Good help is hard to find.
In fact, the lack of access to the right talent and expertise is a major barrier to growth for many companies. No organization is immune, but this is a particularly daunting issue for start-ups working with tight budgets and timelines. Furthermore, science- or technology-based companies often require more than just good help - they demand individuals with very specific knowledge backgrounds and technical specialties, making the search for the ideal worker very challenging.
When it comes to trained scientific support, there is no better place to look than within the graduate education system. We can take a hint from the big management consulting firms who have increased their efforts in recent years to recruit advanced degree-bearing individuals out of scientific graduate programs*. And they are certainly on to something, as nobody spends more hours in a week mastering specific technologies in niche areas of science than graduate students (other than maybe their supervisors, but requesting time from them is another story.) More than that, students from these thesis-intensive graduate programs are forced to perfect analytical and research skills to complete lengthy experiments, and must be self-motivated in order to finish on time. With Canadian graduate enrollment nearly tripling to 190,000 in the last thirty years - the talent pool is overflowing and just waiting to be tapped.
The supply is clearly there, so what is the issue? After speaking with numerous start-ups, we learned that finding good permanent employees was not always within reach due to limited resources. Yet, they still needed workers to address the temporary projects and day-to-day issues that sit outside the collective skill set of their existing team. So by "access to the right talent", this also refers to finding help for short-term projects and cases. Professional consulting firms are generally the go-to problem-solvers for these (and now they are well-equipped with many PhDs!), but with fees on the upwards of $200-300 per hour per consultant, they are not realistic options for young companies.
I believe that establishing infrastructure that enables easy, fast, affordable, and contract-based access to graduate minds is one of the keys to accelerating early-stage health science innovation. While it may seem counterintuitive to aim to create more temporary positions, reducing the risk of initial investment will be a necessary incentive to involve start-ups. I would further argue that graduate students are familiar with working under project-based conditions, and the post-doctoral fellowship career trajectory is by no means a more stable alternative. As alluded to in the previous post, we must not be discouraged by the current lack of academic jobs in Canada, but capitalize upon this time to grow the non-academic health science sector. Considering the highly promising Canadian innovation landscape, there is no better time to redirect our efforts into supporting entrepreneurship. It is our responsibility in academia to tailor the way we provide and apply graduate training, and when necessary, invest our talents into something new.
With all this in mind, we created Industry Link Consulting - a skill-matching service that recruits health science graduate student experts to perform scientific, research, and technical consulting and troubleshooting for early-stage companies. (To be continued in part two.)
* This includes firms like the Boston Consulting Group and PwC, who have expressed interest in individuals from STEM backgrounds to both apply their skills in business settings and also to better perform consulting work for pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
- Ontario Biosciences Innovation Organization
- Charbonneau, L. (2011) The problem with PhD training in Canada.
- Tamburri, R. (2010) Why universities need to prepare doctoral students for careers outside academe.