Monday, April 30, 2012

Interning and Market Analysis

I've been interning long enough to complete a few assignments for different groups of innovators.  I'm in a better position now to comment on my role and have a little perspective on biotech start-ups, but hopefully we can revisit this often.  As an intern, I take up short, task-based assignments to help a team of innovators at an early stage in the start-up process.  C4C generally works with companies while they are still just a twinkle in someone's eye, before a business license appears or office space is leased.  Lately, I am working with teams hoping to put together commercialization grants- that is, ask for money to do the kind of work that starts them to be profitable.  This is work the NIH won't usually pay for. 

In order to convince someone this is a good idea, there needs to be some assessment made about how profitable any idea could be.  We call this market analysis- I've done a few of these now.  These grants need something to bolster the science as a solid investment.  You've got a new idea that could vastly improve common hip replacements?  $mart.  You've got an idea that could improve a small fraction of hip replacements?  How $mall is small?  Your idea might only be useful in a fraction of pinky toe joint replacements, but is crazy expensive?  Not sure if anyone will pay for that.  The market analysis can help to focus the innovators on where they are going to take their inventions, and it provides reassurance to investors (in this case, the University) that this won't be a waste of money.  So I investigate how much is spent on this technology, on related technologies, and what does the market still want.  For example, cancer treatment is a huge and competitive market with many players, but if you could cure cancer, people would buy it.  In other markets, it's the cheaper, easier, faster trifecta that can be used to drive the market forward. 

I pull together facts including competitors and context, and then make a recommendation.  I'll be interested to see some of the follow-up from these analyses- do my teams get funding?  Do they shift direction?  Some teams I have worked with personally, some I just get an email from their tech manager and return another email with the analysis, these ones feel much like my freelance work.  The projects where I get to work with the team, the most interesting part for me is meeting the EIR- the Entrepreneur-In-Residence.  These are folks who describe themselves as 'serial entrepreneurs' who have a host of start-ups under their belt, and are hoping to mentor these big shot professors/noob businessmen into their first company.  They use an interesting vocabulary and have a fascinating professional history.  I seriously need to pick their brains more.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Job opportunties for PhDs?

If you read any academic/career blogs for the PhD audience, you are probably aware of the debate about the over-production of PhDs.  Are there too many?  What jobs are they supposed to get?  For some fields (chemistry especially), there is an painful mismatch between training and industry needs.  Chemjobber started some nice dialogue about the opportunity costs of grad school in response to a Chronicle Article by Jon Bardin, a chemistry grad student and science writer who talked with excitement about the many directions a person can take graduate training.  I agree, there are many places you can take a PhD, teaching high school for example, but many of those positions don't require the PhD which can make a burnt out graduate feel like the years of toil were for naught.  DocFreeride responded very candidly about the risks of going to graduate school (it's not a guarantee for a job).  These are all great articles, and I would encourage you to look at the comments section of each.

Some may point to the low unemployment rate for those with PhDs as evidence that there is not a mismatch.  First, remind yourself that this number only accounts for those who have had a job that pays into unemployment- grad students and post-docs in between positions don't count.  I would like to respond to this, as a technically 'employed' PhD.  Someone asked me recently on a particularly optimistic day if getting my PhD was worth it.  And I responded that I'll always be able to find work (editing papers for China or taking contracts, for example), but as someone who has invested so much time in my professional development, I have ambitions to find a fulfilling career.  And that has proven to be much harder than I might have thought.

I was meeting recently with a couple of other out of work scientists (casualties of the boom-bust Seattle Biotech market).  One of them walked me through his current career plan: 
Plan A- Dream job as a scientist.
Plan B- Full time work using transferable and technical skills.
Plan C- Contract work using any transferable skills.
Plan D- any type of work.  His unemployment is running out, so Plan D is a major focus.

