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Barriers in Biotech: To PhD, or not to PhD?

​Barriers in Biotech: To PhD, or Not to PhD?

The Biotech industry is evolving, and so are the candidates. Biotech makes a habit of breaking through to weird and wonderful frontiers by the minute (hello, purple tomatoes), but is the PhD barrier standing in the way of even more meaningful progression?

Many seem to think so. Education is undoubtedly a foundation of opportunity, but it’s also a politically and socio-economically charged barrier, especially in the recruitment space. While it’s true that many biotech companies filter their talent search through a PhD-shaped hiring lens, it might not be the best way to go when you need to find top candidates in a tight timeframe.

You don’t need a PhD to excel in biotech (some positions even favour someone without a PhD), and this is even true of some highly technical roles we’ve seen cropping up recently. What’s changed?

An Expanding Biotech Industry

As the bioeconomy emerges from its infancy, the limelight shines on biotech and its outwardly expanding borders. Biotech has made more than a few big promises, and as the demand for alternative healthcare solutions sores, organisations (and the talent they employ) will need to step up.

Expansion and growth of this kind often lead to increased demand for talent, and in biotech, this tends to be hard-to-find talent too. When your prime candidates are locked out by an academic prerequisite, you’re missing out on their very real, very capable skillsets.

This has led plenty of hiring managers to favour demonstrable experience as opposed to traditional qualifications, effectively widening the available talent pool in the hope of catching that hard-to-reach talent before the competition does.

The Industry Moves Fast

In a constantly evolving landscape, adaptability reigns supreme. What good is an outdated qualification when the holder isn’t flexible enough to keep up with the changing times? Of course, a qualification represents an incredible number of highly desirable traits and talents, including dedication, perseverance, ambition, critical thinking, a commitment to excellence, and many others, but for many, the focus is shifting to the specifics.

Candidates with a background in using specific technologies and techniques, in certain areas of work (data analysis, project delivery, regulatory expertise, and computational skills being prime examples) are often the ones on the modern hiring manager’s radar, and they’re not always the kind of skills you get from a PhD program.

There are Alternative Pathways Out There

There are now many alternative educational pathways available for those interested in working in biotechnology, including vocational training programs that offer specialized training in key areas like laboratory techniques and bioprocessing.

These programs provide individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to work in the biotechnology industry without having to pursue a PhD to begin with – good news for those wishing that this particular corner of the life sciences was a little more accessible, considering the abundance of rewarding opportunities on show. These opportunities have arisen in the form of apprenticeships, student placements, and internal training, to name just a few.

PhDs Are Not Always Needed for Leadership Roles

It takes a certain kind of skillset to be a leader in the life sciences, and it’s one that’s not necessarily earned through a PhD. Many companies are recognising that traits like business acumen are just as important as technical skills or academic expertise, and in many cases, it’s changing the hiring process entirely.

A Move to More Inclusive Hiring Processes

Speaking of processes, we love a good process here at BioTalent, specifically the inclusive ones, and we’ve noticed a shift. Candidates have more sway than ever before – they know their talents are in demand, and they know they have options. Candidates have been calling out for more inclusivity for a while, and dropping the PhD barrier is an example of this.

Below is our LinkedIn data on the gender split between male and female-identifying PhD and non-PhD employees in the UK Biotech industry, indicating that PhD-restricted hiring is potentially detrimental to gender equity in the sector:

Employees with a PhD: 45% Female/55% Male

Employees without a PhD: 51% Female/49% Male

The world of tomorrow should focus on breaking barriers, not establishing them, and one of the ways to do it is to move towards more inclusive hiring practices. It shouldn’t stop there though, as businesses must follow through from the hiring and searching stages and truly support their talent in a way that empowers them to thrive once they’ve joined the team.

At BioTalent, our diversity-led methodology underpins everything we do. Whether you’re hoping to hire, or you’re hoping to get hired, we can match you with an opportunity that works for you. If you want to know more about our communities, our services, our people, or our mission, get in touch with the team today – we’d love to be a part of your journey.