

It’s been yet another roller coaster of a year in the bioscience industry: lots of excitement, but some real lows, too. PerkinElmer acquired Caliper, but announced layoffs. Pacific Bioscience, a high flyer early in 2011, is perhaps now plummeting to earth: it laid off 130 workers. Even the golden child of life science tools, Illumina, has had sluggish sales and recently announced it will shed 8% of its workforce. Sometimes it’s not easy to hang on, much less enjoy the ride.

Not surprisingly, I get many calls from people looking to find a new job in the short term and/or to optimize career options for the long term. They ask what they should do. My answer? “A lot.” Specifically, a lot of fundamentals. We may be doing work at the edge of the possible, folks, but the old-fashioned basics still really count — and it never hurts to be reminded of them. So here they are: the five old-fashioned resolutions every bioscience worker should make for the coming year. Along with visiting the gym more (and the soda machine less), of course.

Resolution 1: Do your job. As much as career concerns can loom, focus on your current work and do the absolute best you can. Be mindful of corporate goals and your manager’s needs — and just plain get things done. Ask for feedback and try to incorporate that feedback into your approach. Remember that most positions and companies have ups and downs. Sometimes patience and perseverance make a huge difference, sometimes moving on is best. But don’t let deciding between them interfere with your performance. And emulate Harry Truman’s buck-stops-here philosophy. Take responsibility. Don’t pass along problems – fix them.

Resolution 2: Look at yourself honestly. Set aside some time and systematically name your true strengths and weaknesses. Think about at which job you were happiest. What were you doing? One way to approach this task is to pen a five-page PowerPoint about your expertise, experience, and education. Include success stories and work products. Be specific. In these times, there are many people with “broad experience.” Don’t be afraid to show your domain expertise. Think of it as a quick way to introduce yourself – to yourself; even if you never present the PowerPoint directly to others, the activity itself will help you distill your professional essence in a highly communicative way and get clarity about what your next steps should be.

Resolution 3: Make new friends, and keep the old. We all get so focused on our own tasks that sometimes we forget to look up, see what’s going on in our industry and with our colleagues — even though knowledge and networks are critical to many career decisions. Subscribe to Genome News, attend local entrepreneurial events such as the MIT Enterprise Forum. If you are in San Francisco in January, network at the JP Morgan Conference. It’s a great opportunity to see new life science companies before they’ve made their splash, understand the community as a whole, and meet people who may be helpful. Reconnect with old colleagues. And while you’re at it, put down that sandwich you’re eating in front of the computer and make a lunch date!

Resolution 4: Help others. Make the effort. Introduce people to each other. When you hear of something that might help someone, pass it on. Go out of your way especially to assist those people who are unfortunately out of work. Remember — it can happen to anyone. Taking time to help another is not only the right thing to do, but may result in a helping hand if it’s ever your turn to need one. Stan Lapidus, CEO of SnyapDx, is a vocal proponent of this principle. It’s important, and it’s easier to follow than his other career advice (delivered with a grin, of course): “marry well.”

Resolution 5: Be grateful. We are all incredibly lucky to have chosen work in an industry that can directly or indirectly benefit to human health and well-being. Let’s all make it count. As Francis Collins said in a recent interview, “[T]here has never been a more exciting time to get involved in biomedical research. This century, the 21st century, is going to be the time when we derive answers to questions that have vexed us for all of history. […] To be part of that process of discovery and application could be, I think, the most exciting way for somebody to spend their life.

Happy holidays to all, and to all a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year.

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