I was starting to complain that I had just achieved Plan D- I can pay my bills, but now I spend all my time running around like a crazy person between 3 jobs and networking events and try to spend a few minutes sending out applications.  This is not the dream- I never aspired to be a full-time job hunter.... but both of these scientists (politely) told me to stuff it.  They knew too many scientists who had lost their homes, spouses and lives as a result of not being able to find a job of any sort.  Am I really career savvy for taking a part-time job?  Is the most important skill that I learned as a graduate student the ability to work diligently on seemingly pointless tasks?

Well, it is one the skills I learned, but I prefer to think that my analytical ability and aptitude for critical thinking were more important.  Another skill I learned is the importance of jumping through hoops when necessary (as expressed by the great @GeneWrangler).  When I told these guys I was thinking about getting my CAPM, they were skeptical that I would learn anything I didn't already know.  And that's not the point- you don't always get certified to learn things, sometimes you get certified to prove you are a joiner, that you can put up with the necessary Bureaucratic Stuff (BS) to get the job done.  A tolerance for BS is important in some jobs, like it or not.  Yes, it would be awesome if we could all be fairly evaluated based on our potential for success stemming from a thoughtfully objective assessment of our strengths.  But in reality, we just have to find a way to be the right person, in the right place at the right time.  I'm not willing to leave that to chance, so I am committed to polishing my candidacy in as many ways as I can in an effort to be ready for when opportunities present themselves.  To me, having my PhD means I have the skills to overcome the issues that my field and job market have.  I'm not sure what the solution looks like at the moment, but I have spent years looking for something with a much lower probability of success, so I know I got this.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Experiment: Copy and Paste

We've all heard that more and more, computers are pre-screening applications for specific key words before a resume ever gets seen by a human.  If you don't have the magic character string, you don't have a job.  I've worried a lot about this, but wasn't really sure what to do about it.  A colleague recently mentioned that to a computer "PhD" and "Ph.D." and "Ph-D" are unrelated.  The surest way to hit the keywords is to use the form put in the ad.

And this got me thinking, I never know what the key words will be.  If the ad contains the search terms, maybe my application should contain the ad?  This morning, I am taking a new approach to resume writing.  I find a job I think I am a good fit for, I copy the text of the ad, and trim that to meet my specific needs.  "Builds professional relationships" becomes "Builds professional relationships as part of a large, interdisciplinary team."  I'm not gonna lie, it kinda feels like plagiarism, but I am been assured that applicant creativity doesn't usually get picked out of pre-screening.

I'll let you know if it works, but here are a couple up-sides I noticed already:
1) It's impossible to apply for jobs I'm not pretty much a great candidate for
2) It's a way faster way to tailor my resume.
I've already applied to two associate positions this morning, so we might get a chance to see how this experiments pans out in the short run.

Side note: the consensus was that the cover-letter isn't really essential for key word searching, and that in many cases it isn't read.  I always include a nice, but short one, figuring it doesn't get screened, but someday I'll be sitting with someone in an interview situation and they might read it before I walk in the room.  This might be a waste of time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Breaking in to Project Management

Sometimes I rely on other's optimism about my job hunt.  I mean, objectively, it isn't heading the direction I want, so it is really great to have someone who knows what they are talking about say, "C'mon, I think you'd be a good fit for this position." 

This was the formerly job hunting friend of mine who hooked me up with some of his great contacts- he suggested that for the right person and project, a Project Management job could be entry level.  I have since learned that there are sometimes "associate PM" positions, but I don't see many listed currently.  He saw a job at an old employer, and put me in touch with someone who knew the role and the hiring manger.  Slam-dunk, right?

Not so much.  The contact at Philips, while very encouraging and empathetic, was pretty clear that for that specific role they needed someone who understood either oral health, or manufacturing... ideally both.  You can double check my LinkedIn profile, but I've got experience in neither.  I was feeling pretty crestfallen, when he said, "You would probably be a better fit for a scientist position" which obviously made me want to explode.  But, instead, I said, "I'd love to work as a scientist, but I don't have the clinical experience that most positions in the area are looking for.  I can't find a role as a scientist, which is why I've been looking at alternative ways to use my education."  He said he knew that Philips would be opening some positions 'soon' (in a couple months) and offered to pass around my CV, which isn't a bad outcome.

