Top Pros and Cons of Contract Work in the Life Sciences Industry

 Top Pros and Cons of Contract Work in the Life Sciences Industry March 30, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Just two years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that indicated more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of contingent workers.

Of course, there’s some debate as to how the government was defining contingent workers. The GAO included agency temps (1.3%), on-call staffers (3.5%), contract company workers (3%), independent contractors (12.9%), the self-employed (3.3%) and standard part-time workers (16.2%).

However contingent is defined, it clearly appears to be a trend. “The nature of work has gone from a full-time job that’s 40-hours a week with benefits to gigs and projects, and now I think micro-gigs,” Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union, said in a Bloomberg Surveillance interview. “I think we’re starting to really be short-term in the way we work in this country.”

This trend has been driven by several factors, although clearly one of the biggest drivers is from companies wanting to get out of paying for various benefits, including health insurance, retirement packages, and paid vacations.

Anecdotally, many sources claim millennials are embracing the contract culture. However, a 2016 study published by consultancy PwC in 2016, as reported by Fortune magazine, questions that assertion. Justin Sturrock, leader of PwC’s people and organization practice, said, “A lot of people believe that the millennial workforce is very open to independent work and the freelance gig economy, but the survey is not confirming that.”

Basically, although 41 percent of the PwC survey participants said they expected to be independent contractors in the next 12 months, and 53 percent said they expected to be self-employed in the next five years, 39 percent indicated that the income uncertainty that came with freelancing was unappealing.

Yet it seems that contract jobs are here to stay.

In the biopharma industry, that’s often the case. What are the pros and cons of such contract work?


Higher pay.
Work for yourself.
Build experience quickly.
International opportunities.
Leading with your strengths and interests.

1. Higher pay.

It’s hard to say whether this is accurate, but anecdotally, because corporations don’t have to pay more for health care and other benefits, higher pay is (sometimes) the result. The problem with that assertion is that the increase in pay is unlikely to make up the difference in health care insurance, paid days off and retirement contributions. But yes, it’s likely that your take-home paycheck will be higher than your full-time non-contract peers.

2. Work for yourself.

This can be a definite advantage, although it depends on the type of contract relationship you have with your employer. Luke Webber, writing for the Proclinical blog, says, “Contract pharmaceutical and medical devices jobs afford a certain amount of freedom and flexibility. You could have the chance to choose contracts that have a certain length or location that best suits you.”

3. Build experience quickly.

If, in fact, your contract work is short-term for each contract and you move from position to position and company to company, you may gain experience very quickly, probably faster than permanent staff. It should be noted that contract work can be like that, but it can also be just like any other 40-hour-per-week steady job—just without the stability or benefits.

4. International opportunities.

Biopharma is international in scope and there are numerous international contract jobs available.

5. Leading with your strengths and interests.

Webber writes, “Another benefit of working as a contractor is that the main focus is what skills and expertise you can bring to the project, as this is the main reason you have been hired. … The pharmaceutical company you are working for will be focused on your ability, which can also mean that you’re more likely to receive recognition for your professional achievements.”

6. Variety.

Dubbed “the spice of life,” the truth is that for certain people, working with different people, at different jobs and for different people, is a dramatic positive in their life. For the most part, you can avoid office politics, and when your contract is up, if you’re looking for a change, it’s just a part of the job to move on to another position.

7. Ownership.

Depending on the nature of your contract work, for example, if you’re a genuine freelancer working for yourself and taking short-term contracts with different companies, ownership can be one of the primary psychological benefits. You don’t have “bosses,” you have “clients” or “customers,” and that can make all the difference in the world in how you feel about your independence and freedom.



Lack of benefits.
Lack of security.
Nuts and bolts of self-employment.
Ebb and flow.

1. Lack of benefits.

For many people, particularly as they get older, this can be a major issue. Healthcare insurance is expensive, and as of this writing, is under flux as the GOP and Trump Administration attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. And contract workers often do not get paid vacation or sick days, or contributions to any kind of a retirement plan.

2. Lack of security.

By its very nature, contract work is temporary. Even contractors who are essentially full-time employees working under contract renew their contracts on a regular basis. When hired on a per-project basis, there is often no guarantee of where the next job will be. Not everyone has the personality to deal with that uncertainty. On the other hand, people with a more entrepreneurial spirit often note that no full-time job has real security, plenty of people get laid off from seemingly permanent jobs, and their ability to depend on themselves and their entrepreneurial skills provides even more security because they’re confident there will be another job just around the corner.

3. Isolation.

Depending, again, on the type of contract work, as well as your own personality and social skills, you may end up feeling like an outsider. A article on the pros and cons of contractor jobs says, “Since other employees will know that you are only there for a specific amount of time, they may not invite you in to their ‘inner circle’ or share as much information with you.”

4. Nuts and bolts of self-employment.

Certain types of contract jobs require you to handle all aspects of your employment, including taxes. This is particularly true if you are contracting as a self-employed person, so that in addition to performing whatever professional service you provide for the pharmaceutical company, you are also running a business, which includes dealing with expenses and taxes and assorted other business details.

5. Ebb and flow.

Like many of the cons, there is a pro side to this as well. Despite indications that there are increasing trends toward contract workers, in general, contract opportunities often grow when there is economic expansion. However, when the economy contracts, sometimes consultants are the first to go—not because they’re cheaper, but because they’re easier to let go.

A Few Examples

A quick search on for “contract” results in 231 job postings. Examples include a Senior Biostatistician (Contract) with Five Prime Therapeutics in South San Francisco, Calif. This position calls for a minimum of a Master of Science degree in Biostatistics or Biometrics, preferably a PhD, and a minimum of four years working in a pharmaceutical or biotech company; Manufacturing Associate/Senior Manufacturing Associate with Sutra Biopharma in San Carlos, Calif. This position calls for a Bachelor’s degree in biological sciences or equivalent and at least one year of relevant experience in a cGMP manufacturing or pilot plant environment; Senior Clinical Trial Manager at Five Prime Therapeutics in South San Francisco, Calif. The position calls for a BS/BA in Life Science or a related discipline and five or more years of experience in clinical and drug development.

It’s unlikely that contract jobs are going away. And many people don’t want them to. For the right person with the right skill set and personality, being a contractor or freelancer can be an exhilarating, freedom-filled career option. But it’s not for everyone, and it’s a good idea to go in with your eyes wide open.

Check out the latest Career Insider eNewsletter - March 30, 2017.
Sign up for the free bi-weekly Career Insider eNewsletter.






Back to news