iJOBS Event Report: A Medical Affairs Morning with GlaxoSmithKline

I didn’t know what I expected on Thursday when I traveled to Bridgewater, NJ to visit GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) Medical Affairs office. This was my first opportunity to get a day-in-the-life industry perspective during my time in graduate school. If you read any of our previous blog posts or even just the description of the iJOBS program, you will understand that its sole purpose is to expose graduate students and post-docs to non-academic career options. I was hoping to talk to professionals in my career area of choice, Regulatory Affairs, so that I could get a better picture of their day-to-day job tasks and what occupies their time.

When we arrived, their office was in a simple office park five story building. We moved to a rather large conference room and sat down for several Q and A’s with professionals in Human Resources, product development, and Regulatory Affairs. They discussed work life at GSK and their own career progression. A common theme I noticed from these professional talks is how diverse the career track progression can be; two out of the five panelists said they had worked at all the major pharma companies except one, and everyone else had worked at more than half of them. When the panel opened for questions, a six year post-doc asked, “I have been applying to jobs for months but without any industry experience I am not getting interviews!” One panelist answered almost immediately that they had gone through a similar experience when they first started applying for jobs. His message was to not give up, continue applying, because he had applied to over 100 positions before he landed his first job. Then another panelist immediately cut in and discussed how industry research at the bench was only limited to hiring from a select number of research groups. According to him these are known only within industry, and that they (the industry), were just beginning to hire outside of that applicant pool. Several of the panelists discussed how being active at iJOBS events and updating your LinkedIn profile increases your chances of getting hired. I caught up to this post-doc after and asked her a few questions about the answers she received and what she found useful about the site visit. She discussed how going on a site visit allows you to have the kind of face-to-face interaction which allows employers to speak on your candidature when choosing among job applicants. In other words, networking. She also said that you can learn from the speaker’s stories about the challenges they faced during their career, gaining insider knowledge which is not well-known to other first-time applicants.

Next, we had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Dr. Christopher Kocun, the Chief Medical Officer and head of consumer health medical affairs and clinical development. He started to discuss his life story about how no one had believed in him and how he would never have predicted his own career trajectory. He mentioned, that we should plan on setting up three, five, and ten-year plans, even though they will change as new opportunities become available. He discussed how the initial leap to industry is hard but after that, getting your next job becomes much easier. Also, when performing on your first job, prepare to push yourself and never say no to a new opportunity because this will unlock more future opportunities. When he opened the forum for questions I decided to ask one, “what is your process for learning something new?” We endured a brief pause and then he proceeded to break his answer into two parts. His first suggestion was to begin learning your new skill with the end in mind, that is have a good picture of what the end goal is before you start. His second part included information about analyzing data and knowing your facts. Another important piece of advice he discussed was how important trust is in all relationships, when people trust you and vouch for your skills you will excel. Do not lie, do not surprise your boss, be consistent and deliver excellent work.

Next, we embarked on the facility tour. I noticed how clean and new everything looked, in contrast to my experience in academic labs with lots of dust and dirt. We toured their medical affairs office, the office oversees designing and discussing over-the-counter products. Here decisions are made about whether GSK will introduce a product into a particular market. We also toured a lab where they made the over-the-counter drug prototypes, completed with several 3D printers. Our hosts explained that although many completed projects never go to market, the manufacturing ideas developed for these products are often recycled into other products.

GSK graphic

Next, we went to another round table discussion, but this time in small groups. In this intimate setting we felt less intimidated when asking questions. I found this a great setting for getting an answer to a critical question I have. “I am going to graduate with a PhD in neuroscience, does that preclude me from applying to certain industry jobs that do not list a Neuroscience PhD as a requirement? The short answer was no, you should expect to move around between jobs that might not have anything to do with one another.

After this, I finally arrived at the small group that I had been waiting for; Regulatory Affairs. I finally received an answer to my question, what is the average day of a regulatory affairs professional? She answered directly that it was always different, she had to take a conference call at 7am that morning before moving onto her next work task. She discussed how she often works as a liaison between the government regulations and the pharmaceutical industry. Her job is to make sure that government regulations are followed during the manufacturing and creation of new products. Regulatory affairs professionals ensure that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manufacturing and product safety guidelines are enforced.

During the last fifteen minutes, many of my fellow iJOBS colleagues took the initiative and decided to make important network contacts. As we were told during the site visit, contacts and networks are invaluable for getting new jobs. Sitting on the bus ride home I watched the New Jersey countryside go by my window. There was new information to start chewing apart, analyze, and use to create a new three and five year plan. I wondered if in the future I would be making the same daily commute to and from Bridgewater, NJ. Note to future self: the traffic on the 280 north is terrible at 8am.

iJOBS Site Visit Recap: Bayer

On November 1, 2017, iJOBS hosted a site-visit to Bayer in Whippany, NJ. This location is Bayer’s U.S. headquarters for the Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Care divisions.

The day began with a talk by Edio Zampaglione, MD, Vice President of U.S. Medical Affairs for Women’s Healthcare and Neurology. He began with some interesting historic facts including Bayer’s beginninbayergs in 1863, its first major product—aspirin, changes to the company throughout the world wars, and acquisitions in the 21st century. He proceeded by giving a thorough overview of the company by describing Bayer’s four product areas: pharmaceuticals, consumer health, crop science and animal health. Products in the pharmaceuticals division pertain to cardiovascular health, oncology, women’s health, opthamology, neurology and radiology, to name a few. In terms of consumer products, many household product names are actually owned by Bayer. These include Alka-Seltzer, Coppertone sunscreen, Dr. Scholl’s, One-a-Day vitamins, Aleve, and many more. The crop sciences division contains fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, and more. Pet-owners and -lovers may be interested to learn that Bayer’s animal health group produces Advantage Flea and Tick Prevention.

