Today, WordPress was very keen to remind me that it had been a year since I signed up and created this blog. It’s incredible how quickly time flies when you’re having fun.
Things have come a fair way since April last year both within the health and medical industry, as well as the biotech sector; the McKeon Review into health and medical research in Australia has finally been released and the Federal Government has announced $100mil continued investment into the Innovation Investment Fund (IIF) mixed with dollar-for-dollar matching. I like to think that whichever political party ends up being in charge come September later this year, that they do heed the recommendations of the McKeon Review and continue to develop truly inventive and innovative industries in the country – medicines are now Australia’s largest high-tech exports at around$4.06bil in 2011-12 – exports that are, to a large extent, dependant on a strong health and medical research industry, life science capital market and technical innovation culture. This figure is almost $1.3bil ahead of Australia’s automotive industry.
Personally, things have also progressed. A true highlight was the opportunity to attend MEDICA and Science Meets Parliament towards the end of 2012. But as I move toward the end of my PhD candidature, I now face the challenging task of seeking my next opportunity. The elephant in the room is whether I can heed the very advice I’ve posted on this blog over the last 12 months – it will be a true test of professional character.
In an ideal world, I would be able to find the appropriate career training post-PhD somewhere in Australia. However, I have realised that the reality of where I am now, and where I’d like to be entails leaving these fair shores for further career development abroad.
Will it be challenging? Of course. Am I scared? Absolutely. But not for the obvious reasons.
The challenge will be leaving the friends, family, the comforts, the familiar, and effectively setting myself up again wherever I wind up. Other challenges will be in my further career training, however, what I’ve learnt over the course of my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees is that I have the confidence to tackle a large set of problems, provided I understand the context and the nuances of the problem.
What’s scary is the prospect of returning where there are few/no jobs. At the moment, my interests lie in the incubation and growth phases of medical technologies, an interest that resides in the so-called “Valley of Death” of healthcare technology innovation.
You know that $100mil going into the IIF? That’s for ALL innovation sectors inclusive, as that’s what the IIF covers. In the AusBiotech/Grant Thornton CEO Industry Position Survey for 2013, 55% of surveyed companies plan to hire staff, with a jump in the demand for engineers and business development expertise. On the surface, it sounds great! 55% of companies want to hire, there’s VC money splashing about, everyone’s happy.
But let’s break this down a bit more. $200mil isn’t a lot; the reality is that even though there’s a fistful of cash been thrown out to early-stage industries as a bone during an election year, a lot of that money isn’t going anywhere near young, talented engineers, let alone upcoming PhD-trained scientists looking for commercial roles or savvy post-doc’s in health & medical research looking to get involved in business development. Where will the money go to? Well, I can see the advertisement in my head (at least for Medtech):
“…Company (x) is seeking a highly experienced business development manager to lead the development of <fancy prototype technology with a weird hybrid latin/post-modern name>. Must have at least 5 years R&D program management and be familiar with reimbursement process within Canada/US. This role requires familiarity with nanofluidic technologies, and the successful candidate will be required to work closely with field-leading scientists within the R&D team to maximise all opportunities. A minimum of a masters degree in mechanical engineering (or equivalent) is desirable. Familiarity with GLP and cGMP will be viewed favourably”
Well, guess who’ll be getting those jobs. Not me, that sort of thing is way above my payscale.
And it’ll be the same story for PhD grads over the next 5-10 years if our country refuses to provide the appropriate technical leadership and scientific entrepreneurship training very early on in postgraduate research courses, either within universities or through industry. Initiatives provided by the CRC’s are there to bridge some of these gaps, but the glut of biomedical researchers, both here and abroad, mean that many will be fighting for very exclusive, tip-of-the-pyramid roles within that sector- a real waste of talent and taxpayers money to train smart people to help build a sustainable, knowledge-based economy. I don’t want to see our research and innovation system fail the very people that it creates. The investment of time and talent by these people back into our research and innovation system is what will support our economy well beyond the time when we stop digging dirt out of the ground. A stable, quarterly-paid R&D tax incentive system is only just one of the many things Government needs to show support for if it is to really indicate its support for innovation over the longer term. The yearly-paid incentive is a start, but can certainly go further.
So, it looks like I’ll have to get those aforementioned skills when I’m abroad – but back to the question about homecoming; who’s going to employ me? VC’s are risk averse as capital is very tight, the innovation space hasn’t reached critical mass to allow for failures – it’s an employment recipe for disaster if you’ve just left uni as a graduate researcher with a few bits of paper. A few years’ work overseas isn’t going to provide skills sufficient to fill the high-calibre roles the biotech/medtech sectors will be seeking to fill over the next decade.
Perhaps I should consider the more positive outlook. The fear of poor job prospects may very well be the ultimate motivator to move me to desperate ground. I have the sneaking suspicion that I’ll need to create my own job here – ideally a job that will allow me to be a true generator of innovation value. Leading by example may very well be the only way to be successful DownUnder. But I’ll get back to you on that.