I had this phone call, and then went to my first Intro to Project Management class at Bellevue College.  They offer a certificate, and can help people get the coveted PMP certification through PMI.  The PMP certification requires thousands of hours of experience, which means it probably can't help me with my current effort to find a job.  But, I head about another one that might.  Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) requires much less experience (or just two classes, one of which I am taking already) and a certification exam.  There is a knowledge requirement, so it is meaningful, but it is something I could get before the summer- so it might be possible to influence my current job hunt.  This is a certification that isn't for established experts in the field, but does show that you take the PMI methods seriously, and have spent some time in this area of professional development.

I'm thinking about taking the CAPM, it will be nice to have something concrete to show for all this "professional development," but it might be hard to justify the time away from the job hunt.

Monday, April 23, 2012

BLS data on Life Scientists

First off, a h/t to Chemjobber, who is great at navigating the Bureau of Labor Statistics to pull out depressing chemistry statistics so I that I can find a place to pull more optimistic biology numbers to share.

The BLS handbook is a great place to explore careers, and the online version makes it much easier to navigate.  Skills and work environment are matched to job growth and salary information, and linked to related jobs in a very helpful way.

So, remember last week when I found that number about huge growth for Medical Scientists?  Well, here is a little more comparative data, including projections for "Life Scientists," which is probably a more accurate description of who I am right now. 

Life scientists are not as fast growing, nor as well paid as medical scientists- but this also seems more realistic.  In the next 20 years, BLS predicts a 36% increase in medical scientist jobs (or 36,000 jobs), and a 20% increase in Life Science jobs.  (The expected national average is closer to 17% growth in jobs.)

Compare the predicted job growth for biochemists and biophysicists, the need is expected to grow by 31%, but this is actually only 7,700 jobs.  (They make more money though).

One facet you should be aware of (before your brain explodes) is that these documents suggest that there is no on the job training for any of these positions.  What I am getting at, is that none of these numbers account for grad students or post-docs, who I totally believe deserve to call themselves scientists.  I had previously thought that this median income data included us trainees, which implies that the top of that bell curve must be set to counterbalance an army of grant-funded RAs. If that's not the case, then the top of the curve is probably not so far away, because it only includes people who actually perform experiments and still wear a lab coat sometimes.  (BLS is very systematic about their categorizations.  My old PI would not likely count as a Life Scientist, he would instead be a Post-Secondary Teacher based on what he does daily.)

Not sure what this does for my job hunt, but BLS showed me that very few jobs for people with a Ph.D. have any on-the-job training, so be sure you've learned everything you need to know to enter industry before you walk away from academia.  (Ha, I jest).

Next time you encounter a student trying to decide what to do with their life, point that at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, so they can avoid the sad fate of chemists, who believed there was a great need, and are now unemployed.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Interview with a Program Manager

Through AWIS, I was put in touch with a woman who is a Program Manager at Seattle Genetics.  This is an interesting route for a scientist, although you don't have to be one to have this role.  Her background starts with a Ph.D. in human biology (which is somewhat clinical), then a few years as a science adviser at a biotech company (which sounds kinda like an MSL job).  Then she relocated, and needed to start from scratch here in Seattle.  She spent a lot of time networking, joined AWIS and was on the newsletter committee (like me!), and took an Intro to Project Management course at the community college.  