Dr. Zampaglione also stressed that something that makes Bayer unique is its focus on developing products rather than acquiring from smaller companies. In other words, Bayer prioritizes research and development, which is good news for those who are seeking such jobs in industry. Specifically, Bayer has product development sites in California, Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee. They also have “Innovation Centers” which are research-intensive hubs that collaborate with academia and other institutions in order to stay on the leading-edge of biotechnology. These centers are located in Massachusetts and California.

For those graduate students and post-docs not interested in industry research positions, Bayer also offers careers for Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) at several locations in the U.S., including the local, Whippany, NJ site. Their role is to provide scientific information about products and to tackle some of the more difficult questions, including those pertaining to off-label use. They are highly valued at Bayer because they possess high-level understanding about the science behind a product, and are able to communicate that to physicians.

Dr. Zampaglione then handed the floor over to Mark Rametta, DO, FACOI, FACP, Medical Director of Neurology, who described Bayer’s fellowship program and its partnership with Rutgers. Each year, recent PharmD graduates from Rutgers and other universities, who are interested in working in industry, enter the fellowship program. They are placed with a preceptor and program director, and complete rotations across different divisions of the company. Chief fellow, Valentina Pampulevski, PharmD, RPh, spoke and gave a positive review of her experience in the Medical Communications department. Although the program is currently for PharmD students, there is hope that a similar program for PhD students will be developed, as there is a high level of interest, especially from iJOBS participants!

For the remainder of the visit, iJOBS trainees heard from two employees who successfully transitioned from academia to careers at Bayer. The first, Solveig Halldorsdottir, PhD, Director of Medical Communications, provided an interesting perspective to many struggling iJOBS trainees in the room. As an international student once herself, she described how she was able to successfully break into industry. During her post-doc, a colleague reached out to her about a position at a small start-up company as an MSL. Although she was not familiar with the work, she took advantage of the opportunity and was transferred to Florida. Over several years, she worked hard, developed connections and built her repertoire within Medical Affairs. As a result, she acquired experience, and it was much easier for her to land her next job. Wanting to return to the Northeast, she found a junior position that she was qualified for—in spite of a significant pay cut. However, to her, it was worth it. Again, she proved herself, and worked her way up from that position. The other Bayer employees at the event also had similar experiences and each chimed in. Their overall message was this:

The career ladder is not straight up. In fact, it is a staircase. Depending on circumstances, you may have to take a lateral position or even a few steps back, but it will ultimately get you where you want to go.bayer2

Now at Bayer, Dr. Halldorsdottir works in Medical Communications. Her team is responsible for reviewing and approving commercial product content. Last to speak was Heather Goolsby, PhD, Deputy Director of Marketing for Women’s Healthcare. She started with three messages:

1) Adapt and be flexible

                  2) Don’t set boundaries

                  3) Everything is connected

In terms of adapting, she described several changes, including company acquisitions and how they threatened her career at times. However, she adapted and persevered. After other similar experiences, she came to realize that adaptability is key, because, “Pharma equals change”. To her second point, she stressed that PhDs looking for careers must differentiate themselves. They should focus on experiences outside of the hard skills that all PhDs acquire along the process. Networking is also incredibly important for getting the job, which led into her third point. Everything is connected, and collaboration is necessary. She discussed how this contributes to the family-like work-culture at Bayer, which adds value to her day-to-day life.

A main thing that the Bayer employees expressed that day was their appreciation for the fact that their work can help millions of people live healthier lives. At such a well-known, international company as Bayer, there is no doubt that their efforts truly make an impact on the world.


For those interested in learning more about MSL careers, check out past blog posts on this topic.

iJOBS Workshop: Primer in Project Management

Huri Mücahit and Yaa Haber

If you’re looking for a career in which you can plan, organize, and oversee all aspects of a project to reach a specific end goal, then project management is the career for you! In this iJOBS workshop, Kristin Fitzgerald, Director of Global Project and Alliance Management at Merck & Co., covered the day-to-day aspects of project management within a pharmaceutical company, as well as the skills required to succeed.

In order to understand project management, it is first necessary to define the term ‘project’. A project is a “temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result, that has a clearly defined start, finish, dependencies, and scope”. In addition, various factors like time, cost, and the ability to stay within the outlined scope determine success rate.

So, as a project manager (PM), what would your role encompass? You would be the person who outlines the tasks and splits them amongst the various teams (which can include IT, marketing, research & development, clinical, legal, regulatory, and medical affairs), sets the objectives required for the project, keeps stakeholders informed on progress made, and
assesses and carefully monitors risks of the project. To do so, you would utilize a Project Management Process, an example of which can be seen below:


To aid with this process, there are several tools at your disposal, including Project Charters which are one page documents that clearly summarize the objectives, the people, and the resources for a project; the Work Breakdown Structure document which ensures that you do not succumb to the dreaded “scope creep” and devote resources to unnecessary tasks; and the Critical Path Analysis which determines project duration based on the longest path it takes to complete the project. An example of this analysis can be seen below.


So, what skills are necessary to succeed in this career? A successful PM should be analytical to not only plan to reach closure but to also assess for any risks that might derail the project. They should also have excellent people and communication skills in order to ensure that all of the teams involved have clearly defined tasks and that they are kept informed of the progress. Finally, the most important skill is to be organized, as you must juggle the expectations of leadership and the customers, the constraints of the project, and oversee all of the teams to ensure success.

