Building skills for career success while in academia
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Submitted by Lauren Celano on Thu, 2017-06-22 01:42

The topic of career planning is something that I discuss with almost everyone I speak with, regardless of whether they are a graduate student or industry professional.  I emphasize that regardless of where someone is in their career, steps can be taken to develop the hard (e.g. techniques) and soft (e.g. management) skills necessary for career advancement. Since successful careers develop over years, even decades, the earlier someone starts to plan, the better.  Even as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow, ample opportunities exist to develop skills. Below are two examples of proactive career development. By sharing these, I hope to inspire others to take similar initiative.  

Ph.D. student passionate about research in industry:

I recently talked with a Ph.D student who is extremely interested in performing bench research for a biotech company. She described her background and how she developed marketable skills.  During her Ph.D, she honed her technical skills and took every opportunity to learn about industry relevant work.  She took the initiative to lead a collaboration with an industry partner to focus on small molecule screening against a drug target.  She also had the opportunity to write grants and a patent for her work.  During her 4th and 5th years, she trained interns, RA’s and other grad students on research techniques.  During her 5th year, she also became involved with the Boston chapter of the national disease association related to her research.  She did thisto learn more about the current state of industry research in her field and also to increase the size of her professional network. She has just started her job search and her preparedness will certainly pay off. 

Postdoctoral fellow passionate about starting a company: 

I recently talked with a postdoctoral fellow who has a strong record of accomplishment (Nature and Cell papers) and a 10-year goal of starting a biotech company.  During his Ph.D. and postdoc, he has been very focused on building business skills to increase his chance of success. As a 3rd year Ph.D. student, he began to build business skills by interning in the university Technology Transfer office, performing scientific due diligence on technologies relevant to his research background. This work also provided exposure to market research and competitive landscape assessments and insight into what makes a technology commercially attractive. As a 4th and 5th year Ph.D. student, he interned for ~ 5-10 hours a week at a venture capital firm and performed scientific diligence on technologies of interest to the firm.

After his Ph.D, he chose to do a postdoc at a top lab in his field to gain new scientific skills and deepen his disease area knowledge.  During his postdoc, he also became involved with the Technology Transfer office where he evaluated technologies for commercial potential.   Now, as a 3rd year postdoc, he is actively pursuing roles at boutique life sciences consulting firms that focus mainly on business development work – merger, acquisition, and partnership strategy, as compared to the general strategy consulting firms. These firms will provide him with relevant knowledge and experiences for his career goal, which is to start a biotech company and have a successful exit.  

The individuals in these examples may seem more proactive than most, but I chose to highlight them since these types of profiles are very attractive to companies.   In my next blog, I will provide examples of how skills can be developed after joining industry. 

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