Investing in the Creation of Better Managers by Management Training

By: Jennifer Casiano-Matos

Edited by: Paulina Krzyszczyk and Brianna Alexander

It is no secret that organizations with high-quality managers are more aligned to be successful and more likely to outperform their competition, as has been mentioned by LinkedIn and Forbes. But what are those “high-quality managers?” What does it take to be a good manager? The Office of Training and Education (OITE) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created a series of management seminars aimed at helping graduate students and post-doctoral fellows understand several aspects of management such as in which I was a participant. After participating in the seminar series, we finished the training with a two-day boot camp that summarized the main aspects of a management career. We covered topics such as interviewing, staffing, leadership, how to motivate the staff and how to manage everyday situations. The boot camp was conducted by Pat Sokolove, Ph.D. Deputy Director from the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), Sharon Milgram, Ph.D. Director of the OITE and, Lori Conlan, Ph.D. Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Services and Career Services Center.

One of the main discussions was how a good hire can be a future success and a company saving. I learned that every group member is essential for the success of a group and defining roles and responsibilities is a way of monitoring efficiency and needs. For example, there are many aspects that are as important as the hire himself, like salary and benefits negotiation, regulations and ethical issues, providing training and development, and last, monitoring performance, appraisal of the job and feedback. In the image below we can see how everything is interconnected to create what is a good hire.

 

Hiring Aspects to Consider for a New Hire. Adapted from Pat Sokolove PhD slides

 

Hiring Aspects to Consider for a New Hire. Adapted from Pat Sokolove PhD

The process of finding a new hire starts with an analysis of what your group needs and the creation of a job description that aligns with the needs to be filled. Think about the skills that you need right away and skills that you are willing to provide through training. After advertising the job posting, the most important part of the process is screening the candidate pool and conducting interviews before making a final decision. Most of these steps are guided by human resources guidelines and regulations. Human resources often create the job descriptions, advertisements, and perform the initial screenings. Once the candidate pool is compiled, each should be individually evaluated to determine who to invite for an in-person interview. If you are working with a team, discussing the candidates with them would greatly help. Be strategic in the interview process; prepare a guideline for questions and be sure that all the candidates answer the same questions. Determine the expected answers beforehand. For a guideline of interview questions take a look online but don’t forget to check 30 Behavioral Interview Questions from LinkedIn® and “Legal vs. Illegal Interview Questions” from the University of Texas.

After discussing Job Interviewing and Staffing, we discussed management techniques. First, you want to keep in mind what your staff needs from you as a manager. We covered the employee expectations from managers such as: good communication, establishing expectations (what you want from them), constructive feedback (how well I am doing), job-related support (how available is the manager), career-related support (growth potential and support), and psychosocial support (work-life balance). In the image below, you can see the 8 types of managers, and I have to say– all of them have some negative qualities. For example, micromanagers can be very controlling which can hinder group growth. The absentee is a big No; as a manager, you need to be present and aware of the status of your team.

8 typesAfter discussing management techniques, we talked about communication. We discussed that every person has their own communication style, however, the key is to practice listening before talking. In terms of providing feedback, be sure that it is positive and constructive and pay attention to non-verbal communication such as body language. One of the iJOBS blog posts that you can take a look at to master communication is Strategies for Managing Conflict and Feedback. Lastly, to keep your group members motivated, keep in mind their career and psychosocial expectations, be clear on the job-related expectations and provide feedback when those are met. Always remember the goals of your unit and how each person contributes to that goal. Creating SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals is the key for the success of a group.

I noticed that there is not a single recipe for a good manager, however, keep in mind that controlling your emotions, being a good planner, a good listener, communicator, leader, and motivator are some of the key aspects of good management.

 

Where Are They Now — Myka Ababon

 

Myka Ababon graduated from Rutgers University with a PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology in 2017. Her PhD thesis focused on neural stem cells and their response to traumatic brain injury. Outside of the lab, she was a founding member of the iJOBS Blog and a staff writer for Bitesize Bio. She currently works in New York City as a Medical Writer at Caudex, a medical communications agency that’s part of the larger McCann Health network.

Myka1

1) Tell us a bit about your career path in medical communications. What have you been doing since graduating with your PhD?

I started working as a Trainee Medical Writer at Caudex a month and a half after my thesis dissertation, and I’ve been working there since 2017, almost two years now.

2) What are the types of tasks, projects, and responsibilities that fall under your position?

As a medical writer, my primary role is to develop scientific content for a wide array of scientific communication materials. I am currently aligned to several different accounts with different therapeutic areas, some more focused on medical affairs, some on publications. Projects in my publication-focused accounts typically involve writing abstracts, posters, and manuscripts, and this is the type of writing that’s closest to what I was exposed to in grad school. Examples of med affairs projects include MSL training materials, advisory boards, and congress booth materials, to name a few.

3) How did you first hear about this career path and what got you interested in it?

In grad school, I worked in the lab of Dr. James Millonig. Jim was one of the directors of iJOBS, which was a blessing for his grad students, because he was extremely supportive of us participating in iJOBS. He wanted to ensure we had access to as much information as we could about all the different career options after grad school so we could make informed decisions about our career paths. I attended a lot of iJOBS events, and that’s where I first heard about medical writing. As mentioned above, a bunch of us trainees decided to start the iJOBS blog because we wanted to have a platform to share our learnings and experiences.

4) What do you like most about this career path?

I have always been interested in both science and writing, and this career is a great combination of the two! Looking back, I realized I have always struggled a bit about choosing one over the other, and with my current career, I don’t have to choose, I get to do both.

5) Which skills that you acquired during tMyka Ababon_PhinisheDhe PhD process are most valuable to you today?

