Experts offer insights at life sciences career workshop

By Jenna Durney, UC San Diego Graduate Student

career-week.jpgSan Diego is known as a hub for the biotech industry and is in need of qualified individuals to drive innovation. On March 25, UC San Diego Extension addressed this need by hosting the Career Development Week’s Life Science and Healthcare Night for individuals considering the fields.

Individuals looking for broad industry advice attended the Life/Work Center’s Strategy Session: Conversation with Life Science Professionals, focusing on topics such as: industry trends; challenges facing the industry; the education, experience and skills necessary to become successful in the industry; and how technology is affecting the industry. To delve into these topics, career consultant Nancy Eckert moderated a casual conversation between two successful life science professionals, Tamsin Woolley-Barker and Fred Zeller. With a combined 40 years experience, both professionals offered relevant advice to their audience. While both come from different Life Science Sectors (Zeller with a background in biopharmaceutical and medical devices and Tamsin with expertise in biomimicry, consulting, writing and education), they both agreed success comes to people with both technical and soft skills. The technical skills, such as certifications and experience, are a necessity to be considered for a position. “Hard science can be taken in many directions. It is the foundation for opening your mind to think outside the box,” said Zeller. In an industry based on innovation, Woolley-Barker recommended participants take a cross-disciplinary approach towards education. “It not only cultivates creativity, it promotes effective communication."

While technical skills qualify you for the job, soft skills, such as communication and leadership, make you stand out among a sea of applicants. Zeller and Woolley-Barker highlighted four soft skills that translate into life-long success: communication, life-long learning, networking and drive. Zeller seeks applicants who demonstrate advanced communication skills where they can synthesize, translate, simplify and communicate a lot of technical knowledge to a diverse audience. When effectively communicating, “make sure you hear, listen, and understand,” said Zeller. In addition to communication, Zeller and Woolley-Barker believe that life-long learners stay on the edge of innovation. “You’ll get left behind if you are not thinking about what’s next,” Woolley-Barker said. She recommended taking courses and highlighted her experience with the UC San Diego Extension Sustainable Business Practices Certificate Program.

When making the transition into Biotech, Zeller and Woolley-Barker emphasized networking. To obtain a position, you’ve got to engage and be direct. “Network, communicate and convince others that what you have is valuable,” said Zeller. If you don’t know anyone in the field, ask around, search LinkedIn, join a professional association. As you connect with other industry professionals remember, “Your prior experience gives you unique value. Tell a story about what you did and how it relates to what you will be doing. It will help connect the dots [for your potential employer].”

For those new or returning to the life sciences field, innovative thinking is highly sought after. If you can cultivate your communication skills, maintain a love of learning and demonstrate a passion for the industry, you can stay on the edge of innovation and maintain a long-lasting success.

For more information about UC San Diego Extension's Life Science classes and certificates, visit the or email

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