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Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research  

 

Katherine Lee
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Joined: 7 years ago
Posts: 56
October 16, 2016 11:07 pm  

Time for another success story! What follows is a story of how planning, drive, patience, and perseverance helped me launch into a career as a biotechnology equity research associate at a Wall Street bank just four months after finishing my Ph.D. in Microbiology. That’s right people. NO post-doc for me!

I have lurked this forum for probably close to four years, and I listened to the advice of the moderators and regulars. They know what they’re talking about. Networking and informational interviews are scary. But, once you get started you will quickly realize that there are very nice, helpful, friendly people outside of academia that are willing to give you some of their time. Be respectful of their time, and don’t expect them to give you ANYTHING other than some information/feedback. Do not EVER approach networking as an immediate gratification experience. It’s a learning experience and you might not realize what you learned right away – but trust me – networking/Informational interviews are ESSENTIAL for the academic, with NO work experience, to get a foot in the door.

Key things I did that I think made me successful:
1. Listen to the advice of this forum.
It all started here for me. It works. Network. Informational interviews. Do it. Hone the skills. You may feel awkward and come across as awkward at first, but you’ll get better and your awkward inner scientist will bloom into a social butterfly that can relate, and communicate your value beyond pipet skills to non-academics.

2.Know what you want, and let yourself have it. I wanted to be an equity research associate – so I talked to people in the field via informational interviews (largely cold contacting via LinkedIn), and really learned what would set me apart on that stack of resumes. If you don’t know what you want, networking is a way to figure it out. And word for advice, really figure this out because interviewers want candidates that really want THEIR job – not just ANY job. If they sense that you’re all over the place in your career aspirations, it will hurt you. Make sure your answer to the “Why do you want to be [insert job title here]?” is your strongest job interview answer.

The last obstacle in your way once you know what you want, is yourself. Stop playing the victim “I’m a PhD and I am banned to post-doc purgatory for life!” If that’s your attitude, then that will be your reality. If you want something different, let yourself have it by putting in the work to get it.

3.Drive. Once I knew what I wanted, I put in the work to look appealing to employers. I did some free work as an unofficial intern for a bank during my PhD. I also studied for a exam that MBAs and finance professionals sit and pass at a 40% success rate – and I passed despite ALL the material being new (corporate finance, economics, fixed income, derivatives, financial statement analysis, etc), but I had to study 2 hours a day for 6 MONTHS to do it. I knew from my informational interviews that taking this exam and working as an unofficial intern would help set me apart from the resume stack. It showed drive. It showed initiative. Put in the work. These types of things are good stories to tell come interview time.

4.Patience and perseverance. Rejection hurts and it seems easy to just give up. I almost did. I had several phone conversations and coffee chats with networking friends whining about job interviews that I thought went well, but didn’t go anywhere. In fact, after four months on the job search I was talking about trying some other areas and giving up on equity research after being passed over after multiple interview stages for more qualified candidates. I thought I didn’t have a chance – there would always be someone better in New York City applying against me. A week later I had two verbal offers from two Wall Street banks I was certain had a better candidate to offer to. I was on cloud nine! And my network was really at full gear working for me because I was interviewing at a third place at the time and my network let me know about three other open positions they could introduce me to. Don’t give up. If you want it bad enough, you will be patient. If you build your network, they will be there to support you, keep you from giving up, and point you out to opportunities to pursue.

Now, if you’re thinking – that’s fine and dandy for you, but I don’t want to be on Wall Street. I want to work for industry as a scientist. Networking IS your path, too! I know at least six PhD friends that went straight from PhD into pharmaceutical or biotech companies that are names that are well-recognized. Regardless of whether they entered through a post-doc program or straight into a scientist position, they had networked into that position. You don’t need to be best friends with someone on “the inside” – in most cases it was a third or fourth degree connection that got them there. Figure out what your connections are, and use them to your advantage. Don’t have any? That’s because you need to search harder – or you need to make them yourself.

Know what you want, and let yourself have it.


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Dave Jensen
Prominent Maven Moderator
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 938
October 17, 2016 5:32 pm  

Katherine,

What a terrific post. Great advice, and so satisfying to see yet another success story here that relates back to Forum advice. My heartiest congratulations to you.

I had a good forum "friend" on this site who did just what you did. He was one of our early success stories, many years ago. That fellow has gone on to become one of the most senior and successful biotechnology Wall Street analysts and he's never looked back. I wish I could convince this fellow (G.M.) to come back on occasion and post here to keep our audience in tune with what it takes.