Well, certainly not pipetting, although I must admit I miss that sometimes! Definitely the ability to acquire a high level of scientific understanding. As a medical writer, you will be thrown into different accounts, and will be expected to quickly learn and understand multiple therapeutic areas. It’s a fast-paced job, and you’re constantly learning and studying and keeping abreast of the current researches. It’s a lot like what you do in grad school outside of performing experiments. And it goes without saying: writing skills. I was fortunate enough to have had a lot of opportunities during my PhD to improve my writing, from writing grants, abstracts, papers, talks, blogs, etc.

6) Do you have any advice to current PhD students and post docs who are interested in working in this field?

If you’re interested in medical writing, definitely try to do as much writing/editing as you can while still in grad school. Is your labmate writing a paper? Offer to help them with their draft! Reach out to your advisor to find out if you can help him with his grant. Or, join the iJOBS blog! Another option is to seek out internship opportunities in medical communications to try it out. However you go about it, the bottom line is to get as much writing experience as you can. This will help you to not only improve your writing, but also to show that you are truly interested in medical writing as a career.

Other advice that I have is to take full advantage of your network! Attend iJOBS events. Reach out to graduates who are in the field, and do informational interviews. In my experience, people are always happy to tell you about their career paths and give advice.

 

Thank you, Myka, for sharing your experiences as a Medical Writer! iJOBS participants recently had the opportunity to visit Myka at McCann Health in New York City for a site visit. Look out for a future post covering the event!

This interview was led by Paulina Krzyszczyk. Additional edits were made by Emily Kelly Castro.

Introduction to Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics

By Huri Mücahit

The following blog post was written after attending the iJOBS workshop: Primer in PK/PD held on February 20th, 2019

How exactly do pharmaceutical companies choose which medication to pursue for the treatment or prevention of an illness? The answer is through the study of pharmacology (the analysis of interactions between drugs and the human body),  pharmacokinetics (the study of drug movement throughout the body (PK)), and pharmacodynamics (the body’s biological response to the drug (PD)). During the iJOBS PK/PD workshop, Dr. Anson Abraham, Principal Scientist at Merck and Co., provided a deeper look at the science behind these interactions.

Understanding the relationship between medications and the body is fundamental for any treatment, thus, the bulk of the data collected during clinical trials is related to PK/PD analysis. In fact, roughly half of a drug label is informed by these analyses, including the sections covering dosage and administration, dosage forms and strengths, drug interactions, and clinical pharmacology.

Dr. Anson Abraham, Merck and Co., 2019
Dr. Anson Abraham, Merck and Co., 2019

In order to collect PK information, researchers look at the processes after drug administration, which are collectively called “ADME” – absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination of the drug. To start off, a drug can only have an effect if it has been absorbed within the body; therefore, factors such as molecule size and structure, permeability across the gastrointestinal membrane, and the extent and rate of absorption are carefully considered. Following this,  it must be determined if the drug reaches its intended site.  It is important to identify known binding targets of the drug, or if it is absorbed within specific tissues, as this will impact drug dosage and forms. Researchers then analyze the metabolism of the drug, although this is a greater consideration for small molecules rather than large molecules. The four common types of reactions are: oxidation, hydrolysis, reduction, and conjugation; drug-drug interactions are predicted based on this metabolic profile. Finally, whether the drug can be eliminated must be taken into account, as accumulation within the blood stream can lead to toxicity. Due to the in-depth analyses required, as the image below outlines, this entire process is completed within 10-12 years. As such, PK/PD analysts must not only be patient, but efficient, with extracting the relevant information from large amounts of data.

Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics  Volume 93, Issue 6, pages 502-514, 14 MAR 2013 DOI: 10.1038/clpt.2013.54
Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics
Volume 93, Issue 6, pages 502-514, 14 MAR 2013 DOI: 10.1038/clpt.2013.54

If this career sounds appealing to you, Dr. Abraham has several tips. First, as this profession requires an understanding of both the biology and the math behind the analyses, a PhD student in the biological sciences should consider strengthening their mathematical skills. Courses offered at Rutgers, such as Statistics in Clinical Research and Fundamentals in Analysis, and through other specialized programs can help with this endeavor. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies such as Merck often provide internships that include PK/PD work experience.  If you cannot commit to a full summer internship during your PhD studies, the iJOBS program aids Phase 2 students in finding externships, which are less time-consuming, but still provide experience within the field. Additionally, these externships provide an opportunity for students to determine whether they would like to work in the lab to collect the relevant data or analyze the data once it has been generated.

If you’re looking for further information on the PK/PD workshop, feel free to visit the iJOBS page for the complete slide deck.

Edited by: Emily Kelly Castro, Monal Mehta, and Paulina Krzyszczyk

Interview with a PhD: Dr. Mai Soliman

By Tomas Kasza

Dr. Mai Soliman graduated from Montclair State University with a master’s degree in Molecular Biology in 2009 and from Rutgers School of Graduate Studies with a PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology in 2017. While completing her master’s and PhD degrees she sought out opportunities to teach high school and college students. After completion of her PhD degree she accepted a position at Northern Valley regional high school in Demarest, NJ, one of the top school districts in New Jersey. After teaching there for a year she moved back to Rutgers becoming the first Research Manager at the newly established New Jersey Autism Center for Excellence. Alongside her new position as a Research Manager, she teaches a course in genetics to Rutgers students. Recently I had the opportunity to discuss her experiences through her transition out of graduate school as well as teaching at both the college and high school levels.

Could you describe your prior teaching experiences before you began your PhD and how those contributed or detracted from your desire to become a teacher?

