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MDRNA Inc., a Puget Sound area company formerly known as Nastech, announced on Monday that they’d be laying off 23 people including their president and chief business officer. This might not sound like a lot, but according to Joseph Tartakoff, from the Seattle PI, this brings the total number of layoffs up to 145 since November.

These events present a challenge to those of us who teach in biotech programs or biotech-related fields. Nastech, the predecessor to MDRNA had been around for over 20 years. Who would expect a 20+ year company to shed three quarters of it’s employees in a few short months?

Even older, more seemingly stable companies like Genentech and Icos can disappear with little warning when the company gets bought. The first or second job search might seem interesting, but it must get old for people to dust their resumes every few years and head back into the job market.

The take home message it seems is that as instructors, we have to make sure that students know the situation. Biotech companies are exciting and can be fun places to work, but you should never be too complacent. You should be aware that there could be periods between jobs and keep your skills up-to-date and money in your savings account, just in case.

What to do?

I’ve been wondering lately if social networking could help people navigate those down times. Lately, my former students have been contacting me through Linked In and I’ve noticed that many of them are linked to each other. It was always clear with our employment record, that the best employers for our students were our graduates. Perhaps biotech instructors should encourage students to stay in contact and encourage them to use tools like LinkedIn to stay in touch with their former classmates. Social-networking tools might be the safety net that makes it easier for biotech workers to cope with the ups and downs of the industry.