In her role as a program manager, she is supposed to coordinate people, time and money to get things done- like move a drug through trials.  (The difference between a project manager and a program manager is that Program managers have many projects that they manage).  She doesn't do bench work, but she works closely with researchers.  There are teams of PMs at SeaGen, often with a specialist assigned to some of the major functional areas like Regulatory, Clinical, Development or Research.  She said someone like me could enter as an associate PM in Research, but I might have trouble in the other areas (since I don't know much about them). It's common to arrive in a PM position after having some other industry experience, but she didn't think required.  (Sometimes when people say this, however, I think "you mean not essential in general- but it's probably important in this economy.")

Another thing she addressed specifically is PMI certification (Project Management Professional is sometimes shortened as PMP after someone's name).  She said she found her Intro PM class useful to learn some terminology and techniques, but she didn't feel that PMP was essential to do her job.  In fact, she felt that the approach of PMI is very effective in predictable situations like engineering, but in biology things change to quickly.  Not many people who are biopharma PM have that certification, because of the nature of the job.

So... I've signed up to take the Intro to Project Management course at the Community College.  This completes the trifecta of recommendations for long term job hunters.  I've joined a couple professional societies, I volunteer in a professional capacity, and I now I'm taking a class. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Being a role model: Illusions of granduer

Networking is a two way street- I need help finding a job, so I need to help anyone I can find a job too.  A former student of mine from my first TA experience posted on Facebook that he is unable to find a position as a science teacher, and is hoping to find a tech position in Pittsburgh somewhere.  Since I am an expert job hunter, I weighed in to wish him luck, and he asked me to be a reference.  Of course!  He was a great student and would be a great addition to a lab!

This is the third time I've been asked to be a reference for a student of mine, and I always think- don't you have someone... like, important to write you a letter?  I mean, my grandmother thinks my Ph.D. is cool, but will your future employer be impressed by a letter from an out-of-work molecular biologist?  Of course, both past students got the position they were hoping for, so maybe I am placing too much importance on the role of the reference.

It also reminds me, these people (not kids- they are in their mid-twenties for crying out loud) look up to me, and that gives me an unnerving sense of responsibility.  Being a role model shouldn't be taken lightly.  Example- I really look up to all the post-docs in my old lab.  Seeing all of them hesitate (struggle, battle, endeavor, be rebuffed and dismayed)  to move their careers ahead makes me so hesitant to think about post-docing.  If scientists that motivated, committed and freaking brainy can't rise in the ranks, what am I going to do? When I left Pitt, I was excited to find a way to have a career without a post-doc and other grad students thought that was cool.  I haven't figured it out yet, but sometimes I tell myself I am sticking to my guns for other grad students who wanted to see some alternate road to success.  This isn't about me, it's about something bigger than me.  I'm trying to find some way to make the public investment in ME worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Great news for Medical Scientists, except epidimiologists!

Over at ChemJobber, there has been some interesting discussion about the derth of jobs for chemists, and many perspectives on why chemists are unemployed and what to do about it.  I'm not a chemist, but I identify with the struggle- I was also trained to do something that isn't what industry wants, and am struggling to transition that technical experience into gainful employment.  There is always a certain amount of finger pointing that "kids these days" can't get jobs because we are lazy, or that our professors pulled the wool over our eyes.  What I like about Chemjobber is that he uses numbers whenever possible- and he pointed out a Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs projection report that he pulled data from to show the shrinkage of the chemists job market.  Ouch.

So I went to look.  I used the most recent version of the same report and found some interesting things.  First of all, based on the career categories used by the BLS, I would consider myself a Medical Scientist (who is not an epidemiologist).  My previous work was to research a human disease to improve human health. Directly from the BLS Jan 2012 Monthly Labor Review:

Life, physical, and social science occupations.
Most new jobs:
Medical scientists, except epidemiologists +36,400
Fastest growing (in percent):
Medical scientists, except epidemiologists +36.4

Fastest declining (in percent):
Forest and conservation technicians –1.0
Highest paying:
Political scientists $107,420

BLS predicts and extra 36,000 jobs for Ph.D. or professional degree carrying medical scientists in the next 20 years.  It thinks the median income for these will be above $70K.