How does one become a PM? For PhD students, the requirements are a little bit easier, in that we already have a four-year degree. In addition, we’ve already completed many hours leading and directing projects in the form of our thesis, which would very well fall under the required 4,500 hours. The only additional requirement is 35 hours of project management education which can be completed through the Project Management Institute. At the end of their program, you can take the Project Management Professional Certification (PMP) exam which is a 200 multiple choice question-based exam which covers the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge). Once you’ve earned your PMP, you must earn 60 professional development units every three years to maintain it.

At the end of the talk, Kristin Fitzgerrald was kind enough to answer several questions, which are listed below:

  1. How common is it to see a PM with a PhD?

It is very common because in order to fulfill the PM role within the pharmaceutical industry, you must have either a PhD or an MD.

  1. What is the path from a PhD to a PM position?

It depends on the project management role but you can apply directly for these positions. However, sometimes, it is more likely that PhDs will make internal lateral movements such as, from the clinical team to project management.

  1. How can a PhD graduate succeed during the job search phase?

You can apply directly to the Merck website. As Merck uses an automatic screening process for resumes, it would be helpful to include buzzwords such as, project management, risks, and critical path. If your resume gets chosen, then this will be followed by a phone interview, then a panel interview with 5-6 PMs, and finally, an interview with a senior leader.

  1. What is the highest level a PM can reach?

At Merck, the vice-president was promoted from a PM role.

As you can see, PhD students already have many of the skills required for a career in project management. If you’re interested in learning more about careers such as these, make sure to attend future iJobs workshops and career panels!


The 2Actify Experience – Updating your LinkedIn Profile for Successful Career Development

This post was written following my participation in the 2Actify Online course offered by the iJOBS program from July 17 to September 15, 2017

We have all been there: you’re attending iJOBS and (Alliance for Career Advancement) ACA events to learn about potential career options, you’re updating your resume and curriculum vitae to be ready for that first application, but then you suddenly hit a brick wall when you realize your LinkedIn profile hasn’t been updated since college (ack!!).

I was in this exact situation just a couple of months ago and I had no idea what to do with my online professional profile. There were so many people I could see on LinkedIn with fantastic profiles, but I felt like my profile just couldn’t compete. Apart from feeling so negatively about my profile, I also did not have the tools to even begin to improve my LinkedIn page. When the iJOBS program offered Rutgers students the opportunity to take the 2Actify online course for online networking, I wasted no time in putting my name down.

The online course is offered in 4 sessions and also may include a one-on-one profile review with founder, Penny Pearl. Initially I was not sure what I would gain from this experience and more importantly, if I would be able to implement the necessary changes to improve my LinkedIn page. I am happy to say, however, that the 2Actify course was thorough and the necessary information was delivered in very manageable chunks.

-Career-seekers who build relationships through networking are preparing themselves for career advancement.

The first session covered the importance of how to use LinkedIn as a networking tool and engage with the online community. Ms. Pearl mentions the best methods to make connections online and how to reach out to new people, which is critical for growing your network. In the second session, the course discusses how to create a magnetic profile. This session was the most beneficial to me considering the sorry state of my online profile and my negative feelings towards it. In this session, you learn pro-tips for how to attract people to your profile by perfecting every detail, from your headshot to your headline, and even how best to use media and recommendations as part of your profile.

In the third session of the program, Ms. Pearl takes you through integrating online networking into your regular routine and how to use companies and groups such as alumni networks to continue to build your connections. In the fourth and final session, you are taught the keys to being a standout candidate. More fine-tuned tips for developing relationships online, staying engaged with content that is posted in your feed, and how to use professional groups to expand your network, are provided in this session.

After going through the 2Actify program and using the steps outlined as part of the program, I could see my LinkedIn page transform from an ugly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. I felt like a true grown-up with a reliable tool for networking and getting to the next step in my post-graduate school goals. What I enjoyed most about the 2Actify program is that the final product is easily tangible; you see the results instantly and are compelled to continue networking and improving your profile.

I was curious at the end of the program about how this all started, what compelled Ms. Pearl to put together such a first-class product, and how this great opportunity was brought to the iJOBS program. I contacted Ms. Pearl after completing the 2Actify program to get answers to some of these questions and also hear her thoughts on networking as a graduate student or post-doc.

  1. Tell us about your background.

With Rutgers as my alma mater, I was pleased that 2Actify was a successful pilot program for iJOBS as PhDs prepare for their entry into a professional environment.

After graduating from Rutgers University with a Bachelor in Science, my early career included business development and training for technology companies.  I later founded a start-up company that sold healthy desserts online and through Whole Foods.

As my career advanced, so did my skills as an online networker, lead generator and certified business coach for corporations and entrepreneurs. I founded Bear2Bull Coaching and trained growth companies and corporate leaders on techniques for online lead generation. This proven system evolved into the 2Actify program.

  1. What prompted you to start 2Actify?

I was approached by the director of a university master’s program.  She was interested in teaching her students how to find a good job in their field of study upon graduation.

Using the 2Actify program had tremendous impact.  Students who completed the program had job offers prior to (or within 2 months of) graduation. The program was so successful in the first class that the program director has incorporated 2Actify into her curriculum.

I was able to introduce the 2Actify program to Janet Alder and the iJOBS program through a referral by a professional in my online network.  This connection was a perfect example of how strategic online networking can open the right doors.

  1. How has networking changed over the years?

Networking has always been important, but in many fields today, online networking is as—if not more—important than in-person networking. Candidates need to market themselves online as an alternative to applying through job boards.

Career-seekers who build relationships through networking are preparing themselves for career advancement. Further, by networking online, a candidate can find opportunities anywhere in the world.

  1. Currently, graduate programs do not really incorporate networking skills into their curriculum. Why is networking an important skill to learn as students graduate and enter the “real world”?