I actually taught at Rahway High School for 2 years before starting my PhD in 2010. After the first year of teaching, I learned that I love to teach, but I wasn’t sure I had the class management skills to be a productive classroom leader in a district like Rahway. I found that I was spending at least 50% of my time dealing with behavioral issues and administrative work. Another factor that most people don’t think about is that high school classes typically start at 7:30 am, which means I was waking up at 5:30 am to get to work every day. I was exhausted and this made me a lot less productive as an educator. I believe it was this position that forced me to consider what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I loved teaching, and more importantly, as a mother, I loved my summers off, but I just couldn’t picture spending 25-30 years in this type of education environment. I had to reconsider and re-think my options. What I was really looking for was teaching with a lot less hand holding. Perhaps teaching at the college level was more what I was looking for. That’s why I went back to school.  

What do you think are some essential skills that teachers and lecturers need to have?

The obvious to me is communication skills. You definitely need to be able to take a difficult concept and break it down into its pieces and ensure that your audience can understand it. Part of that communication skill is identifying when and where the material needs to be broken down and the order in which you’re going to cover it so it’s most comprehendible. Another skill that I found to be very beneficial is the ability to determine how well the students understand the material. You can’t give exams or quizzes every day, but you can look out into your audience and determine quickly if they’re in good shape or falling apart in panic. I often tell my students that I see a metaphorical light bulb floating on top of their heads. This light bulb helps orient me during the lecture.

Many different graduate students struggle with making the transition out of graduate school and into their post-graduate careers. How was it making the jump from graduate school to post-grad career first after your master’s and then twice after your PhD? Do you think your PhD training helped you transition well between them?

I’ve spoken to people who have enjoyed the process of transitioning from one career to another. It adds an element of excitement and breaks the day to day boredom. I personally found it draining and accompanied by self-doubt. When I left Rahway High School, I was concerned about the loss of income and years contributing to my retirement. When I left Northern Valley High School, I was concerned about loss of income (Northern Valley Regional School is the highest paying school district in the state) and losing my summers off with my kids. During every transition, I found myself with a list of pros and cons. Ultimately, I always went with what excites me.

I think my PhD has helped me greatly during my transitions. I still find myself saying, “I learned to do that during my PhD.” And more often than not, it wasn’t related to anything scientific. One of the major things I learned from my PI is to be transparent and honest with the people I work with. I’ve channeled this advice often when dealing with my supervisors, co-workers, and even during job interviews.

You’ll know after one semester if it’s your cup of tea and if you want to continue in that route.

Do you have any advice for other graduate students making the same transition?

I would say prepare yourself for the job market by making lots of connections. No connection is too small. And if you’re thinking about going into education, do yourself a favor and try it out first. Consider becoming a TA. It’s game changer. You’ll know after one semester if it’s your cup of tea and if you want to continue in that route. If you’re good, then your name will stand out to the directors and you’re more likely to get a great recommendation/reference. If you don’t like it, then you can shift your energy and focus into developing yourself as a candidate for a different career.

What was your experience teaching at the high school level? What were some of the pros and cons to teaching high school versus college students?

Generally speaking, high school students cannot be lectured to. If I had to put a number on it, I would say that during any lesson at the high school level, I wasn’t able do more than 20 minutes of lecturing in a 56-minute period. The student’s lose interest and begin looking at the time. Who can blame them, they’re in class from about 7:30 am until 2:30 pm. I don’t know how I got through that myself in high school. I can’t even sit through a training for that long. As a high school teacher, you need to excite the students, build in lots of hands-on activities to promote inquiry and interest in the subject. And while you’re doing that primarily for the students, you’re also considering that an administrator can walk in any minute to do an unannounced observation (I was observed 10 + times during my first year at Northern Valley), and they want to see the students involved and engaged. Preparing the lessons was really the difficult part. It was time consuming and when you’re teaching during the day, the lesson planning has to be completed either on the weekend or at night. The best part of teaching at a high school is the students. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s the connection you make with the students that makes it all worth it. As they transition into adulthood, they’re looking for advice and a mentor and I was happy to provide that. I still currently keep in touch with some of my high school students. I am at the edge of my seat waiting to find out if they got into their first-choice colleges.

Establishing these relationships with college students is not always as easy. To start, class sizes, at least at Rutgers, ranges from 100-350. These large class sizes make it difficult to interact with each student and establish that relationship. To be honest, by the end of the semester, I typically know the names of only about 20 students, and they’re usually the ones who come frequently to office hours and stay after class to ask questions. Additionally, you’re only seeing the college student at most twice a week, whereas in high school, you’re seeing the students nearly every day for the entire school year.  There is certainly a lot more time to interact and become invested.

When I think about the amount of time I spent preparing a high school lesson compared to a college lesson, I would say the time invested is about the same, but the preparation is different. At the college level, the focus is less on hands-on inquiry-based activities and more on preparing PowerPoints slides, problem sets, and meeting with students. I just so happen to really enjoy that part of it, so it doesn’t feel as exhausting. I find myself spending hours thinking about the best way to communicate the content (videos, analogies, formative assessment in a form of PowerPoint or drawing it out by hand) so by the end of preparing a lesson I feel like I’ve created a masterpiece. One that I can step back, look at and really appreciate.

Do you think you will continue to teach college students in the future?

Now that I’ve tried both, my preference is education at the college level. I personally enjoy the masterpiece building that goes into preparing an awesome experience for the students. I know it takes hours, but time really flies when you’re doing something fun. I am still in touch with the administration at the high school and I am still involved in their career awareness programs (Women in STEM, Biotechnology initiatives, consulting with biomedical technology staff), but I prefer the peripheral involvement.

