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Getting Practical About the Crystal Ball: 3 Actionable Lessons Job-Seekers Should Take from Industry

Let’s face it. New Year’s predictions are as plentiful — and perishable — as New Year’s resolutions. If you’re a life-science job seeker, however, keep in mind that this year will almost certainly ring in no increases in NIH grants and a continuation of challenges in Big-pharma due regulatory and legislative pressures. That’s pretty decent incentive, if you ask me, to stick to your resolution to keep a practical eye on industry trends. Of course, as with any resolution, it’s all about actionability.

To get you started, let’s take three trends identified by Steve Burrill, as well-respected an oracle for our trade as there is, and look at how to apply those predictions.

Prediction #1: To mangle James Carville, it’s the sequencing, stupid. As Burrill says, ”The focus this year will shift from the $1,000 genome to the $100 genome. It’s real. It’s happening. It’s the diagnostic of tomorrow.”

Life Technologies and Illumina, two companies that have always primarily been tool suppliers, have clearly seen the advantage of applying their tools to diagnostics. Each is taking steps to morph into Roche- and GE Health-like entities. In 2012, Life Technologies acquired Navigenics and Pinpoint Genomics. Expression Analysis began offering access to cutting-edge genomic tools such as NGS. They coupled this with a quality system environment and the CLIA-certified laboratory guidelines required by their customers working in clinical studies, and positioned themselves for greater activity in clinical diagnostics. Talk about understanding how to cross the tool/Dx chasm! They were highly successful and were bought this past year by Quintiles.

Lesson: For candidates in the tools industry, if you have not been thinking Dx — start. Educate yourself about the personalized medicine and diagnostic fields. Opportunities abound for people who understand both the tool and Dx markets and how to bridge them.

Prediction #2: The synthetics are coming! Synthetic biology, which is even more powerful than genetic engineering, allows us to design biological systems in a rational and systematic way — in some cases to create that which has never been made. Burrill tells us that “Advances in synthetic biology will begin to transform manufacturing of everything from fragrances to fabrics as engineered organisms produce materials traditionally derived from plants and petroleum.”

Lesson: As industrial biology advances this year, employment opportunities expand. The need for microbiologists, molecular biologists, computational experts, educators, and journalists will increase in this area, as will the number of companies such as Sample 6(food safety testing), Gen 9 (gene synthesis), and Joule (renewables), that need those people. New life science graduates should widen their thinking to contemplate this field instead of focusing solely on pharma.

Prediction #3: What the world needs now is food, clean food. Burrill says, “In 2013, there will be expanded use of biopesticides to combat insects and microoganisms that damage crops. Plant breeders will harness emerging technologies, such as RNAi, to produce a new generation of products that allow for greater crop yields without the stigma of producing foods that are considered genetically modified.”

Lesson: 2013 is truly the year to look at applied markets such as agriculture. The global food crisis and climate change will generate an increasing need for crops with greater productivity, greater ability to ward off pests, and greater ability to survive challenging weather conditions. Examples include companies such as Synthetic Genetics and partnerships likeMonsanto and Alnylam applying genomics for pest control. This means expanded demand for new genomic technologies — and the people trained to develop them.

All in all, the future will belong to the people future-oriented and flexible enough to plan for what’s next, rather than what was. Get out of your comfort zone and spend some time reading or attending seminars about these applied fields. Have a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year, and hey — weren’t you going to drink less coffee?

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