An old friend used to say that gas stations were society’s great egalitarian gathering places. They’re one of the few settings where the rich and poor, sophisticated and simple mix and mingle, or at least rub elbows while topping off their tanks. Dodges idle alongside Beamers and Bentleys. Even the fanciest of filling stations can’t exclude a beat-up Ford Fiesta from rattling in. We all need gas, and we can all go to any darn pump we please, thank you.
You could say that LinkedIn is the gas station of social networking. It’s extremely egalitarian, unlike other social sites. Sure, you can follow Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) or LeBron James (the modest @KingJames) on Twitter, but will they follow you? You can send a Friend request to anyone you like on Facebook, but only your true friends, or those desperate for friends, will hit the Accept button.
Coincidentally or not, LinkedIn has become the digital place to be for life sciences professionals of all stripes and seniorities. It’s a place to get yourself known and heard—membership is almost a career necessity, in fact. For the sake of user privacy (and to keep out the lunatic fringe), it has its exclusive elements. You can’t network with someone without their approval, and you can’t join a group unless the manager, or “owner”, lets you in. But you can see anyone’s public profile (their current and past jobs, college degrees, and other info they’re willing to share), and rare is the manager who won’t let you into his or her group if it appears that you’re an upstanding (i.e., non-spamming, non-flaming) cybercitizen. (As a group manager myself, I won’t turn someone away unless he or she appears to have little connection to our industry. And only on rare occasions have I censured someone for spamming.)
For the most part on LinkedIn, you can freely find, friend, and follow. Even if you’re not networked with someone directly, you can see what they’re saying when you’re a member of the same group on which they comment.
Pharma doesn’t really have its share of idols and celebs, of course, and you won’t find Ashton or LBJ talking crystallization or continuous improvement. But pharma has its own stars who for the most part have earned their reputations through sheer expertise. They’re the people who’ve shaped the industry or are in the process of revamping it. And you can find them on LinkedIn, engaging in discussions of the day with anybody who cares to join in.
As long as they follow general rules of decency and decorum of a given group, a grad student from Indy or India can post a question to, say, 2,000 process chemists, or challenge or criticize something that a senior researcher from Merck has posted. If your comments are thoughtful and contribute to the collective momentum of the discussion thread, you’ll be a welcome member.
There are other professional, more specialized networks online, of course, and some industry organizations whose websites have message boards and discussion groups for all members. But here, now, LinkedIn is the king.
Maybe the gas station analogy is a bit of a stretch. After all, not since Andy and Gomer left Mayberry have they been places where people strike up lively conversations. But it is true that, on LinkedIn, you never know who you’ll socialize with (in the digital sense). And whether the conversation is unleaded or high-octane, you can usually leave with a full tank.
For pharma manufacturing professionals, here are some of the more active and engaging groups you may want to join:
- Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and PharmaQbD: This is our own site, which we use primarily to get feedback from you, our readers, about what we’ve written, and should be writing. Also join our Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Vendor Community subgroup, which we use to stay in touch with solution providers and solicit their ideas.
- Quality-by-Design: Good information, links, and thoughtful discussions about QbD from a wide variety of experts across the globe.
- Process Analytical Technology: Owned by Amgen’s Cenk Undey, this group really gets serious and philosophical about where PAT is headed. Former FDA-ers frequently weigh in.
- Lean Six Sigma: A font of information and active chatter among LSS nerds. (One recent post had upwards of 150 comments.) (Note: The Pharma LEAN & Six Sigma group is not as active but still worth a visit.)
- Pharmaceutical Operational Excellence: A plethora of OpEx tidbits and talks.
A few others that I recommend: Ireland: Bio/Pharm & Medical Device; AIChE Pharma Open Forum; FDA Inspections; OEE Forum; Pharmaceutical Microbiology Forum; and Rapid Micro Methods.
Finally, you can troll through groups like the Pharmaceutical Discussion Forum, but oftentimes they’re just too broad and merely repositories for members’ digital detritus.