I would like to thank Dr. Soliman for providing her experiences and advice, they are very valuable for current graduate students. One thing she said that resonated with me was “by the end of preparing a lesson I feel like I’ve created a masterpiece.” I think that the goal for any PhD job seeker, and any job seeker for that matter, is to find meaningful work. That meaningful work can then be used to harvest purpose and happiness which is something very human. Dr. Soliman finds this fulfillment through teaching and this enables her to create her masterpiece. Discover the profession that will allow you to create your masterpiece on the iJOBS blog!

This post was edited by Brianna Alexander and Aminat Saliu Musah

Interview with an Academic Leader

Adding to the series of interviews with leaders on the iJOBS blog, I decided to contribute by interviewing Piotr RudzkiPhD, the Head of Pharmacokinetics at Pharmaceutical Research Institute in Warsaw, Poland. He has a wealth of experience after 14 years in the area of Pharmaceutics, including 8 years as the research team manager.

Piotr_Rudzki-US Wiza-600x600 px

 

Dr. Rudzki graduated from the Medical University of Warsaw in Poland with a master’s degree in Pharmacy (organic synthesis) in 2003. Shortly after, he joined the Pharmacology Department (currently Pharmacokinetics Department) at the Pharmaceutical Research Institute in Warsaw, Poland. In 2009, he received his PhD in Pharmacy for Application of Liquid Chromatography–Mass Spectroscopy in bioanalysis and bioavailability study of a drug candidate. He has also completed yearlong courses in Chemical Metrology at University of Warsaw, and on Research Project Management at Kozminski University in Warsaw. He conducts research on the topics of reliability of bioanalytical methods and bioequivalence. As the head of the Pharmacokinetics Department at Pharmaceutical Research Institute, Dr. Rudzki is responsible for team development, project sourcing and management, study designs, study reports approval, GLP-compliance, etc.

Dr. Rudzki, moved up to become the head of his lab and then to become the head of the Pharmacokinetics Department. He explained how the experience of working within the team provided him with an inside perspective. This allowed him to be a better leader of a team he knew everything about and he definitely had the advantage of being able to look at the laboratory from a staff perspective. But when he transitioned to be the head of the department, he had to change his perspective a bit to better understand what the kind of actions are needed to be taken to run the lab. When you are a member of the team you are thinking about the tools you need and the relationship with your fellow teammates and boss. When you are the head of the team you are also thinking about your relationship with your clients and with higher institutional authorities. These differences can be nuanced and challenging. Being a fan of basketball, Dr. Rudzki uses the sport as an example of life learnings and uses examples from the NBA in everyday communications. He explained this by saying how it is advantageous for a player in the NBA to be a coach. One successful example is the legendary player and coach Phil Jackson. He had a career in the NBA before going on to coach some of the biggest players, like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, and some of the best teams in the history of the sport.

Leadership, as defined by Dr. Rudzki, is setting a good example for your team.

I went on to ask him how leaders should work with teams where there may be people more experienced than them in the team. He answered this by giving an example of his deputy head who was much more experienced, and he decided to retain her at that role after he took charge of the lab. He had great respect for the lady, and she was very comfortable communicating to him. This was advantageous for the entire team since people who did not feel confident enough to share concerns with their boss but instead would share with another senior member. She would then convey all concerns to Dr. Rudzki. Having experienced members on a team helps break communication barriers and can be a major contributor to team success.

When he started to work as the head of the team, his priorities switched to include providing the department new contracts and also networking with business partners and making strong connections. In order to do that effectively, he decided to create project leaders to work under him in order to ensure that the lab was working efficiently. These leaders were also sharing responsibilities so that no one person was responsible for every major task. Although the transition was difficult the team eventually welcomed this change and will never go back to the old way. As a leader foresight is needed to ensure that the team and the department are keeping up and headed in the right direction. To insure success, Dr. Rudzki says that a leader requires a free mind and having project leaders helps him achieve that efficiently. A leader should be prepared for different scenarios that the team might be facing in the coming future.

Leaders are usually readers and Dr. Rudzki is definitely a great leader. We were able to discuss a book that I had also recently read, called Getting Things Done by David AllenHe mentioned how he applies the technique of completing small tasks and then assigning the right time if it is not the right time or delegating to the right person if he is not the right person for the job. Leaders need to understand when and how to get things done. In an ideal world, he said, he would only give responsibilities to people who have the appropriate talents to complete that task. However, we do not live in an ideal world and we must do things that move us out of our comfort zone. But the leader also needs to ensure that there is an appropriate proportion of uncomfortable tasks so that the objective can still be achieved while being a learning experience for the person. His one favorite book is First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham.

Dr. Rudzki, also explains how the job that the leader delegates for each individual should be best suited for them. They should also be allowed to bring in their own ideas. He says it is not a good practice to ask the person presenting an idea to execute it as well. That person may not have the appropriate talents for that task. The leader also needs to be aware of the best capabilities of the team members. Coming up with a new idea should not feel like a punishment and ideas should be welcome so that creativity is not limited.

It is only helpful to interview a leader if you can learn something from their challenges and how they dealt with them. Dr. Rudzki encountered many challenges on his leadership journey with the biggest ones occurring near the beginning. When he took on the position of manager, they were just finishing a project for another company. Unfortunately, the experiments had negative results and he was required to explain these results to the company. When they went to the meeting, Dr. Rudzki was representing his lab and the department, while his previous boss represented that company. He was very surprised to see her representing the company and asking questions about a project she once used to head. He explained that he felt intimidated and uncomfortable during that encounter, but stayed strong and dealt with the situation. Identifying problems on both sides of the table eventually led them to a position where the can now look back on this as a learning experience. His takeaway – You learn much more when you lose than when you succeed. Identifying the sources of failures are very important for good leaders to learn from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. The next step is to communicate with the team effectively about the lessons learned from such failures. Failures should not be followed by penalties but rather should be shared as learning experiences.

