Career Insights: Technical Support Specialist

A degree in the life sciences prepares one for numerous non-academic careers. Still, many start their scientific careers hoping to follow the traditional academic route (find tips for getting a faculty position here). Possible roadblocks only become obvious at rather late stages (i.e. postdoc level) and can include the pressure to publish in high-impact journals, and the requirement for a high grant success rate. At this point, candidates are highly experienced but often have to start pursuing other options.

While some non-academic career options require additional study for late career scientists to become more appealing on the job market (e.g. a postgraduate degree in law, an MBA, or similar), there are many roles out there that require exactly what life science PhDs can offer: vast practical lab expertise, experience in different scientific fields, and knowledge of how to troubleshoot problems at the bench. Specifically, roles in technical support make excellent use of the skills developed by life science PhDs.

In my days as junior postdoc I was aware that such roles existed, but did not consider them for myself. I started picturing myself in a technical support role only when I was confronted one day with a product issue in the lab. The issue was with a custom-made reagent to manipulate cells (manufactured by one of the larger biotech companies), and as far as I remember, it was the first time that I was absolutely convinced it was the company’s fault. I contacted them to express my concerns and request a replacement. I got my replacement in the end and the issue was resolved - but it was a rather painful to get there: I had to send the company detailed documentation of my results, answer loads of questions, and I also had to do some troubleshooting as advised by the technical support person. This delayed the progress of the project.

After that rather unpleasant experience I thought: I could do this job so much better. Driven by that, I successfully applied and worked as an IT technical support specialist for 4 years. Read on for insights from my time in technical support including tips, advantages, and disadvantages of this overall rewarding role.


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