Networking skills should be incorporated into the curriculum well before students are ready to seek employment.

Relationship building can impact career readiness as early as high school, and should be encouraged by parents, schools, and professors since:

  1. The skills learned through networking enhance the “soft skills” that employers seek today (such as communication, problem solving, and teamwork).
  2. Relationship-building skills open doors for internships, mentoring, career opportunities, and referrals. A track record that includes internships and work experience makes early-career professionals more marketable.
  3. Today’s job-seeking landscape is not tipped in favor of the candidate unless they become a skilled communicator and build relationships. Networking helps find a job today and lays a foundation for career advancement.
  4. Scientists often have a reputation for being awkward or shy when it comes to networking. What three tips can you recommend to those of us who find networking difficult?

While taking the first step may feel huge, once you “get into it” you’ll find that networking is extremely gratifying—even fun!

My 3 tips are:

  1. Focus on the outcomes of building relationships for your future career, not just a current job.
  2. Communicate WHAT you do, HOW you do it, and WHO you do it for so the professionals you’ve targeted see how they can benefit from meeting you. Include a professional profile photo. Remember, your online profile is your marketing “brochure”!
  3. Create a routine of reaching out to professionals who can help advance your career. Begin with a request for a connection.  When they see that your profile aligns with their interests, many will connect with you.  You can then ask for an introduction.

The 2Actify program teaches a step-by-step system on how to strategically network online to build relationships and propel your career.  The program is delivered through a series of online training videos (available 24/7), live webinars, and supplemental coaching. Motivated career-seekers learn concepts and techniques that help them land a rewarding position faster, create future career opportunities, and master online communication skills.

The 2Actify program was piloted and proved its value with Rutgers iJOBS participants.

The program evaluation scored an average of 4.5 (with “5” as best):

For more information on how iJOBS participants can access 2Actify contact Janet Alder at janet.alder@rutgers.edu.

Penny Pearl, Founder and CEO


530 277 7037



Informational Interview with Dr. Evelyn Erenrich

DR. EEDr. Evelyn Erenrich serves as the Associate Dean at the School of Graduate Studies and Director of the Center for Graduate Recruitment, Retention, and Diversity (GR²aD) at Rutgers University. In her capacity as Associate Dean, she is responsible for promoting diversity and inclusion at Rutgers the from undergraduate to faculty levels. iJOBs blogger, Urmimala Basu, talks with Dr. Erenrich about development of her career in higher education administration.

  1. Let’s begin with your early career: where did you go to school for your undergraduate studies and what was your field?

I did my undergraduate work at Cornell University where I majored in Science Education. My plan was to teach high school biology and chemistry, and, at the time, I never considered the possibility of a PhD.

  1. Please tell us about your graduate career: where did you go to graduate school and what did you work on? What was your motivation behind going to graduate school?

A summer research experience between my junior and senior year was the catalyst that propelled me to graduate school. I was looking for a summer job the spring of my junior year and came across a posting for positions at Brookhaven National Laboratories. I was offered a spot despite my lack of research experience, probably because I had a 4.0 GPA. I was fortunate to be matched with the Chair of Biology, who was well-known for his work on the enzyme ribonuclease. This pivotal experience opened my eyes to the excitement of research, and I returned to college intent on going to graduate school. That decision meant I had to change my schedule from full-time student teaching to more advanced coursework. I still remember asking the Dean to allow me to substitute courses like Physical Chemistry for student teaching. He agreed, commenting that I was the first student to ask for special permission to get INTO P-Chem rather than to withdraw!

I remained at Cornell for my PhD, working in the laboratory of Dr. David Usher and studying the mechanism of ribonuclease A. So you can see, my summer research experience had a profound effect on both my pathway and my research direction.

  1. Please describe your current job at Rutgers as the Assistant Dean of The Centre for Graduate Recruitment, Retention and Diversity. What are your duties and how do you manage them?

As Associate Dean at the School of Graduate Studies and Director of the Center for Graduate Recruitment, Retention, and Diversity (GR²aD), I Iead efforts spanning the undergraduate to postdoctoral/faculty pathway. Our signature programs recruit graduate students from diverse backgrounds and develop initiatives to promote their success. Although much of our emphasis has been on broadening participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), we have recently extended our scope to social sciences and humanities. To achieve our objectives, we establish and maintain relationships with feeder schools, direct a summer research program for undergraduatesRiSE (Research Intensive Summer Experience) at Rutgers, and develop professional support mechanisms for graduate students. We participate in multi-institutional consortia to promote diversity in graduate education and postdoctoral training and to facilitate successful career transition. We provide support for the diversity, broadening participation, and broader impact components of faculty training and research grants.

  1. Please tell us your career trajectory: How did you transition to your current job?

After earning my PhD, I worked in industry developing enzyme-based analytical devices for process control, such as industrial fermentation. My group, although part of a large corporation, was run much like a start-up, and we had considerable autonomy and opportunities to present our work. After several promotions, I became more involved with management and commercial development and found the challenge of matching our technology with customer needs interesting. Eventually, though, having always wanted to teach, I returned to the academic arena as a member of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department at Rutgers. I directed the General Chemistry program and spearheaded curricular innovations. Disturbed by the high dropout rate from first-year science major courses, I developed a transitional program to help at-risk students succeed. Many of these students came from underserved high schools. In 2000, the Graduate School-New Brunswick joined an NSF (National Science Foundation) consortium to promote diversity in STEM graduate programs and develop models to promote degree completion and career transition. My experience at the undergraduate level was transferable to the graduate arena. I was offered the newly created dean position for Recruitment and Retention. My initial charge was to launch an undergraduate summer research program for 6 students, which grew into today’s RISE program hosting over 50 students per summer.

