By Rebecca Manubag
On July 8th, Rutgers iJOBS took attendees on an informative virtual site visit to Janssen, the pharmaceutical branch of Johnson & Johnson. This event was open to undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students interested in learning more about Janssen’s hiring process, as well as some details of specific positions held by the variety of panelists.
Johnson & Johnson, known as one of the top American medical device corporations, has received increasing attention in the past year for development of their single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Founded over 130 years ago, it’s also the world’s largest healthcare company and is at the top of the list of companies in Big Pharma (Forbes). Currently, J&J has three main sectors: pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and consumer health products. The virtual site tour focused on employees of Janssen, the pharmaceutical branch where their goal is to ‘create a future where disease is a thing of the past’. We had the pleasure of hearing from a number of employees covering several bases. This included hiring tips from recruiter Danielle Sims, information on Janssen’s new inclusivity initiative (SODEP) from Dr. Erica Bozeman, as well as insight on joining industry from many early and late drug developmental scientists.
The event began with Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist, Danielle Sims, who described that Janssen itself is broken into six therapeutic areas: immunology, cardiovascular and metabolic disease, pulmonary hypertension, infectious diseases and vaccines, neuroscience, and oncology. This itself lends endless opportunities for individuals in STEM interested in working at Janssen. Danielle went on to provide job search tips to increase chances of applicants being appropriately matched with a position: search by keyword, location, requisition ID, and hashtag (e.g. #jnjinternship, #postdoc, etc.). She also stressed the importance of turning on job alerts to be sent to your email, a tip that I thought was just meant to irk potential hires! Joining J&J’s Global Talent Hub is also a resource to match with relevant jobs. Additionally, Danielle shared some general application tips that are often highlighted when applying to any position. This included: 1. Do your research on the company and position, 2. Utilize your network and personal connections (especially for referrals), 3. Set up job alerts to be an ‘early applicant’ for desired positions, 4. Apply using a personal email address, rather than a school/institution address, to ensure you receive any application updates, 5. Do not focus on a cover letter as much as highlighting specifics on your resume, and 6. Check your inbox frequently after applying.
Following Danielle’s application advice, we heard from Janssen’s SODEP lead Dr. Erica Bozeman. SODEP, or Janssen’s Scholars of Oncology Diversity Engagement Program, is a new equity and inclusion initiative geared toward minority students in a PhD, medical, post-doctoral, or pharmacy program interested in oncology research. This initiative was described as an opportunity to expose students who identify as African-American or Hispanic to a stepwise program including ‘Exposure’, ‘Mentorship’, and ‘Placement’ phases. Be sure to visit the SODEP website to learn more as they are currently accepting applications!
This led into dialogue from panelists who currently hold various positions in therapeutic and medical safety areas of Janssen. Panelists included: Dr. Anne Yuqing Yang, Davit Sargsyan, Dr. Eric Huselid, Dr. Victor Dishy, Anastasiya Koshkina, PharmD, Dr. Leila Larbi, and Dr. Concetta Lipardi. The panelists discussed their educational and scientific journeys, touching on what ultimately brought them to their respective roles at Janssen. The overarching theme seemed to be that any and all diverse backgrounds only contribute to the vision of Janssen, rather than act as a limitation. For example, Dr. Anne Yuqing Yang discussed that her pre-pharmacy and pharmacology background led her to a Senior Scientist position in Consumer Health at Janssen. During the pandemic, she moved to Clinical Pharmacology & Pharmacometrics, where she supports interactions with health authorities like the FDA; this goes hand in hand with the support of clinical trials. Conversely, Anastasiya Koshkina actually received her PharmD degree and knew she wanted involvement in clinical development throughout her career as a pharmacist. Eventually, Anastasiya was accepted into Rutgers’ PRIF Program, an industry-based training program which collaborates with top pharmaceutical companies to expose PharmDs to the pharmaceutical industry. This led her to her current position at Janssen as a Clinical Scientist.
The panel also consisted of individuals with medical training: Drs. Victor Dishy, Leila Larbi, and Concetta Lipardi. Dr. Dishy is the Senior Director of Translational & Experimental Medicine, and clinical leader in the cardiovascular and metabolic disease area. Although having spent many years in a clinical research setting, he switched over to clinical pharmacology which eventually led to his position at Janssen. Dr. Dishy described his job as “exciting” because of the chance to learn something new every day—a sentiment that seemed to be consistent among the majority of the panelists. Dr. Larbi took a different route with her MD background and works at Janssen as a Medical Safety Officer, where she ensures safety of products and patients in clinical trial phases I-IV. She stressed that the patient is always the first focus, which is reassuring coming from a scientist in big pharma, an area that the layperson typically has trouble giving credence to. Dr. Lipardi is an MD/PhD in the same therapeutic area as Drs. Dishy and Larbi, but focuses more on late-stage drug development in large cardiovascular clinical studies. Having held previous positions at Merck and NIH, Dr. Lipardi stated that her daily motivation has been improvement of peoples’ lives (something that is likely at the forefront for many early career scientists).
Davit Sargsyan stood out as a trained statistician from Armenia who joined Johnson & Johnson as an intern in 2011, eventually landing a full-time position as a Principal Statistician where he supports both clinical and pre-clinical studies. He is currently working toward his PhD at the Rutgers Ernesto Mario School of Pharmacy. Finally, Dr. Eric Huselid is a recent graduate from Rutgers, and was in the first cohort of students to graduate through the iJOBS program. Because of this, he was able to give some relevant tips on finding an industry position as a fresh new graduate. Currently, he works as a Contract Scientist in the Functional Genomics group at Janssen where he’s involved with CRISPR/Cas9 screens. Dr. Huselid discussed the importance of researching a company’s preferred contracting service company if you’re interested in getting your foot in as a contract scientist (e.g. Kelly Services for J&J). He also stressed the importance of having a quality LinkedIn profile, and utilizing connections of individuals who may already be a full-time employee with your target company. Overall, he spoke very positively about this type of position, alluding to the fluidity of the 1-2 year term as a contract scientist.
Apart from sharing informative details about their journeys, our panelists also touched on the macroscopic advantages of working in pharma/industry, and specifically at Janssen. Davit and Dr. Dishy agreed that Janssen and J&J as a whole have friendly, inviting, and collaborative atmospheres. Over the years, it seems that life in industry has been portrayed as cutthroat, inflexible, and unreasonably fast-paced. Although all companies differ, our panelists seemed to stress the contrary– that a fast-paced environment can also come with reasonable work-life balance. Most importantly, having a background that may not be traditional in the pipeline leading to an industry position doesn’t mean these differences are discounted, but rather they are embraced and contribute to the ability to move across areas within large pharma companies. Dr. Larbi concluded with a reassuring morsel: that you are not expected to come into pharma knowing everything about an area, drug, or disease, because inevitably you will still learn something new every day.
Altogether, this event seemed to have a secondary effect aside from getting the scoop on hiring tips and types of positions at Janssen; it demystified some of the conventional ideas of what it looks like to be a scientist in big pharma. No matter your background, whether in research or research-adjacent, it seems that the opportunities at a company like Janssen or J&J are abundant and welcoming.
This article was edited by Senior editor Brianna Alexander.