Most importantly, it's nice to hear these stories of moving into a successful career without having to do the postdoc route. Thanks Katherine, please stay in touch!

Dave Jensen, Forum Founder and Moderator

Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum


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Ana
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Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 194
October 17, 2016 9:54 pm  

That's so fantastic!! I feel proud of you and we don't even know each other!

Great work, great outcome, and great post. Thank you for coming back and posting your advice, and remember that all those learned behaviours (grit!) will also be key for your career success, not just during job transitions.

Stick around, you certainly can help many other young scientists with your advice,

Ana


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DX
Honorable Maven Registered
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 628
October 19, 2016 12:19 pm  

Wow congrats - beats my record of only an 11 month post-doc before i jettisoned from academia (not that least time spent in a post-doc is a contest..but it should be! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Mirrors my experience when I looked at the same career path many years ago.

In Addition to the informational interviewing and networking that you did, what i did like the most is how you prepared. Fantastic.

There is a quote, Luck, is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, said by Seneca. In this case you made your own luck.

All the best, i'm sure we'll unknownly cross-paths one day at some congress.

DX


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Dave Walker
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Joined: 8 years ago
Posts: 275
October 21, 2016 8:02 pm  

My hat is off to you, Katherine! We don't get nearly as much good news on the forum as we should. Thank you for the post and the hard-earned advice to go with.

DX's comment got me thinking: I bet many graduate students aren't aware of the job opportunities that one can get without necessarily doing a postdoc. I never knew a trainee that looked forward to a postdoc, versus having the ability to skip it and do what they really want to. Despite the value of a postdoc, it is by definition temporary.

Perhaps we could make a list of careers that one can move into without a postdoc, or of success stories. In general, I think jobs away from the bench are more lenient on this front...something else to consider.

"The single factor that differentiates Nobel laureates from other scientists is training with another Nobel laureate." -- Sol Snyder


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TFF
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Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 4
October 27, 2016 7:46 am  

I've been doing the alternative career no-post doc thing for going on 10 years and all of what Katherine says is true. I will add several other aspects that I have found useful in my journey. The connections will get you in the door, but what will get employers on your side is a combination of confidence and being hungry (especially at the beginning). At least, that's what I've found. Both of those may require some type of leap of faith on your part, especially when entering something that you may consider uncharted waters. To some degree, faking it until you make it can be a lot more effective than you would think.

But really, all it takes is something that MAY interest you...an idea...something intriguing. But to Dave's point, I don't think many grad students or postdocs are aware of the full extent of life past the lab. I was lucky to be at a school that had an alternative career day. The event asked alums from the school doing alternative careers to come back and talk. I spoke with the one person who was doing something that I felt I could do if I ever wanted to leave the bench. Low and behold, as I was getting set to graduate, the thought of doing more experiments made me feel queasy! I held on to the business card of the woman I spoke with for 2 years before I reached out to her to ask about a potential job.

I didn't end up getting the exact job I was hoping for, but another one at a sister company. So that brings up another key point--flexibility. I started out at a small private company of 12 people as a piddly little medical writer and currently have a job at what is probably the worlds largest medical information provider. Although it's related to what I started out doing, it's almost exactly what I really wanted to do when I started out but never knew existed.

But it all starts with the courage to take a shot at something that you aren't taught in school, that your PI may not know anything about, and, like in my case, your PI may even look down on you for even considering the choice. But the fact is, if I stayed in research because I was afraid to disappoint my PI or dissertation committee, I would be a very angry and disgruntled person. One of the best decisions of my life was going to grad school for a PhD in neuroscience. I also couldn't be happier with my decision to leave research entirely.


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GGS
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Joined: 4 years ago
Posts: 5
November 17, 2016 4:02 am  

Congrats Katherine. This is great. I live in the area too in a major biopharm company and as you said still trying to figure out what I want to do in industry. I am in bioprocess development. Can you friend me here and send me your linked in info.
Thanks,
Gayatri

GG


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Felix
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Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 3
December 6, 2016 10:03 pm  

Time for another success story! What follows is a story of how planning, drive, patience, and perseverance helped me launch into a career as a biotechnology equity research associate at a Wall Street bank just four months after finishing my Ph.D. in Microbiology. That’s right people. NO post-doc for me!