  1. Please elaborate on the various programs run by your office.

The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) values a diverse and inclusive student body as a fundamental element in our efforts towards excellence. We have a broad concept of diversity, seeking individuals who can contribute to the diversity of our classrooms and our intellectual community. To this end, SGS offers annual Diversity Fellowships to talented incoming students from a wide variety of backgrounds. We also disburse SUPER-Grad (Summer Undergraduate Pipeline to Excellence at Rutgers) Fellowships for top alumni of diversity-focused summer undergraduate research programs at Rutgers. We belong to multi-institutional consortia whose members partner to promote this goal. Among these is the Big Ten Academic Alliance, which has developed a variety of initiatives to recruit underrepresented groups to PhD programs and promote career success. Through the Big Ten’s NIH National Research Mentoring Grant, we sponsor professional development, grant writing, and mentorship training workshops.

  1. In your opinion what can we do to increase diversity in graduate studies? How active has Rutgers been over the years to increase diversity of its workforce? Can graduate students and post-docs contribute in any way in this regard?

Graduate students and postdocs have multiple opportunities to impact diversity and outreach programs. Examples include service as Rutgers Recruitment Ambassadors, near-peer mentors for undergraduates in programs such as RISE, and leaders in outreach initiatives such as a recent NSF INCLUDES grant with Columbia University. Students and postdocs can participate in Big Ten National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) activities (above). We help students obtain travel awards to professional development conferences designed to promote success. These include the high-impact Compact for Faculty Diversity’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring as well as the Big Ten NRMN conferences described above. Graduate students and postdocs plan and implement an annual spring Diversity and Inclusion Symposium.

  1. What were some of the major hindrances you face in your current job?

Not surprisingly, funding for students and programs is a perennial challenge. Since many of our initiatives benefit training grants and individual faculty grants, we partner with various programs and collaborate with faculty in many departments. We are also fortunate to have institutional commitment from the Chancellor and the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs (SVPAA).

  1. What is your parting advice to graduate students interested in non-academic jobs in university setting? What qualities do you think will make one succeed in a job like yours?

Graduate students need to retain focus and think about their post-degree options. Mentoring does not always fall in your lap, and you may need to take the initiative to seek out mentors. I encourage students to identify mentors who can offer perspective not only on their scientific or scholarly progress, but on future opportunities. Cast a wide net, and get to know individuals in diverse fields and from diverse backgrounds. Serving as a near-peer mentor to undergraduates and new graduate students can also help you gain insight into your own goals.

Networking is important but not sufficient. A strong work ethic and demonstrated results are essential. Soft skills such as flexibility, teamwork, and strong communication are important, too.

There is no perfect career path or position just like there is no perfect person. Try not to let the bumps in the road deter or distract you. Graduate students often talk about how tough and stressful a time it is, but when you look back you may realize that school is one of the best times of your life. Keep your eye on the prize!

  1. What is your view of the iJOBS program running at Rutgers?

iJOBS provides resources to open your eyes to the myriad of opportunities out there. iJOBS can help you find tools to succeed, much as described in the previous question.


Follow up with Dr. Thomas Magaldi, PhD

This post was written as a follow up to the iJOBS event on August 29 with Dr. Thomas Magaldi discussing career preparation for graduate students and postdocs.

Dr. Magaldi led a very personable and informative discussion on August 29 at Rutgers Newark with current postdoc and graduate students regarding their career goals and how to prepare for the next step in our journey after graduate school. He took time to ask each individual person in the room what their plans were for the future and recommend pointed strategies for how to advance to the next stage. Interests ranged from tenure-track positions in academia, to scientist positions in industry, to medical writing, and science policy.

The Humble PhD and Postdoc seminar with Thomas Magaldi, PhD.
The Humble PhD and Postdoc seminar with Thomas Magaldi, PhD.

He recommended that, for starters, everyone should:

  1. Complete an IDP (or use a similar tool such as Strength Finder)
  2. Explore the career you are interested in pursuing
  3. Conduct a skills assessment to come up with a plan

When you have completed these tasks, you will be ready for the last step: applying for a job.

IDPs are now required by the NIH for all graduate students who receive federal funding, so completing the first step on Dr. Magaldi’s checklist should be easy. A few ways to address the second item on the list—exploring career options—include informational interviews and networking, especially on LinkedIn and with Rutgers alumni. If you need a refresher on how to conduct an informational interview, check out one of our previous posts. There are also professional organizations that can be good sources of information such as the American Medical Writers Association. For example, one student at the event discussed her experience in conducting informational interviews to learn about the different aspects of medical writing such as freelancing, working for a pharmaceutical company, and informational writing. Dr. Magaldi stressed the importance of informational interviews as part of career exploration and explained that most people you meet will want to help you.

After going over the basics with all the attendees, Dr. Magaldi took the time to specifically ask each person about what point they were in the above process. In return, he recommended some next steps. Overall, he was extremely knowledgeable and engaging by combining his own experience in finding his career path with tested advice he has offered other students in similar situations.

I don’t think there was a single person who walked away from the seminar feeling that they could not achieve their immediate career goals and succeed in life post-Rutgers. Given that the time we spent with Dr. Magaldi was limited, I followed up with him after the event to learn more about his own career path and views on the current state of graduate education.

  1. What experiences during your graduate education helped prepare you for your current career? You mentioned during the Rutgers-Newark event that as a graduate student, you followed the more traditional path from graduate school to post-doc and were very unhappy with this experience. What impact did those events have in getting you to where you are now?