To end the interview, I asked Dr. Rudzki, the one quality that a future leader should possess. “Good Hearing”, he said instantly. A leader needs to understand a lot of things and to understand it is important to listen to not only what is being said but also to interpret what it means. Family can be a great asset in developing this skill as when you are living with a family, making decisions needs to be while considering everyone’s needs versus when you are alone there is more freedom in actions. Listen to the team and lead them to success!

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Key Learnings from the interview:

  • Leadership is setting a good example for your team.
  • Leaders are not only good listeners, but also good decoders of information that they are hearing.
  • To be an effective leader, you need to build a multi-disciplinary team you should have people on your team that are better than yourself in certain tasks.
  • Ideas should be welcomed, and failure should not be penalized.

From Bench To Congress: The untapped potential of scientists running for office

By Vicky Kanta

 

At every career development event, PhD students and postdocs are reminded of how valuable their training is, even outside the scope of academic careers. Presenting in front of large audiences and summarizing complicated topics in a short time are some of the so-called “soft skills” that come along with a STEM PhD. These advantages help scientists land jobs in almost every sector of industry and remain highly competitive in diverse career paths.

 

One often overlooked line of work for STEM PhDs is politics. Politicians and scientists have many things in common: they must both educate themselves on complicated topics in order to make a decision, they present their work in front of large audiences, and usually try to convince people that hold an opposing view to their own. In many countries, it is very common for elected officials to have obtained a PhD and even reach the highest levels in government.

 

Surprisingly, that is not true in the United States. In a recent article published in Scientific American, we learn that even though 2018 was a record year for scientists running for congress, only three elected members are doctorate holders. In this everyday turmoil of scientific advances and emerging issues, we need more policymakers with a scientific background. However, running for any type of office requires effort and preparedness. How can young scientists make the first step towards a future career in politics?

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  • Stay informed

Knowing all the recent advances in science policy and how they can affect our lives is undoubtedly one of the most important things for scientists interested in politics. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there. Most broad interest scientific journals have news articles on emerging policy topics (e.g. Nature News). Furthermore, scientific societies usually have webpages on policy news relevant to their field. Finally, even regular news websites (e.g. The Guardian) often devote articles to recent scientific advances and their policy implications.

 

  • Get involved locally

The widespread interest in science-related politics has had a very positive impact on most campuses; local science policy and advocacy groups have emerged in universities all over the country. For example, Rutgers has a very active group (SPAR) that is organizing interesting and informational events as well as engaging local elected officials. Getting involved in a local group can help scientists familiarize themselves with important policy topics and also learn how to work in groups to achieve their advocacy goals.

 

  • Get hands-on experience

As for any other career path, finding opportunities to accumulate experience is crucial. Luckily, there are many science policy fellowships that allow just that. Perhaps one of the most well-known is the Science & Technology Policy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which attracts many applicants from all scientific backgrounds. Recipients of this fellowship have the opportunity to work for different branches of the government, overseeing science policy topics and fostering collaborations between different departments to solve related issues. Many societies also provide similar opportunities, such as the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine and the Science and Technology Policy Institute. Talking to some of the fellowship alumni can be very helpful to new applicants, since these positions are often very competitive.

 

  • Communicate your science

Getting involved in politics means communicating with people from different backgrounds. This can be challenging for many of us, because we do not often explain our complicated, highly specialized work to people outside our field. One way to practice this is to get a volunteer position in science communication. Colleges often have local groups that communicate science to the local community. Furthermore, there are many volunteering opportunities for mentoring high school students (e.g. the New York Academy of Scientists mentorship programs).

 

  • Get the most out of your current training

Ultimately, our current training is what will make us competitive scientists and thus, competitive future policymakers. Make sure that you take every opportunity to present your work, collaborate with different people and expand your knowledge. Balancing research with involvement can be challenging, but multitasking is already an integral part of our everyday lives as scientists.

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Overall, the future is promising for STEM PhD holders in politics. In the 2018 midterm elections, more than 200 scientists ran for office. A growing number of PhD recipients are entering the job market every year and getting involved in policy and advocacy straight out of their training. If running for office gains traction as a viable option for scientists, then the balance will tip in our favor. Hopefully, the next generations of science-educated elected officials will start implementing important policies that will change our lives for the better.

 

This article was edited by Brianna Alexander and Tomas Kasza.

iJOBS Workshop — The Many Hats of Consulting

Written by: Paulina Krzyszczyk

Edited by: Huri Mücahit and Tomas Kasza

On February 1st, I attended the iJOBS-sponsored consulting workshop led by Sidnee Pinho, the U.S. Chief Operating Officer of Prescient Healthcare Group. The workshop opened up my eyes to a field that I had previously poorly understood, and therefore not seriously considered as a potential career path. I am very glad that I attended, as I learned a lot about this exciting field. It also may be of particular interest to our readers that the consulting world is generally open to hiring fresh PhDs!

Sidnee Pinho began the workshop by defining what a consultant does, and all the hats that they must wear. A consultant is, “a person who facilitates change and provides subject matter expertise; someone who provides advice”. In this workshop, the scope of consulting was limited to agencies that work with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, their clients, to help them make key business decisions. This simple definition was then expanded to include the many different hats that a consultant must wear. They must act as a:

1) Problem Definer – Define the scope of the project. What is the specific question that the client is expecting the consultant to answer?

