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. 

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