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Academia (vs. Industry)

Sneaking Out for an Interview

There was a good question asked in the comments to the previous post on first job interviews: what do you talk about when you work at one company and you’re interviewing at another?
Well, I’ve done that myself, more than once (note to my current co-workers: not in the last few years, folks.) And it can be tricky. But there are some rules that people follow, and if you stay within their bounds you won’t cause any trouble. That’s not to say that my managers wouldn’t have had a cow if they’d seen my old interview slides at the time, but I was at least in the clear legally. Here’s how you make sure of that:
First off, it would be best if you could confine your interview talk to work that’s been published in the open literature. That stuff is, by definition, completely sterilized from an intellectual property standpoint, and you can yammer on about it all day if you want. The downside is that published work tends to be pretty ancient stuff by the time it shows up in a journal, and you’ve may have done a lot more interesting things since then. (The other downside is that published projects are almost always failed projects.) Work that’s appeared in issued patents is also bulletproof, of course, but it suffers from the same time-lag disadvantages.
Second best is work that’s appeared in patent applications. This stuff hasn’t been blessed by the patent office yet, so things could always change, but it’s at least been disclosed. When you talk about it, you’re not giving away anything that couldn’t have already been downloaded and read. (Of course, you do have to resist the temptation to add lots of interesting details that don’t appear in the application.)
If you’ve at least filed the applications, then you can still be sort of OK, since they’re going to publish in a few months, anyway. This is a case-by-case thing. If the company you’re interviewing at is competing with you in that very field, you’d better not give them a head start. But if you’re talking antivirals at a company that does nothing but cardiovascular and cancer, you should be able to get away with it. It would be best if you didn’t disclose full structures – leave parts of the molecules cut off as big “R” groups and just talk about the parts that make you look like the dynamic medicinal chemist you are.
The worst case is “none of the above.” No published work worth talking about, no patent applications, no nothing. I actually did go out and give an interview seminar under those conditions once, and it was an unpleasant experience. I had to talk about ancient stuff from my post-doc, and it was a real challenge convincing people that I knew what was going on in a drug company. I don’t recommend trying it.
But I don’t recommend spilling the beans in that situation, either. I’ve seen a job interview talk where it became clear that the speaker was telling us more than he really should have, and we all thought the same thing: he’ll do the same thing to us if he gets a job here. No offer.

3 comments on “Sneaking Out for an Interview”

  1. Chemkid says:

    I am currently in an undergrad med. chemistry program and the way it works in my school is if you aren’t REALLY good friends with a professor or have A+’s in just about everything, you won’t be able to get an honours project and thus no experience. I myself am going to try to head to the states(currently in canada) for a masters, but, if I or my fellow students ends up the position of “none of the above”, what kind of future in the field can we expect if any? We always joke about going to teachers college and “copping out” as we call it. Love your page, gives us students great insight into what our futures may hold!

  2. Chemist#573953 says:

    Thanks for the info on interviewing. There are a number of “unspoken” rules of the industry that I’m still becoming familiar with. What about the biological data associated with the patented compounds? Frequently the patent covers only the chemistry and a very (VERY) basic mention of the biology. But, of course, as medicinal chemists, we want to share the development of the SAR and how we solved various biological problems. Is it Ok to discuss the biology of the patented compounds, even though the biological info has not been published/patented? (ie. IC50’s, CYP, hERG, PK, etc?) Obviously, one wouldn’t want to disclose everything — the best compounds of course shouldn’t be disclosed — but it seems that a discussion of some of the biology not yet published should be Ok. No? Any thoughts?

  3. Derek Lowe says:

    Most of the patents I’ve been on actually detail the biological data – that “everything had activity better than ten micromolar” stuff really drives me crazy.
    But you’re right, you need to discuss biology, and the more experience you have as a medicinal chemist, the more you need to discuss. By that point, it’s assumed that you know what you’re doing in the lab, and you have to show that you know the rest of it as well.
    The way I handled this was to go into some of the PK, tox, and metabolism (in general terms) verbally, but not on the slides.

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