2) Project Manager – Develop a work plan for the project. How long will the project take? What tasks will be completed, and when?

3) Data Searcher/Creator – Obtain primary and secondary research from key opinion leaders and published sources. Schedule interviews and check the credibility of any data that is acquired from other sources.

4) Thought Process Organizer – Develop a framework or methodology for using the data to lead the team to an answer. Define key criteria that the client is looking for, turn those into questions that can be answered by key personnel, and quantify all data obtained using a scoring system that assigns weights to the client’s priorities.

5) Quality Controller – Identify accurate data to maintain credibility of the consultant agency’s work. Is the data current and relevant to the demographic at hand? Are the statistics specific and do they come from a reputable source?

6) Storyteller – Present ideas in a way that suits your audience (top-down vs bottom-up approaches). Is your audience interested in all of the details that led to your answer, or do they prefer to hear the main conclusions with key reasoning and supporting evidence?

7) Relationship Manager – Clearly and efficiently communicate with the client to update them on the project. At meetings, remind them of previous work, the purpose of the current meeting, and key project goals. Tie this into the next steps of the project moving forward.

 

Roles of A Consultant

Once we understood the broad set of responsibilities that a consultant must fulfill, we were given the task of taking on a consultant’s role in the following simulation:

Company X is considering releasing Product X, a long-acting steroid, for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), however they only want to proceed if the revenue can reach at least $200 million.

We were given a packet of information with data and statistics, such as RA prevalence, the difference between acute and chronic RA, treatment options and regimens, etc.

As I began sifting through the slides, one of the first things that came to my mind was, “Too much data!” This proved to be a major challenge – determining which data was important, extraneous, or reliable, especially as we were trying to simultaneously learn the background information about the disease. For example, we had to determine if we should focus on statistics regarding chronic or acute cases of RA, or both, and also read over physician opinions on their likelihood to adopt Product X over other treatment options. To complicate things even further, many of the statistics were given as ranges (e.g. 30-40% of RA patients are on steroids at a given time). As we began discussing the data within my group, I also realized that each person had slightly different interpretations about the exact meaning of each statistic, as well as its credibility or relative importance. This led to some interesting discussions at our table, as we wanted to determine the best data to use for our final revenue calculation.

Data

At the end of the day, our task was seemingly simple: “Is the product a “go” or a “no go”, based on whether or not it is likely to yield a revenue of over $200 million”. With this seemingly simple question, we got opposing answers. Some groups said “Go”; however others said “No Go”, and the range of revenue estimates that we came up with was vast, from approximately $100 to 400 million. This was due to the fact that each group had a different interpretation of the data and the consequence was a more or less conservative final revenue estimate.

After debriefing the exercise with Sidnee Pinho, we realized our experiences reflected the common obstacles that consultants must tackle, such as which data to use and why. Furthermore, the final answer is rarely a, “YES – go for it!” or a, “Definitely No!, but more so falls within a spectrum based on a, “Yes, if…” or a, “No, unless…”, phrasing.

Overall, I would highly recommend this workshop to anyone who is even slightly curious about consulting. The dynamic hands-on activity gave participants a taste of the challenging tasks that consultants must perform daily. I most enjoyed the complex thought processes required to complete these tasks. I also recognized that the PhD degree provides graduates with the invaluable skill of breaking down a large question into smaller parts. Throughout the workshop, we were able to use this skill in a completely different scenario outside of the lab.

Who would have known that a single iJOBS workshop could open my eyes and allow me to consider an entirely new career path? Only time will tell whether or not it is in my future, but it is definitely one that I will further consider.

iJOBS event summary: Contract Research Organization career panel

By Tomas Kasza

You might have heard that the first rule of contract research organizations (CROs) is you don’t talk about contract research organizations (CROs). THAT’S A LIE! It turns out that employees of CROs are excited to discuss their career knowledge with PhD and post-doctoral level academic researchers. CROs represent a great opportunity for PhD level scientists to transition from academia to industry. CROs provide essential support, generate fantastic science, and create quality products for the large biotechnology and corporate agencies that they contract with.

CROs fill a significant niche by ensuring that pharmaceutical and biotechnology businesses run smoothly. Large biotechnology firms and corporate agencies want to make money by developing products. These products often require expertise, services, and infrastructure that is not available or is not cost-effective to create within the company. To address these problems, such companies employ CROs which create the desired products or provide services at a reduced cost, thus increasing company revenue. Examples of services CROs can provide are support for different stages of clinical trials management, manufacturing of seasonal medications and products, and product development.

While the iJOBS leadership continues to draw fantastic and diverse sets of panelists for its events, I thought the panelists at this event were particularly great:

Dr. Bill Hanlon- Group President, Clinical Development and Commercialization Services at Covance, LabCorp’s drug development business

Dr. Sujoy Dutta- Divisional Director Experimental Biology (BBC PRC), Envigo

Dr. Gregory Bannish- Head of Flow Cytometry, Champions Oncology

Dr. Tifani McCann- Vice President Global Head of Biostatistics and Data Analytics, Covance

Dr. Ellen McGlinchey- Research Scientist I, Study Director, Charles River Laboratories

 

Based on the job titles for each respective panelist, it was clear that there was a wealth of experience, and as such, the first question was for each panelist to describe their career progression. What really struck me about each of their stories was when they discussed the things they had learned during their career. Most PhD students assume that learning is essentially completed during our graduate careers, and upon completion of the program, our expertise will make everything easier in the following job. Listening to the panelists’ professional histories made me realize how that statement was false, a PhD degree gives you tools to continually learn new things in pursuit of something better. Each panelist was more open than I expected about their own on-going education and their attempts to create opportunities for further growth and development.  Their discussion revealed the importance of embracing new opportunities and the pursuit of knowledge as essential skills for a successful professional researcher. Here are some insightful quotes that explore what the speakers shared:

Graphic koolaid

The quote, spoken by one of the panelists, underscored the panelists’ openness to discussing their own paradigm shifts. “Nobody does it better than us” refers to the panelist’s desire to think that while they worked in industry, the company they worked for did the best work with the highest quality. This panelist bought into the idea that their company was superior at performing the research, which contributed to an inherent arrogance within the company. Since then, this panelist has learned that there is quality research conducted at many different types of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. It was amazing to realize how limiting an assumption like this can be when making career decisions about which companies to join. It seems like there are always opportunities to perform great science.