I knew early on in my graduate career that I did not want to pursue a faculty position, at least not at a research-intensive school—maybe at a small liberal arts college. And I also did not want to complete a post doc. I settled science policy as a career during my last year. However, I didn’t have the experiences I needed outside of the lab to land something like the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship. So, I took a postdoc position at NIH to build the skills I would need for the AAAS Fellowship. However, after four months I realized I was not passionate about the research enough to continue as a postdoc even though I had a great mentor. One thing I did do with my time at the NIH was to take part in professional development they offered that was related to science policy. In addition to applying for jobs in science policy, I also applied for opportunities in non-profits. I landed both an offer at the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) to run its professional development division and a final interview for a science policy fellowship. Because the offer at NYAS was so enticing, I declined the final interview for the fellowship and joined NYAS. After 14 months at NYAS, I left to run the Office of Career and Professional Development at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

  1. What does an average day look like for you at Memorial Sloan Kettering?

It’s pretty busy. I spend time planning events, developing courses, networking with speakers as well as the administrative responsibilities of the office. In addition, I meet with students to help them plan their career paths. 

  1. Do you find it hard to find work-life balance in your current career?

Not at all. I have a fantastic work-life balance. When I first started in this field I had to spend extra time learning new ideas and protocols, but over time I have become more efficient in my work, which ensures that I rarely must take work home.

  1. With your experience in helping guide graduate students and post-docs in their career preparation, what do you think is currently lacking in graduate education that students need to focus on to reach their goals after graduation?

Students already have many of the skills necessary for the jobs that they want (i.e. soft skills, problem solving, and critical thinking). However, it is important to train students how to plan for their next steps and how to communicate their value to employers. More programs are starting to prepare students for roles outside of academia, which is great. 

  1. Any thoughts on where you might be 5 years from now?

I don’t know where I’ll be 5 years from now. I could see myself being involved in a position that works with students beyond career development, such as a dean. But, that would involve leaving my current position. I enjoy what I am doing and I want to remain connected in the same networks I have now and still be able to use them in my next position.

We were very fortunate at Rutgers University to have the opportunity to spend time with Dr. Magaldi discussing our career options. After speaking with him regarding my own career development, I feel good to know that I am at least on the right track. If you have any concerns regarding your own career development, Rutgers has many resources available to students such as the iJOBS program, ACA, and of course, this blog. Good luck in your journey!

To be, or not to be, a graduate student

That is the question. The million dollar question! While we may not soliloquize our internal debate like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we’ve all asked ourselves this question. Going to graduate school for a Ph.D. is not a decision to be made lightly. One must take several factors into account, both personal and professtobeornottobegradional, before embarking on the epic journey that is a graduate dissertation. The decision to go to graduate school is a highly personal one; it may seem imperative for one person while entirely unnecessary for another. The one thing it should not be, however, is the path of least resistance, stresses Maggie Kuo, the author of “Should you go to graduate school.” While noting that a Ph.D. can be a fantastic opportunity for personal and professional development, Kuo reminds us that it comes with substantial costs which we must consider, since a Ph.D. may not necessarily be required and indeed not favored for specific positions. Using examples of scientists from various fields, in different professional capacities, she writes about how one can continue to flourish in the scientific arena with or without a graduate degree.

Kuo discusses the career paths and life experiences of three scientists. Paris Grey loved science and wanted to continue with bench work, but did not fancy the rigors of becoming a Principal Investigator and running a lab. She decided to start out as a lab technician, and after 23 years, her role in the lab where she first started as a technician progressed immensely. She now has her own research projects, manages lab personnel, trains undergraduates and is the coordinator of research programs. Unlike Grey, chemical engineer Ian Faulkner decided to go into industry after completing a combined bachelor’s–master’s degree program. Faulkner realized his role in the industry was not sustainable and decided to head to graduate school. After two rounds of applications he is now a third-year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington. He suggests that for students who would like to keep their options open and not entirely commit to an academic track, getting work experience before going to grad school might be a good idea. Last but not the least, Kuo’s discussion with Krystine Yu shows that work experience in the industry can reaffirm the fact that one does not necessarily need an advanced degree to excel at scientific pursuits. While Yu considered going back to grad school after several years in the industry, she ultimately has moved to a position that does not require a Ph.D. Instead, she is looking into weekend or evening classes to get a Master’s degree in business or engineering which may help open up new possibilities.

My journey to graduate school was somewhat circuitous and similar to Faulkner’s. After completing my Master of Science degree with a focus on biotechnology, I went on to a bench research position in a biotherapeutics manufacturing company in India. It seemed like an excellent opportunity to get some real-world experience in the industry, away from the somewhat sheltering environment of academia. However, I soon realized that despite the fast-paced industry, the extensive resources and technological advantages, I was a small cog in a vast machine. I craved the opportunity to dig deep into one particular project and learn to be a better scientist; to hone my analytical thinking abilities. I also recognized that to be able to manage projects autonomously, and not be shunted from one project to another I needed to get a Ph.D. Not only did I decide to go back to graduate school two years after I completed my Master’s degree, but I challenged myself to apply to schools in the United States to obtain the best possible graduate training. Adjusting to the mindset of a student after having worked full time in the industry was no small task, mainly when it came to textbook knowledge and coursework. Despite the sometimes rollercoaster-like ride of grad school, it is a decision I have never come to regret.

Although I chose to go back to grad school, I have also known several scientists, both in the industry and academia who have been perfectly content in carving out a career in science without going through the rigors of grad school. They contribute to science in various ways, including but not limited to bench research, laboratory management, quality control and assurance, scientific writing, technology transfer, etc. There are some very tangible costs of getting a Ph.D. such as devoting five or more years of your productive adult life with little financial returns. More often than not, it exerts a toll on one’s relationships, family life, and even mental health. And last but not the least, it can more than firmly entrench young scientists in the dreaded paradox of being over-qualified but under-experienced when looking for non-academic positions, while their future in academia continues to be bleak.