At first blush, I was baffled- if 'medical science' is growing why don't I have a job?  First, this are prediction from 2010-2020, so the growth is not over.  But, as I read the report, I realized that what is needed is scientists with clinical experience.  That's basically the missing piece in my job hunt.  I'm not sure what to do about it, but it's refreshing to have some cold hard data to put up next to my experience. 

Another interesting fact was from the table looking at employment by education level.  BLS believes that 3.1% of the country had a Ph.D. or professional degree (MD, JD etc) in 2010, and that 3.2% will in 2020.  The median income for these folks is $87,500/year.  (For reference, the median income across all education levels is $33,000/year.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

My article is on Page 8

Following the pretty obvious advice to network around when I moved to Seattle, I joined and was quickly added to the board of the Seattle Chapter of the Association of Women in Science.  I'm on the newsletter committee, and I was pretty stoked when we decided that this quarter's newsletter was about bioethics.  I designed a course in bioethics for undergrads as a graduate student, and it was a lot of fun to put together and teach- so in addition to bugging people (who mostly ignored my requests) for newsletter articles, I wrote one too.  You can read it here.

It was challenging to write the article, because I wanted to balance it between "Things AWIS Members might actually want to read," and "Things I wish my future employer knew about me."  Let me know what you think.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Post-doc at a non-for profit

I had a quick meeting/tour at the Institute for Systems Biology this week.  (yes, Leeroy Hood's ISB- swoon).  Through a contact, I met a post-doc in mass-spec there.  It was great to get to check out the facility, and pretty cool to poke around South Lake Union a bit more.  I forget that all these science places are just cheek by jowl down there.  Seattle Biomed is right next door, UW and the Hutch are quite nearby, Novo Nordisk as some waterfront there, PATH and The Gates Foundation are around the corner.  This is where the science happens in Seattle.

Anyway, ISB is a fun building, bright colors, free coffee, lounges with big windows and wide open lab spaces.  My contact works in a core/research lab up there.  And I just had to know how he got his job.  He is a chemist by training, and had this side project that required him to learn Mass-Spec.  He went to ISB to learn their software package.  There was an opening for a post-doc to do that type of work, so he applied.  The PI was thrilled to have someone who already knew the software and asked him to start immediately- unfortunately, he was following the rule of looking for a job 18-12 months prior to graduating.  They agreed to delay 6 months.  He defended on a Friday and started that Monday.

This is an awesome story.  But in my slighted jaded view of the job hunt, it highlighted a few things. 
1) People who make those final hiring decisions are not experts in hiring.  Don't get me wrong, this guy was great, he seemed like it would be easy to work with and efficient at his job.  But in 6 months anyone could have learned the software package and been mashing out data.  He got hired because the PI liked him and probably hates hiring as much as the rest of us hate job hunting.
2) No one wants to pay for training anymore.  Many people have told me to be sure I list all the weird software packages I used on my resume.  VectorNTI, Kaliedagraph, ImageJ and ImageGauge haven't opened a lot of doors for me so far, but you never know.  If you could learn some software, I'd recommend ADME so you could be in pharmakokinetics.  I see job openings there.
3) He still doesn't know what he is going to do after the post-doc.  These not-for-profit situations aren't that different from academia in terms of mentorship, career advice etc.  But he gets paid better and gets benefits, so there is less drive to leave.  Many people there get hired on to permanent scientist positions, and very view go on to faculty positions.  But research is research, and it won't open the door to commercial jobs.  They are different skill sets.
4) These jobs could happen quick.  Most of the post-doc positions that are posted on these sites are immediate openings- funding and space are in place.  You've got a better shot if there isn't a geographical barrier. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stuck in the box

Following some advice to reach out to diverse recruiters on LinkedIn, I found myself with a phone screen for a Project Manager position at a clinical software company.  (That experiment is currently 4 in 4 returned contacts- good sign, right?)  The recruiter was very nice, and gave me every opportunity to reveal where I had hidden several years of clinical experience or software development on my resume.  In the end, we both agreed it wasn't a great fit, and he suggested if I was serious about project management roles, I should look into getting my PMI- a certification for project managers.  I've heard mixed reviews on this- for starters, you need something like 3,000 hours of project management experience to be fully certified.  This WOULD be a great addition to your resume, but it's not something to whip out in my evenings and weekends.  The certification doesn't necessarily add anything to all that experience (that could be one 300 hour project that took 10 times too long), but it shows that you value that skill set enough to participate in this professional group. 

