Advice for Personal Development in Your Career: GRO Your Career 2020 Industry Conference Day 2 Session 1

By Natalie Losada

Day 2 Session 1:

The GRO-Biotech conference continued into day two with an extremely interactive, engaging session called Career Development Workshop with Juliet HartJuliet Hart is a founder and CEO of Hart and Chin, a company that helps scientists develop their interpersonal and leadership skills through personalized coaching/training.  Hart and Chin also operates as a consulting firm that can help other companies develop leadership organization and skills to improve collaboration and communication.  Hart used to be an R&D scientist for J&J but felt disadvantaged that the experience did not foster any soft skills, so she moved to their HR team.  She became passionate about helping people develop skills they could use for any career path, so she left J&J and started Hart and Chin.  Now she spends her days coaching scientists to set visions and goals, training students in workshops like this one, and consulting organizations about their plans by studying the trends of the industry.

Her workshop covered a myriad of important topics to help you determine what you want or need in your career journey.  During the workshop, participants were able to learn networking skills, understand why you should know your mission and goals, develop awareness of learning techniques and how to implement them, and work on goal setting.

Commentary on a Very Interactive Intro:

Juliet Hart’s workshop was a refreshing change of pace from simple lecture style career workshops.  The session began with some lighthearted discussion with the Zoom polling feature while attendees were trickling into the meeting. When she began her presentation, she first displayed a color wheel of emotions and asked everyone to simply share how they were feeling in the chat.  The chat was flooded with emotions: worried, free, hopeful, anxious, excited, nervous, depressed, inquisitive, and more.  I was not very surprised everyone shared their feelings, because she was able to create such a safe and caring atmosphere right off the bat.

Networking

Subsequently, Juliet Hart began her first major topic of the workshop by asking about the participants’ backgrounds; most were grad students and postdocs, but there were also some in the work force. She was pleased and emphasized the diversity of the attendees in the session.  Virtual events, like this workshop, give you the opportunity to meet new people and grow your network.  Carving out time for these events, and more importantly, talking to individuals during and after these events, is vital because companies like to hire people they know.  Hart encouraged everyone to contact other attendees after the workshop to start practicing their networking skills.  Whether you’re interviewing or networking, you need to project confidence and a willingness to engage. She emphasized that without engagement, you won’t be able to make an impact on someone.  Getting to know people in a virtual world is possible, it is just a much slower process, so you need to allocate more time.  Hart adds that “sending a random resume with no referral is not good enough in this virtual environment.”

Why should you know your mission, vision, and goals? For effective communication.

One important benefit of networking is landing a job, but that benefit is reaped in the long-term.  No one is asking for a job the minute they meet someone; that’s not networking.  The action of networking involves getting to know people and understanding what they want or have to offer, while effectively communicating what you want and have to offer.  If you can become an expert in effectively communicating your interests and strengths, your network will be better equipped to help you throughout your career.

Floating quote; One important benefit of networking is landing a job, but that benefit is reaped in the long-term. 

Understanding what you want or need from your career starts with introspection.  What is your mission?  What is your vision?  Hart asked these questions to the attendees and expressed how different these two questions are.  An example of a mission is: I want to land a job at a pharma company in 2021.  In contrast, a vision would be: I wish to work at a company that has my same values and have a job that motivates me.  A mission is some task you want to accomplish, while a vision is a desire that will bring you long-term joy.  It is important to ask these questions to yourself so that you can understand the full scope of your wants and needs from your career.  If you want to lead a team or you want someone to lead you, a solid mission/vision are needed to effectively communicate to others and motivate them.  Fear and conflict manifest from ambiguity, so the more you understand yourself, the more confident you’ll be and the better you’ll communicate.

Floating quote: “Fear and conflict manifest from ambiguity, so the more you understand yourself, the more confident you’ll be and the better you’ll communicate.”

What can you offer? Think of different types of learning:

As was briefly mentioned above, while networking, you want to communicate your mission, vision, and your value. You may not realize, but you have more strengths and more knowledge than what is mentioned in your academic transcript.  Below are the main types of learning that Juliet Hart shared during the workshop.

Formal:  a class or course. These can include online certificate programs, like those offered on Coursera, and can be added to your resume if the certificate is relevant to the job for which you are applying.  Hart added “assume that everything on your resume will start a conversation, so only put what is relevant to the job and what you are prepared to talk about.”  A resume does not need your entire history or every class or course – you can use a CV for that. 

Non-formal: seminars, workshops, volunteering, shadowing.  Juliet Hart explained that we frequently underestimate their impact.  “you forget how it built you into the unique person you are.”

Informal: unconscious learning.  This involves the challenges faced outside of a formal or non-formal learning environment.  Situations that make you think creatively and spontaneously can teach you more than you think.