With all that said and done, going to grad school should be a very deliberate choice. Consider the pros and cons of going to grad school and choose with your eyes wide open! If you decide to get a Ph.D. or are already on your way to getting one, take a look at our previous post about some required reading for young scientists!

Can your resume speak for you?

This was adapted from Cheeky Scientist’s webinar titled: Tailoring your resume for an industrial job.

“A good resume is not enough to get a job, but a bad resume is enough to keep you from getting a job”. This was a quote that struck me as I was watching the webinar hosted by Cheeky Scientist’s Isaiah Hankel. During the hour-long webinar, I learned about tailoring one’s resume for a job in industry; a resume optimized for a non-academic career.

One of the goals of an optimized resume is to ensure your resume will not be reduced to a “bunch of metrics”, which is used to evaluate how qualified you are for the job. Everyone should learn about the Applicant Tracking Software (ATS), which is used to weed out most of the submitted resumes. Some of the things that ATS focuses on are (1) Keywords usage and your answers to the application questions (more on the keywords below). (2) Salary expectation; the elephant in the room. (3) Inaccurate representation of your work history. Companies are not the only ones who use ATS to remove candidates that may not be qualified for a job position, recruiters use them as well. Moral of the story? Get your resume in top-notch shape before sending it out for a job application.

An average recruiter spends 6 seconds before deciding whether to keep or trash your resume (read here). Therefore, avoid jargons and big words, but tailor your resume to their level. Here are some of the tips, shared by Isaiah, on creating job-attracting resume:

1. You should keep the resume as short as possible. 2 pages, or less, with a lot of white space. Make your resume clean; if your resume is wordy it will be overwhelming to read. Remember that you have 6 seconds to make an impression.

2. You should not start with the “Education” section. Start with your summary statement, followed by your professional experience, and then your education section. They know you went to school and you have a Master’s or a Ph.D. degree. What they care about are your qualifications and this is what you should highlight in your resume. Keep in mind that your resume will be skimmed from top to bottom, therefore, you should list the important things first.

3. You need a strong professional summary statement. Include at least 3 of your biggest achievements so far. This should utilize results-oriented bullet points in a list format. You want to include phrases such as, “resulting in” and “as demonstrated by”. Each statement should have 3 main parts: transferable skills, technical skills, and quantifiable results. Here is an example:

“Strong project management skills with experience supervising research scientists on collaborative projects, which resulted in 5 publications and $500,000 in grant funding.”

4. You must use the company and position-specific keywords. Focus on the nouns and adjectives. While looking at a job posting circle or outline the keywords describing the job and its qualifications. Incorporate those words into different areas of your resume. Here’s an example below, the keywords are boxed in red (see if you can find additional keywords):


5. Your resume should not have a peer-reviewed timeline of research or publications. Companies do not care so much about that. This is more for a resume designed for an academic job. Instead of listing these information, use a summary statement to highlight these achievements by including them in your quantifiable results (see the example in number 3).

6. Your resume should be a persuasive marketing document. Do not be afraid to show off what you have accomplished, without coming off as arrogant. Your important assets are your (a) transferrable skills (b) motivation (c) strategic planning.

7. You should include top skills that all companies require. Examples are: product/market knowledge, current industry trend, project management, problem solving, communication, leadership skills and others. You can learn more about transferrable skills you already have from our blog.

Remember to keep your resume simple and concise, market yourself well, pay attention to what the company requires, and keep it mind that it takes 6 seconds to make an impression. Your resume should speak for you!

What to know before starting your Ph.D. program

An article published back in September, in Science magazine, aims to answer the age-old question, “What do I need to know before starting my Ph.D.?” by asking current Ph.D. students. and postdocs what they wish they had known about graduate school when they started. Starting a Ph.D. program can be a daunting experience, whether one is starting straight out of an undergraduate program, after a Master’s program, or even later in life. As a current third year Ph.D. student, I can remember feeling overwhelmed when I first started graduate school and wishing I had more resources to prepare me for what was to come. Six graduate students: Alexandra Schober, Julian West, Cecilia Sanchez, Geoffrey Heinzl, Jessica Nuwer, and Alyssa Frederick spoke about their own experiences. Hearing different students give their own piece of advice may be helpful in making graduate school a less intimidating experience.

Ask Questions.  This was Schober’s main piece of advice. She mentioned that there are a lot of small details to know about graduate school. Whether research, or administrative related, it is best to ask questions early on instead of trying to figure everything out on your own. You will not have all the answers, which is fine. Talk to your mentor and ask questions; that’s what s/he is there for.

Planning is key. West spoke about his experience as a first-year graduate student trying to complete experiments. Before taking time to plan out his schedule, West was often in lab into the wee hours of the night. This became an issue for him until he could get organized and plan his experiments. Doing so allowed him to be productive both in and out of lab, allowing him to reclaim his evenings. . Though it might take some time, finding this balance in graduate school is extremely important, or you might find yourself burning out after a few short months.

Take care of yourself. Similarly, to what was mentioned previously, Sanchez stressed the importance of (1) not getting discouraged by shortcomings and (2) having a life outside of graduate school. She says, “It can be easy to get discouraged when things aren’t going well because your sense of personhood can get tied up in your research accomplishments.” If this happens it can be important to talk to peers, as they might be having similar experiences. One failed experiment isn’t the end of the world. While it is important to work hard during graduate school, it is just as important to not devote every minute of your life to school. Finding hobbies and activities is good for your mental health and may help you make friends.