At the end of the interview, the recruiter said, "You know, I used to work at Amgen and Merck.  You would be perfect for a Molecular Biologist job at a place like that.  Have you thought about applying to those sorts of places?"  A-haha.  Have I thought about it?  Yes, that's in fact why this conversation started with me saying "I would like to transition my research experience to a more applied and clinical position."  Amgen doesn't need molecular biologists- they need immunologists, they need compliance officers, medical writers etc.  These are also jobs I think I could do, but people look at my resume and say, 'oh, you should continue doing what you used to do.'

This is one reason I've been working so hard to do other things to show that I am not a one-dimensional candidate.  I can write, I can communicate with different groups, I have some business savvy.  But people see Ph.D. at the top of the resume and not much more.  I don't want to oversell several months of contract work (I have been doing bench work for a decade- it's hard to ignore that's where my experience is), but how do I highlight that in a way that gives me some appeal to a non-traditional job?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Targetting Employers

At networking events, people always ask "what companies are your targeting."  I've been lazy on this front, in part because I am flexible about what role I'd be willing to take, but mostly because I am afraid of limiting myself.  But, I had a fairly frustrating, but insightful, phone interview yesterday (more on that later) that made me realize I really need to do this.  The types of jobs I am looking for fit into different groups, so I've got a few lists.

Seattle Genetics*
Novo Nordisk
Gilead Bioscience

Medical Devices
Physiocontrol *

Not-for Profit 
Gates Foundation*
Institute for Systems Biology*
Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) *
Seattle Biomed

Major Employers who might hire Smart People

* are places I have a contact.
Yeah, I left off the UW, and the Hutch.  I don't want to be a researcher forever and I don't want to get boxed into that in the long run.  More on that later.

Friday, April 6, 2012

In which my grad work might have helped someone...

Something weird happened at the bank the other day- a client came in to make a withdrawal, and happened to mention that a family member was suffering from a rare disease.  He said it in a way that had no expectation that I would know what he was talking about, but would empathize with his distress.  He could not have possibly known that in my previous work, I was one of the few people on the planet looking for a cure for this rare complication to an already devastating disease.  I didn't tell him that either, because seeing him upset about it made me feel like a quitter. 

Much like the area manager who smokes, who I can't bring myself to berate about it even though I know all kinds of miserable things about why smoking gives you cancer, and the bad kind at that.  What am I supposed to say? "I like you enough to let you know this, but not enough to find a cure for you when you need it..."

The conflict stems from the powerlessness of being a job hunter.  When I was doing research, I could at least say I was making an effort to change the world, to cure disease, to save us all from suffering.  Now I count people's money all day and try not to think about all the nasty chemicals that are on my hands.  But, this is apparently the best I can do.  It seems... unfair? is that too cliche?... hard to manage the emotional baggage of the job hunt.  I know I don't miss doing research, but I think I miss doing something for the greater good.

The job market is at least 10 times better than it was in January, so my every free minute will be spent pursuing a job I don't have to feel guilty about, or will be too embarrassed to mention to my old boss.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Say less.

It's hard to know what to say.  The first introduction, the cold call, the follow up email.  I will often hear people give the synopsis of "how that interaction is supposed to go" but I find it takes me a long time to type out those email, to have those conversations, because I want to cushion my message with some fluffy social banter.  This may be an over-compensation being a scientist- I don't want people to think I am direct to the point of lacking social skills.  BUT, if it takes so much time to write up one email, it's hard to move through the many emails I should be sending, yes?

