Is Relocation Really Worth It? Weighing The Pros and Cons of Biopharma Hot Spots
In a post-pandemic workforce, the number of remote work job opportunities is rapidly declining, according to a recent report by LinkedIn. This, in turn, has put job location back at the top of many job seekers’ priority lists.
This is especially true for those who are early in their careers, as part of their motivation for taking a job in a specific location often hinges largely on the community and networking opportunities available.
Ryan McAllister, Ph.D. has worked at Stanford University as a biosafety officer for the past four years. That job allows him to be based in the San Francisco Bay area - a biopharma hot spot also known as Biotech Bay.
McAllister told BioSpace that moving to the Bay area from Louisville, KY was a huge transition that he is ultimately grateful to have made. He said part of what made the move a success is the prestige that came with working at Stanford.
Affiliation Matters Most
“When you're starting your career, your professional affiliation is the most important thing for you to consider,” McAllister said. “Having that affiliation with Stanford was a great benefit for me, especially when it came to people actually listening and wanting to interact with me.”
He emphasized that if one’s professional affiliation is strong, the location of the role doesn’t matter as much as one might think. With the prevalence of virtual networking opportunities, “it’s really easy to be able to connect with different individuals in the industry and provide ideas via posts or interactions with their posts."
“There are industry positions that are not always in hot biotech areas. Eli Lilly in Indianapolis is a great example,” McAllister said. “So as long as your affiliation is very strong, I think you shouldn't have a problem.”
Shari Thomas, senior director of clinical operations at BioBridges, agreed that location may not be as important as it once was. She has lived in several different cities across the U.S. for her career, from the rural town of Rockfield, Maryland to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
“The capabilities of technology have removed the need to be local to your job site,” Thomas told BioSpace. “Gone are the days when a company pays for relocation, and with so many companies offering remote work, there’s no urgency to accept a position that doesn’t fit with the applicant’s needs.”
The Value of Face-to-Face Connection
Still, there is one primary benefit, Thomas added, to working in a biotech hot spot: face-to-face connections.
McAllister concurred. Despite the convenience of networking online, he said working right outside of San Francisco made it much easier for him to attend in-person networking events, conferences and training programs.
“[Working in the Bay area] allowed me to not only get my foot in the door but actually walk through the door to provide myself with better opportunities to expand my career,” he said.
These networking opportunities weighed heavily in McAllister’s mind when he considered his options for his next career move. He had to think about the growing pains he faced when he first moved to San Francisco. The stress of getting to know the ins and outs of a new city and making a name for oneself in a highly competitive area could be enough to deter anyone from starting over.
Even so, he decided to leave the Bay area to start a new role as the biosafety office team manager at Rutgers University just outside New York City, effectively trading one biopharma hot spot for another.
For McAllister, the opportunities in these industry hot spots ultimately outweighed any of the negative aspects. He emphasized that if he could give anyone considering a career move a piece of advice, it would be to do what’s right for them - not just what seems like the best move on paper.
Thomas had similar advice: know your worth. She emphasized the importance of considering the drawbacks of working in biotech hot spots, like traffic-filled commutes and unwanted networking obligations, before making a move.
She also said it’s possible to have the best of both worlds by working at a smaller biotech or startup. By doing this, one can still have the feeling of a close-knit community without sacrificing the networking opportunities of a larger city.
She explained that in a big-fish, small-fish scenario, she prefers to be “a fish in a pond with other similar size fish so we can grow together as the pond expands.”
As for McAllister, he’s looking ahead to what New York has to offer.
“I suspect that I’ll face some challenges when I move to the New York area, but it's always a learning experience and an adventure,” he said. “You have to take the good with the bad.”