I have lurked this forum for probably close to four years, and I listened to the advice of the moderators and regulars. They know what they’re talking about. Networking and informational interviews are scary. But, once you get started you will quickly realize that there are very nice, helpful, friendly people outside of academia that are willing to give you some of their time. Be respectful of their time, and don’t expect them to give you ANYTHING other than some information/feedback. Do not EVER approach networking as an immediate gratification experience. It’s a learning experience and you might not realize what you learned right away – but trust me – networking/Informational interviews are ESSENTIAL for the academic, with NO work experience, to get a foot in the door.

Key things I did that I think made me successful:
1. Listen to the advice of this forum.
It all started here for me. It works. Network. Informational interviews. Do it. Hone the skills. You may feel awkward and come across as awkward at first, but you’ll get better and your awkward inner scientist will bloom into a social butterfly that can relate, and communicate your value beyond pipet skills to non-academics.

2.Know what you want, and let yourself have it. I wanted to be an equity research associate – so I talked to people in the field via informational interviews (largely cold contacting via LinkedIn), and really learned what would set me apart on that stack of resumes. If you don’t know what you want, networking is a way to figure it out. And word for advice, really figure this out because interviewers want candidates that really want THEIR job – not just ANY job. If they sense that you’re all over the place in your career aspirations, it will hurt you. Make sure your answer to the “Why do you want to be [insert job title here]?” is your strongest job interview answer.

The last obstacle in your way once you know what you want, is yourself. Stop playing the victim “I’m a PhD and I am banned to post-doc purgatory for life!” If that’s your attitude, then that will be your reality. If you want something different, let yourself have it by putting in the work to get it.

3.Drive. Once I knew what I wanted, I put in the work to look appealing to employers. I did some free work as an unofficial intern for a bank during my PhD. I also studied for a exam that MBAs and finance professionals sit and pass at a 40% success rate – and I passed despite ALL the material being new (corporate finance, economics, fixed income, derivatives, financial statement analysis, etc), but I had to study 2 hours a day for 6 MONTHS to do it. I knew from my informational interviews that taking this exam and working as an unofficial intern would help set me apart from the resume stack. It showed drive. It showed initiative. Put in the work. These types of things are good stories to tell come interview time.

4.Patience and perseverance. Rejection hurts and it seems easy to just give up. I almost did. I had several phone conversations and coffee chats with networking friends whining about job interviews that I thought went well, but didn’t go anywhere. In fact, after four months on the job search I was talking about trying some other areas and giving up on equity research after being passed over after multiple interview stages for more qualified candidates. I thought I didn’t have a chance – there would always be someone better in New York City applying against me. A week later I had two verbal offers from two Wall Street banks I was certain had a better candidate to offer to. I was on cloud nine! And my network was really at full gear working for me because I was interviewing at a third place at the time and my network let me know about three other open positions they could introduce me to. Don’t give up. If you want it bad enough, you will be patient. If you build your network, they will be there to support you, keep you from giving up, and point you out to opportunities to pursue.

Now, if you’re thinking – that’s fine and dandy for you, but I don’t want to be on Wall Street. I want to work for industry as a scientist. Networking IS your path, too! I know at least six PhD friends that went straight from PhD into pharmaceutical or biotech companies that are names that are well-recognized. Regardless of whether they entered through a post-doc program or straight into a scientist position, they had networked into that position. You don’t need to be best friends with someone on “the inside” – in most cases it was a third or fourth degree connection that got them there. Figure out what your connections are, and use them to your advantage. Don’t have any? That’s because you need to search harder – or you need to make them yourself.

Know what you want, and let yourself have it.

Congrats on the CFA and the job!

ER is a field that interests me however one that I am not entirely sure and thus, something I am not entirely sure I want. Regardless, I am a BS level associate and thus feel I am under qualified in competing with those that have experience in the field or those that don't but have Phds. Even if I were to go to a similar route as you to get first level of CFA, wouldn't a firm choose a PhD vs a BS given the choice?


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Phil B
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Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 2
December 8, 2016 3:09 pm  

3.Drive. Once I knew what I wanted, I put in the work to look appealing to employers. I did some free work as an unofficial intern for a bank during my PhD. I also studied for a exam that MBAs and finance professionals sit and pass at a 40% success rate – and I passed despite ALL the material being new (corporate finance, economics, fixed income, derivatives, financial statement analysis, etc), but I had to study 2 hours a day for 6 MONTHS to do it. I knew from my informational interviews that taking this exam and working as an unofficial intern would help set me apart from the resume stack. It showed drive. It showed initiative. Put in the work. These types of things are good stories to tell come interview time.