Don’t take experimental failures personally. “I must have done something wrong, and I’m wasting everyone’s time and money.” Have you ever felt this way? Heinzl did until his 3rd-4th year of graduate school. While it is hard not to take failures personally, it is important to distance yourself from shortcomings out of your control. Many variables go into a successful experiment, as well as a failed experiment. Getting bogged down and blaming yourself every time an experiment fails is a sure way to develop negative feelings toward science, making it hard to move forward. Talk to your advisor and peers, get help with troubleshooting experiments, and find mental support when things get hard. Failure is an unavoidable part of graduate school.

Mentoring styles aren’t always an optimal fit. Nuwer hits on a topic that was a huge issue for me when starting graduate school: finding the right mentor. Finding a mentor that supports you is essential to graduate school success. Are you someone who wants a more hands-off mentor, or more hands-on? Do you need your mentor to always be available, or are you okay with seeing him/her once a week? These are all questions you should consider. Everyone has a different style of mentoring so it is important to try to feel out the environment before committing to a lab.

Remember that you are good enough to be in grad school. Honestly, graduate school is taxing on mental health. Everyone doesn’t always realize this. Frederick spoke about the importance of getting over the “impostor syndrome.” You do belong in graduate school, and no, everyone around you is not better than you are. Creating a support system is crucial. Whether it is your family, friends, significant other, etc., having people that support you and motivate you through graduate school is invaluable.

Starting graduate school is not a simple task. It can be easy to get overwhelmed, not know where to turn, and feel like you don’t belong. With this in mind, it is important to develop a support system as soon as possible. You’re doing something great, and you deserve to have people acknowledge your accomplishments. If you’re reading this as someone who is thinking about going to graduate school, or has just started graduate school, know that there are many resources out there for you to take advantage of. Talk to senior students to learn about their experiences, and keep in mind that you are not alone. Hopefully, one day you can look back and help graduate students that are experiencing similar issues and doubts.

To see some of our previous articles on similar subjects to help prepare you for graduate school click here!

The Silent Epidemic Among Graduate Students: Mental Health Disorders

Untitled design (1)Mental health problems have become increasingly prevalent among graduate students, yet they are easily overlooked. I recently read In this commentary, Shorr highlights how he unexpectedly learned that a significant number of graduate students are affected by mental health disorders and in particular, depression. He mentions how he started a graduate student group whose focus was to communicate science in a way that other non-scientists could understand. Through the student group, participants gained better communication skills, confidence and some even experienced renewed interest in their research project. Students also became more excited about graduate school by participating in an open and honest forum. This forum allowed them to share their own struggles in graduate school. Carnegie Melon is not the only institution with this prevalent issue; Shorr also referenced data from the University of California, Berkeley, which uncovered that 47% of UC graduate students screened positive for depression in a self-reported survey. Shorr reported that students listed, “academic disengagement”, or working on problems without clear indicators of progress, was the primary contributor to this finding.
Curious, I reviewed the Berkeley report and another study out of Belgium both of which found also found a high incidence of depression among graduate students.  The study from Belgium surveyed approximately 3600 graduate students, and found that at least half experienced at least 2 mental health symptoms. Furthermore, at least one out of three students experienced 4 symptoms of a mental health problem.

Over the past few months, other organizations have also made these findings public (Times Higher Education and Business Insider). However, I have yet to hear of my own university campus addressing the graduate student mental health crisis. One explanation for poor graduate student mental health could be that students experience a lack of certainty about their future careers. This is partly due to the fact that less than 10% of students can secure a tenure track position in academia, yet there is a stigma amongst principal investigators that all students should be pursuing these positions. Supporting this explanation is the observation that, in these studies, students discussed the lack of alternative career support from their academic advisors.

I have talked to several students who have shared their experiences about being bullied by their advisor, suffering from their advisor’s lack of support, and their program’s failure to provide them with the resources they need to succeed. One student recognized the need for help and reached out to the Mental Health Resources available to students. However, only a limited amount of sessions was provided to the graduate student. In contrast, medical students can use this same resource for an unlimited amount of sessions.

All of these facts highlight the need for access to actual systems of support for graduate students which will allow them to succeed. There are many barriers on the road to achieve a PhD, yet the additional burden of mental health disorders puts them at a severe disadvantage. Here are four possible solutions to reducing these barriers.

  1. Early on in their studies, students should be introduced to the realities of the advisor-advisee relationships. Students should be aware of what is acceptable versus unacceptable in these relationships.
  2. Train advisors to recognize the behavioral signs and symptoms of mental health disorders.
  3. Develop and maintain a safe haven for students to voice concerns about the realities of their laboratory environment.
  4. Offer periodic seminars for students about self care including topics such as sleeping habits, nutrition, and time management.

While mental health problems can be overwhelming in graduate school, it is important that they are addressed. Graduate students should not be afraid to ask for help. To start, here is the contact information for Rutgers Mental Health.

Student Wellness Services

For additional mental health assistance information and who to contact in case of an emergency, please contact the Student Wellness Program.

Newark & Scotch Plains Campuses
Rutgers-University Behavioral HealthCare
Employee Assistance/Student Wellness Program
183 South Orange Avenue, Newark


New Brunswick/Piscataway Campuses

Rutgers-University Behavioral HealthCare
Employee Assistance/Student Wellness Program
242 Old New Brunswick Road, Piscataway


Blackwood/Stratford Campus

Rutgers-University Behavioral HealthCare
Employee Assistance/Student Wellness Program
One Echelon Plaza, Suite 101
227 Laurel Road, Voorhees


EMERGENCIES after 5:00 p.m. & weekends – 1-800-327-3678 Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., evenings by appointment.

*If you want services and none of these times work for you please call the numbers above and make an appointment to see a counselor.