I was getting schooled in job hunting the other evening by a friend who is applying for more senior positions (ie, VP).  I wanted to believe that his job hunt was moving faster and going better because he had experience and a network already.  That might be part of it, but a lot of it is how he goes about his hunt.  He paid for the full subscription on LinkedIn.  He sends a lot of notes to people.  And most of those notes are crazy short.  One note he sends to HR people:

"I am considering exploring opportunities at YOUR COMPANY.  Can you put me in touch with someone I can speak to about this?  Please let me know if I should send a resume." 

He gets lots of nothing from that, but he also got a job offer out of that.  And an email that short, you can afford to send 100 times a day.  He doesn't spend time justifying a career move, he let's his LinkedIn profile speak for itself.

I wonder if this could work for me.  I'll let you know after I've had a couple days to try it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Do I have experience yet?

Oh, experience.  Job ads always seem to think you should have it- and it's never clear where you are going to get it.  The few times I have gotten feedback about why I am not the candidate have included notes of "you don't have experience."  Arg.  I sometimes list my entire time in grad school as experience- because, uh, it was all work.  Doesn't seem to make much difference. 

I have been feeling pretty unappealing as a candidate after numbly reading through so many ads.  But I met with a more senior scientist recently who is also in between jobs, and he complained that there are tons of jobs out there for recent grads and early career people.  What? I have a friend who is senior enough to have hired many folks in his day, and he always encouragingly says that 5 years can become zero years for the right candidate.  How do I get to be the right candidate?

Just to be clear- the following pertains to industry careers in non-research positions.  Part of the distinction that ISN'T clear from job ads is not that they want that 'job experience' you got in HS or summers in college.  They aren't concerned you can show up for work 5 days a week.  I think.  They also don't really want to know that you can use pipettes or run a gel- although if you can't do those things, you aren't looking for a job as a scientist.  It's got more to do with training you out of that Research mentality.  For a publicly held company, or a company beholden to investors, not all ideas are worth pursuing because they are interesting.  If you remove the incentives of publication, and replace those with profit, you end up with a different reasons to do the things you do at work.  There isn't time to dither about making the decision to move ahead with a project, or strive to incorporate new and unproven tech just because it seems awesome, and you might make a major investment of money to shorten a schedule.  The little work I have done with the start-up has showed me that.  A company who wants to hire someone who not only has good ideas, but can follow all the way through with them.  To a successful product, or project or outcome of some sort- I know I need to find a way to prove that.

I went to another networking event a couple nights ago, and one of the people I ran into is a manager at a major engineering recruiting firm (Experis).  I recognized that I had introduced myself wrong when he started to suggest that I should find a company who would be willing to let me volunteer for a couple months, then go back out on the job market a lot more desirable.  At the time I thought, "Are you kidding me?  Haven't I volunteered enough- when does this count for something??"  But, I realized I hadn't mentioned it.  I told him I graduated in June and was looking for a job.  So, a few things things:
1) volunteer work can be a legitimate form of work experience. 
2) I need to find a succinct way to explain where I am in my career to people when I meet them. 
3) Does my volunteer experience add up to sufficient 'experience' to sell it as such?  Am I still a green newbie, or can I start to own the fact that I have accomplishments that occurred after my graduation, and were independent of my former adviser.  Sure, I don't have my publication record in order yet (4th submission- keep your fingers crossed!), and I didn't do anything so famous or important in grad school to get a job on the merit of that alone.  But since grad school, I've applied my experience there to becoming the Scientist in Residence at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, where I put together some successful demos, I've opened my own small business to cover my consulting and editing work, and I'm on the board of two important local professional societies.   I should be on the cusp of having a job, right?  Progressing to the next step is what I need to work on next- how do I sell that??