 

graphic jungle gym

The above quote highlights the current state of career motility within the pharmaceutical world. Most people will not typically follow a linear and upward trajectory throughout their career but will instead switch positions within a company or move between companies. These lateral moves are orchestrated to achieve professional and personal goals. The goal of these types of moves is not necessarily to move up but rather to create a niche for you to occupy. It seemed like the goal of these moves was not to increase a salary but to pursue more meaningful work.

table

I wanted to list some other observations I made during the panel:

  • Communication skills are crucial if you decide to work within a CRO, as you will have to create an environment of trust between yourself, your boss, and the clients. This means understanding the project history and treating it like your own. You will also be working on many different projects at the same time, many more than you are working on during your PhD. It is essential to prioritize each project and communicate with all of the team members you are working with, which includes reaching a clear understanding of the goals that have to be met for each project.
  • The first transition is always difficult- as in your first job will include a huge learning curve and mindset adjustment. Fortunately, you have a PhD! This should give you the confidence to approach difficult problems with your knowledge toolkit. CROs are also great places to begin this transition because they are currently expanding and hiring fresh PhDs!

Coming to iJOBS career panels are great networking opportunities to get to that first difficult transition, so make every effort to come to all of our iJOBS career panels!

Edits and contributions were made by Huri Mücahit and Aminat Saliu Musah

Where Are They Now: Maria Qadri

Maria Qadri graduated from Rutgers University in January 2018 with a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and Quantitative Biomedicine. Prior to that, she received her M.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Connecticut and her B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Hartford. At Rutgers, she was highly involved in the formation of the Science Policy and Advocacy at Rutgers group and was also one of the founding members of the iJOBS blog. She was also a Rutgers Academy for the Scholarship for Teaching and Learning Fellow and a PreDoctoral Leadership Development Institute Fellow.

Maria 1

1) What have you been up to since graduating?

In the summer before I completed my degree, I moved to Washington, DC. Based on my previous networking, I was keeping an eye out for open positions with Ripple Effect. I initially applied for a part-time, on-call position as a government comment coder; however, during the phone interview, the interviewer reviewed my resume and noticed my strong interest in science policy. The science policy project manager conducted an in-person interview and decided I was a good fit for their Internship Program. During my time in the program, I served as a Program Management and Policy intern working 40 hours a week from August 2017 until my graduation date in January 2018. I worked on the implementation of the NIH’s new clinical trials policy that focused on updating the language related to Funding Opportunity Announcements. Based on Ripple Effect’s project needs, I then moved to their Research and Evaluation team. There, I worked on a few open-comment coding projects and an evaluation of the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance that involved taking interview notes, qualitative coding of the interviews, and a very extensive literature review. All government laws create rules or modify rules, and each proposed rule goes through a solicitation for public comment. Once gathered, all those comments must be read, categorized, and reported on before the rule can be enacted. In my role as a comment coder, I worked on the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, the Quality Payment Program, and the International Pricing Index for Medicare Part B Drugs. Since my work with the Research and Evaluation team was also part-time on call work, I also served for a short time as an editorial assistant with the American College of Radiology’s (ACR) press team. This involved work on both their membership magazine, The Bulletin, as well as their peer-reviewed scientific journal, The Journal of the American College of Radiology.  Ripple Effect found the need for my skills on a few more projects, and in June 2018, I transitioned to the Communications and Outreach team where I have worked on projects for the Military Health System Research Symposium scientific journal and the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network’s annual summit.

2) How did you approach the job search process?

Through networking at conferences and learning about various companies through iJOBS, I had compiled a list of approximately 10 companies that I focused on, routinely checking their openings page. Ripple Effect was one of those 10. Once I got to DC, I leveraged my network for source openings and set up an alert for tweets related to #scipoljobs. I still have them!  In the absence of leads, I used job aggregators like ZipRecruiter and Indeed for low-effort job applications to increase the number of jobs I applied to, which was actually how I found the ACR position.

3) What got you interested in this field?

My first taste ofMaria 2 careers in science policy came from attending the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop while I was at Rutgers. This workshop opened my eyes to the need for scientists who can communicate complex topics to policy makers and influencers. From there, I co-founded and led the National Science Policy Group’s Rutgers’ Chapter, which now is the Science Policy and Advocacy at Rutgers group (Twitter @SciPolRU). This opportunity allowed me to connect and bring speakers to campus whom were working in positions that I was interested in as well as conduct informational interviews. I also attended AAAS’ annual meeting, which opened my eyes to even more career options related to science communication and science policy than I was previously aware of.

4) How did you use skills that you learned during your graduate school career to transition into your current role? Were there any specific activities that you did during graduate school that helped you gain these essential skills?

One remarkable takeaway from my graduate career that enticed both Ripple Effect and the American College of Radiology was my involvement in writing and editing for the iJOBS blog because that highlighted communication skills that are essential in any role in industry. I was able to give very specific examples that highlighted my detail-oriented approach to both formal and informal communication.

