The Who, What, Where of Careers:
Industrial Microbiology

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Working in Industry After Academia

laboratory diagnostics CPDr. David Henderson is a Scientist in the Clinical Affairs Department at Biofire Diagnostics. He shares his thoughts on transitioning from academia to industry and the differences he sees between the two worlds, and offers advice for students and postdocs who are interested in industry.

From Academia to Industry

Dr. Henderson always knew he wanted to go into industry because he liked doing lab work and problem-solving. “When people would talk about a problem they were having with their research, that’s when I would be interested,” Dr. Henderson recalls. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Utah in his home state, followed by a Ph.D. in Botany at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Henderson chose his postdoc at the University of Arizona because of the proximity of family and the lab’s close ties to industry. In his postdoc, he worked with a company to do high-throughput gene expression screening. “The postdoc at Arizona was state funded, and one day, the state froze all funding so we couldn’t order anything,” he recalls. Shortly after, he left and did another postdoc at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Services, where he developed an assay to detect universal plant viral pathogens. After funding was cut again, he had to move on to another position.   

Dr. Henderson did some clinical writing while searching for a job and eventually landed at Biofire Diagnostics. “I knew about Biofire for a while, especially because I was searching for a job out west and had a few companies on my list, one of which was Biofire,” he recalls. At Biofire, Dr. Henderson is a Scientist in the Clinical Affairs Department, where he is involved in clinical trials for new products. The Research and Development Department designs comparator assays and passes them along to the Clinical Affairs Department, where formal validation and testing on clinical specimens are done. Dr. Henderson then creates reports and data to provide to the Regulatory Affairs Department for FDA applications. “It took a couple of months to learn what my part was and how it all fits together,” he recalls.

The Difference between Academia and Industry

Dr. Henderson saw the difference between academia and industry right away. In industry, everything is moving fast and every project is adjacent to each other. At any given time, Dr. Henderson can be working on one big project with smaller pieces that are divided among the group. “Every specimen type and testing logistics can be different,” he states. That means that for every new specimen, creating a smooth process for testing is a must. Also, protocols need to be very consistent and documented. “When something is highly regulated, there are rules that need to be followed and paperwork that needs to be filled out,” Dr. Henderson points out. The part Dr. Henderson enjoys the most at BioFire is being part of a great team.     

Tips for Getting into Industry

Dr. Henderson was very fortunate to have two postdoc experiences that had ties to industry. “My experiences in creating new technologies made me attractive to industry,” he states. From his experiences, he shares a few tips to getting into industry.

  • Plan early - Because the job market is so competitive, he recommends that students plan out and pursue their career goals early in school.
  • Get management experience - Because management becomes a daily function of someone working in industry, learn how to manage a lab early while in school. Dr. Henderson recommends asking your mentor for more responsibilities like running parts of the lab.

  • Be open to collaborations - Industry is very collaborative, which makes work fun. Find ways to collaborate with other people while in school and learn how to trust them and be flexible.

  • Study protocol writing - Record keeping is mandatory for industry. Learn how to write protocols with the most pertinent information.

  • Make connections - Start making connections with alumni of your university and people at conferences who are in industry. Also, ask your advisor if they know of anyone working in industry.


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