Congratulations. A great success story.
I have a few questions. Was your PhD advisor supportive of your career goals? Did you advisor know about your bank internship and time studying for the financial exam? I'm assuming you live in or near NYC for all this to happen. How did you support yourself post-PhD until you landed your job? Could you describe your job a little more. Do you visit or talk to Biotech companies as part of your research?


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RGM
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Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 59
January 5, 2017 7:40 pm  

It's been Oct since we last heard, and no response to the person's question above. This is a real shame, as the OP has useful info beyond what was provided.

The question regarding the internship is an important one. Many PD's I've encountered have other aspirations but always mention the PI response issue, "how supportive will s/he be" etc.

"Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream things that never were and say why not"
"If you think research is expensive, try disease." - Mary Lasker


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Katherine Lee
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Joined: 7 years ago
Posts: 56
January 7, 2017 2:02 am  

Sorry for the delay! I thought this post was sort of drifting into history. A moderator pinged me today - and I'm happy to come back and answer questions.

1. Was your PhD advisor supportive of your career goals?

No. I was brought up the topic about alternative careers during my weekly 1-on-1 meetings with my advisor at least five times over the final 2 years prior to my graduation, and it was always a one person conversation. He did not want to talk about it. To him a post-doc was the only option. Even as my graduation date was set and I told him about my plans to rush to New York City to interview for equity research positions, he still stated I should do a post-doc first. I still very much respect my PhD mentor, but honestly he is not knowledgeable about alternative careers. He also probably felt sort of a betrayal that I was whistling a new tune than my "I'm going to be a PROFESSOR!" message I had when I was a fresh graduate student. But at the end of the day--- It's YOUR decision. Just realize you may need to bear the journey alone.

2. Did you advisor know about your bank internship and time studying for the financial exam?

Nope. Most of the 10 other people in my lab knew because I was very open about my career interests, but my PhD mentor did not know. He only found out in the last 3-4 months before my defense date when I reiterated my alternative career plans, and that was only because he pushed me into a corner to defend that it was possible for me to do it. I actually was never planning telling him because I did it during my own time (6:00am alone in the library, and 5-7 hour study marathons both Saturday and Sundays at a coffee shop) - it did not affect my PhD studies. I thought he didn't need to know about it.

3. I'm assuming you live in or near NYC for all this to happen. How did you support yourself post-PhD until you landed your job?

Nope. I lived in the Midwest. Although from experience, NYC banks will not take you seriously as an applicant unless you live in NYC. I had one bank considering me before my graduation because I paid for a small vacation out there to "introduce myself" before my graduation (it was not a formal interview). After I graduated, half a week later I "moved to NYC" (read as: horribly bad, but cheap Brooklyn AirBnB) and I was given a job offer I ultimately declined.

However, to your "support" question. Even on my 26k/year stipend I still managed to save for "transitional expenses" and paid down over $15,000 in undergrad student loan debt over my almost 6 years as a PhD student. Unless you live in Boston, NY, or San Francisco, I don't think "transitional expenses" should be a problem. If you want it enough, and you plan for it, you can make it work. Maybe it's time you move into a cheaper apartment to prepare?

4. Could you describe your job a little more. Do you visit or talk to Biotech companies as part of your research?

If you think this is a career path you want to pursue, we should probably take this conversation offline, because there's so much to say here. And although I will try to be brief, I just cannot do this justice.
My title is Biotech Equity Research Associate - and I work more-or-less as an assistant to a Senior Analyst. As a team we currently cover 19 different biotechnology companies (market capitalizations between 100 million and 6 billion, so small-mid cap biotech).

We know these companies forwards and backwards - and are on first name basis with executive teams at these 19 companies. We write research "notes" providing updates about the company and more importantly the value of the company stock. We make financial models in Excel to forecast the revenues of the company which are used to support our overall "Buy", "Hold", or "Sell" ratings on stocks.

In my particular "coverage universe" of 19 companies, only about 3 of these companies are actually "cash flow positive" - meaning making more money quarter-to-quarter than they spend; this varies based on the size of the companies an analyst covers. This means I do a lot of research into how large a market could be, how much market share or penetration into a market a particular new drug might make, etc. We use this research to support our financial model and ultimately our stock rating. My job is just lots and lots of a reading and writing - and more importantly - ANALYSIS. If you hate writing, or if you hate having to write VERY QUICKLY - don't do this job.