5) Do you have any general advice for current PhD students preparing for the next step in their careers?

Internships are a great way for you to gain transferable skills and explore company culture. If you can’t commit to an internship, the shadowing opportunities through iJOBS are also a great way to gain some real-world experience. Informational interviews are a must-do throughout your degree. I did at least one a month, once I was post my PhD quals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and feedback from anyone – I sent my resume to CEOs, faculty at other universities, my cohort, my fellowship peers, and pretty much anyone who had a pulse. I also sourced friends in different departments for different perspectives. You don’t have to take everyone’s advice but getting multiple perspectives on submission documents is very useful.

Thank you so much, Maria, for telling us about your journey—so many helpful tips for those considering careers in science policy and communications. Best of luck moving forward!

 

Paulina Krzyszczyk led this interview with Maria Qadri. This post was also edited by Eileen Oni.

Bayer site visit: Strategies for job in pharma

By Deepshikha Mishra

On January 15th, 2019, I got the chance to attend the Bayer/Rutgers iJOBS meeting. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with global team leaders and to feel the work culture inside the Bayer company. The global team is comprised of Dr. Libia F Scheller, Global Head of Cooperative Groups and Strategic Alliances and Global Medical Affairs Oncology; Dr. Edio Zampaglione, Vice President of U.S. Medical Affairs; Dr. Heather Goolsby, Deputy Director, WHC Marketing; and Dr. Svetlana Babajaynan, Medical Director of US Medical Affairs Oncology. Each member of the team gave a brief overview of the Bayer company and the pipeline of its key products in the market. One of the most helpful parts of the site visit was the presentation about opportunities for PhDs in pharma and strategies for getting a job.

Dr. Scheller also delivered a highly informative presentation and gave insights about getting an interview call from pharma company and how to nail it. Some of the key points that she highlighted is to conduct self-inventory by identifying your strengths and weaknesses beforehand. One of the ways by which a person can improve weaknesses and sharpen their strengths is by asking their friends and colleagues. Sharpening your skills and qualities is a crucial and dynamic step toward obtaining and keeping your pharma job. In her words “whatever you are good in, sharpen it”.

Emphasis was also placed on the importance of aspirations and possessing the qualifications to obtain them. A person cannot achieve anything if they don’t have a desire to pursue it. Having desire for a certain position or job profile can only be fulfilled if they have the necessary qualifications. Adding additional technical skills before applying is highly recommended and mentors can be extremely helpful in this. Technical skills make a person eligible for the job, whereas transferable skills increase the chances of getting the job. A job in a company is significantly different from a job in academia, as it demands people skills along with laboratory skills.  Project management qualities over individualistic research approaches, as well as teaching skills. Honing transferable skills and properly highlighting them in a resume is a must. A perfect combination of transferable skills and technical skills will make any candidate a golden asset. Creating a tailored resume that is specific, and highlights required skills for the specific position advertised is essential. Just like shoes one size doesn’t fit every foot, therefore having only one resume will fail to fit all job opportunities.

A large proportion of jobs are filled internally through personal recommendations inside the company. There are only limited chances of getting success by applying online. As an outsider to a company, networking is key to getting a job recommendation. The pharma world is a small one and people know each other. Making contacts and connections with recruiters and employees through LinkedIn can be leveraged for a chance of getting recommended for a position. Attending local and national conferences where many pharma companies attend also helps in developing these contacts. Doing internships, externships, and shadowing also helps in developing close connections with those inside the industry. Identifying and developing a focus for the type of job a person wants makes the whole process comparatively easy. Apart from being a research scientist, positions in the field of medical science liaison, information officer, and sales lead are very exciting and plentiful. Communication is a necessity in corporate America. Taking additional public speaking classes could significantly help in improving communication. Very often, the job requires the education of doctors or team members through a presentation about potential clinical trials. Taking a complex situation and simplifying it is quite effective for communicating your information to a wide variety of audiences.

Team player is a very crucial skill and every person in the team brings different skill sets and experiences. Often times some of the experiences while growing up gives an upper hand in professional front and helps in a better understanding some of the problems. Dr. Scheller pointed out that ethnicity is one of the major advantages when working with a global team. A variety of pharma products are developed by keeping unique health problems faced by people of a different country of origin in mind. In terms of a global team, being of a different ethnicity also helps in understanding the challenges faced by patients and demands of one of these target audiences.  Women’s health is also one of the biggest thrust areas of Bayer and the company is continuously developing multiple products for the betterment of women health. Being aware about the company’s focus areas of the current financial year is also advantageous during the interview.

After getting the job, the pressure to keep up can often times be overwhelming. Dr. Scheller also gave some tips on some of ways to survive in the highly competitive environment, focusing on leadership, integrity, flexibility, and efficiency skills. Finally, networking internally and building trust among colleagues helps in the long run.

Check list for preparing for the interview

  • Research the company’s history.
  • Know the products well.
  • Know the competitors of the company.
  • Research the person interviewing you.
  • Read press releases.
  • Make a list of thoughtful questions to ask.
  • Know the answers of usual questions such as “where do you see yourself in next 5 years?”
  • Send a follow up email after interview.

Take home messages:

  • Be sincere and prepare
  • Tailor your cover letter and resume
  • Possess the ability to handle multiple projects at a time
  • Develop collaborative skills
  • Consider internships
  • Make a thoughtful list of questions for recruiters
  • Leverage your ethnicity in terms of the global team

image3

Image: Dr. Libia F Scheller presenting the overview of Bayer

This article was written by Dr. Deepshikha Mishra. Edits and contributions were made by Dr. Eileen Oni, Huri Mücahit and Tomas Kasza