Building skills for career success while in academia  


Lauren Celano
Lauren Celano
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October 1, 2019 5:58 pm  

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.

Dave Jensen
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October 2, 2019 10:53 pm  

This is an interesting post, thanks. 

As an aside, the BioCareers Forum moderator and a few invitees will be doing a workshop at the ASBMB's "Experimental Biology" meeting in San Diego. We'll have a panel of speakers who are young scientists who have started biotech companies that are off to a great start. The moderator here (me) will be giving a kick off presentation at the meeting as well, to get the workshop going. We'll explore ways to get your foot in the door in a company, the best networking approaches, how these entrepreneurs have done what they've done, and more! I hope that if you're going to EB you'll take time on the opening day (Sunday) to stop in for 90 minutes and hear these presentations. Thanks!

Dave Jensen, Moderator

Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum

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October 10, 2019 8:35 am  


Reading what Lauren wrote, I think one point needs to be emphasized is that not of that proactivity as ascribed to those 2 examples unless there is a supportive or enriching enviroment that allows for those explorations.

One of the key elements of that is support of PI, or supervisor/PhD advisor.  That is fundatmentally either an enabler or limiter.  Not every one is lucky enough to have a PI that would support time-spend in a Tech Transfer Office for example.  

As a grad student, I would put myself in that proactive bucket.  But all the things I did was on MY own time. Certainly a limitation was for me was my own time was early morning or evening and doing things during the day when the PI advisor had an expectation for us to be doing our "work" in the lab was a challenge.   Especially if the ambition of the PI is for their "progeny" to move into academic tracks - signals of non-interest in a research path in academia no matter how soft or hard they are can trigger disinterest in some PIs in to the student's success.  Just a FYI.  My PI ultimately supported me after some time but I can say in my early days when I realized that I wanted something else other than academic lab stuff, did put a strain on my relationship with my PI as there was a perception I was "defocused" . Which I can't say was a wrong perception.

That said, I also had some similar tech transfer experience as described for one of those examples while I was a grad student (I could do those assessments and cataloging virtually for a venture's company shifting though university patents and on my own time), I was able to take a course on technology night, and was able to be active in my community which enriched my leadership and management competencies and skill sets via direct experience and formal courses though its education/training division, all at night, on my own time.   Add to that, doing clinical rounds with medical doctors who allowed me to follow them (to understand the clincial view), super early morning, no with no involvement of my PI on my own time.

I was fortunate by location of course, I lived and did my studies in a dynamic, high energy, high technology, super high concentration of academic centers of research excellence, and other unverisities, not to mention a small but formatable biotech community and a wider area of high pharma company concentration and pharma service agencies,  so I had access to exporing career paths etc.   No everyone has that.

Of those experiences I highlighed in this post (I had others), only one by subject matter was relevant to the career path I eventually took but all in some one give me suffient exposure to walk way with added knowledge.  Which is the I guess the key aspect of the orignal posters message, be proactive and explore.  An environment that supports that can be of benefit but not every one has that.  One may have to do that on their own time without support of boss or supervisors.  I didn't disclose alot of what I did to my supervisor, it was on my own time.


This post was modified 1 year ago by DX