Typical day: I go into work a little before 7:00am to prepare in case a company issues a press release. If one comes out, I'm instantly typing up a note and putting my opinion or analysis into it. I shoot it off to my analyst who reviews, edits, puts a stamp of approval on it and we submit to publish. A published note gets disseminated to our clients, who *hopefully* decide to act on it by calling up our sales/trading floor specialist to buy or sell stock. That's one way equity research drives revenues to banks. Timing is important in this job because news gets old fast and if you cannot provide your clients with quick news, analysis, and recommended action - they won't do trading business with you. Oh, and you also need to be right the majority of the time (luckily not ALL the time - of course we try our best)!

Another venue equity research drives value to a bank is through supporting investment banking business such as mergers/acquisitions, or more typically (in the realm of Biotech) through helping underwrite (issue) new equity shares (stock) for a company to raise more money. Initial public offerings (IPOs) are the best example of this, but a lot of smaller biotech companies need to raise money multiple times in the equity markets (read as issue additional shares to the stock market). When banks participate in stock underwriting they are taking on a financial liability - the bank is on the hook to buy the shares and if they cannot find someone to sell them, too - the bank OWNS those shares and loses reputation credits for being incapable of selling the shares. Equity research supports the banks here by helping in the analysis of if the bank should be involved in the stock underwriting.

From day one on the job I was already in small meetings with companies (Imagine: the analyst, me, and 2-3 members of the company - usually CEO, CFO, and an investors relations individual). In the 3 months I have been on the job I have probably had meetings with at least 15 companies. Next week I'll be meeting with 33 companies in a 3 day time span at the craziness that is the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (disclaimer: this meeting is attended by thousands of biotech companies, investors, banks, etc - so I am not stating I have any affiliation with JP Morgan). It's going to be a marathon and I'm very excited to meet all these different companies and hear their company's story.

Hopefully that provided a little more color to any curious readers about what an equity research associate does. There's much more to say and I'll try to check back in case there's some follow-on questions.


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Katherine Lee
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Joined: 7 years ago
Posts: 56
January 7, 2017 2:36 am  

ER is a field that interests me however one that I am not entirely sure and thus, something I am not entirely sure I want. Regardless, I am a BS level associate and thus feel I am under qualified in competing with those that have experience in the field or those that don't but have Phds. Even if I were to go to a similar route as you to get first level of CFA, wouldn't a firm choose a PhD vs a BS given the choice?

I will just state some facts and observations, and it's up to you to decide if ER is an area you want to pursue.

Biotech ER is the easiest field for a PhD or MD to get into because it is very technical and requires a lot of deep literature research and analysis. Banks feel that PhDs have demonstrated they can do this. Banks like MDs because they understand the clinical side of drug development (which makes it very easy for him/her to understand how severe a drugs adverse events actually are).

BS level may find it easier to go into Specialty Pharma, Medical devices, or medical services equity research positions because they're less "technical" in nature - HOWEVER - these positions typically require better financial analysis knowledge since these companies are typically "cash flow positive" and have more complicated financial statements due to being more mature, developed companies (compared to biotech).

I think most biotech equity research associates have a PhD or MD. But NOT ALL DO. But they may compensate for this with stronger financial backgrounds (financial B.S. background, CFA, or MBA -- or other job on "the street" before becoming an associate).

Do I know any Science B.S. level associates in health care equity research who entered "the street" straight from undergrad? No. But I have only been on the street for 3 months - I obviously don't know everyone.

Some of the PhDs and MDs I have encountered on the street had passed all three CFA exams before they applied for jobs (you cannot officially apply for the CFA title until all three exams are done AND you have four years of work experience - so these people only could claim the CFA exams were passsed)!!! CRAZINESS! I passed CFA level one, and feel it was critical for me to get job interviews. I guess what I'm saying is I think CFA level I was necessary for me to get interviews, but there were people competing with me for jobs that had an advanced degree AND more CFA levels completed - in these cases the interview is critical.

This is a VERY competitive job field. And it is very hit-or-miss on the number of job postings at any given time. Some that are open are not even posted and that's where networking is important.

Banks sometimes hire recruiters to scout for people, so make sure that your Linkedin profile is carefully crafted and clear about your intentions. However, you also need to get connected to people in that realm for them to find you.


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Dave Jensen
Prominent Maven Moderator
Joined: 2 years ago
Posts: 938
January 7, 2017 6:24 pm  

Thanks for coming back and filling in some of the blanks, Katherine. We very much appreciate it,

Dave Jensen
Founder and Moderator, ScienceCareers Discussion Forum

Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum


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