Self-directed: This method is not ideal for everyone or for every type of skill. For example, this method works great for any hard skills, but isn’t as effective for soft skills, which require a constant feedback loop from others.  But if you’d like to try it out, here are the steps:

  1. Identify your knowledge deficits
  2. Set goals for learning
  3. Create efficient strategies
  4. Monitor yourself and your progress
  5. Modify the approach if needed
  6. Reach your goal

Juliet Hard admitted this is a hard way to learn and urged everyone not to worry if it doesn’t work.  As Winston Churchill said, “I am always ready to learn although I don’t always like being taught.”

Collaborative: combining and curating the knowledge of a group of people.  Juliet Hart wanted to show this learning method in action, so she implemented an online tool called padlet.com that allows anyone with the website link to access a virtual desk that is full of notepads with questions.  Everyone can anonymously add comments or pictures or links to a notepad (see screenshots below) or ask their own notepad question.  This was a marvelous tool to get a large group to interact and share their knowledge without any interruptions or pressure of speaking in a large crowd.

Screenshot of workshop with Juliet Hart. This is a screen share of the Padlet.com platform with this topics of discussion for the collaborative learning activity.

Furthermore, all your experiences have the potential to teach you skills you can and will use in your career, and you must use them to craft a story and paint a picture of yourself for interviewers.  Consider all the qualities an interviewer looks for that you have learned and be intentional about using those experiences to portray all your strengths.  “We’re all just a story…just trying to get to know each other”, Hart added poetically. 

Setting your goals:

Once you understand what you have to offer and you know your mission and vision, you are ready to set up your goals.  Your goals will be the steppingstones to leading to your mission and vision, and these goals need to be SMART:

SMART goals components, image made by Natalie Losada, description of SMART goal components from Juliet Hart during the workshop.

A bad example of this would be: ask for informational interviews about potential jobs of interest.  This is not specific, not measurable, and has no timeline.  Try thinking about it this way: if this is something you would quickly scratch on your to-do list next to “buy milk”, it’s not a SMART goal. On the other hand, a good example would be: identify nine people for informational interviews for three types of jobs in next two weeks, schedule time with them, and decide after each interview which job I will pursue.  Notice how much longer this goal is – if a lot of thought went into planning the goal, that’s a good sign that you’re planning a SMART goal.

Additionally, there are three different types of goals.  They should all be SMART goals, but they have different timelines and purposes and you should at least one of each.  They are:

  • Quick-win goal – confidence builders
  • Long-term goal – the bigger picture
  • Stretch goal – the challenge to push yourself and test your limits – if you don’t accomplish it, you will still learn, but if you do accomplish it, you know your new limits 

In conclusion, this fun, interactive workshop led by Juliet Hart provided insightful advice on how you can organize your efforts to produce an efficient career development plan.  Her advice boils down to a few steps: know yourself, communicate your mission and goals, leverage your network (including social media), and build a strong support system (mentors, advisors, coach, PI/Manager, peer, role model) to hit the ground running.

Juliet Hart added one final bit of advice that she noticed worked well for colleague: Be laser focused on your goal – use everything above and you will get there efficiently.

This article was edited by Junior Editor Rukia Henry and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.

How can a PhD prepare you to start and run a company?

By Juliana Corrêa-Velloso

Across the world, the creation of start-ups has become more common. More specifically, within Universities, the Biotech innovation field has been stimulated by the presence of early-stage business development facilitators, like tech-transfer offices and start-up incubators. Although more STEM PhD students and postdocs have been pursuing an entrepreneurial career path, the transition from the bench to the boardroom of a company is still unclear to many. For example, what is the skill set necessary for such a transition? On November 10th, iJOBS hosted a workshop led by Dr. Garry Cooper, CEO and co-founder of Rheaply. Dr. Cooper shared his experiences in the process of starting his own company and enthusiastically encouraged PhD students and postdocs to explore the entrepreneurial side of business. By giving valuable advice and sharing his first-hand experience, he shed some light into the world of the entrepreneur.

Dr. Garry Cooper, CEO and co-founder of Rheaply (Image credit: https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/bio/garry-cooper)

In general, business ideas aim to fulfill a specific need. That said, Rheaply’s concept is simple and, most important, necessary. As Dr. Copper explained at the event, Rheaply started as virtual market of physical assets and laboratory research materials which stemmed from his observation of a problem. Dr. Cooper’s initial observation dates back to when he was a PhD student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. While he was working on Parkinson’s disease drug discovery, he noticed a pattern within his department regarding the availability of physical laboratory assets. Some departments had a surplus of under-utilized materials, whereas other departments routinely purchased new materials without any knowledge of the available surplus. Motivated by helping his peers, Dr. Cooper started placing the excess items in a cart and pushing it around the floor. With a simple and smart solution, he redistributed unused spare materials to other laboratories. The success of “the cart” was so significant in Northwestern’s community that even years after his departure, Dr. Cooper kept receiving emails asking, “Where is the cart?”

After his postdoctoral training, Dr. Cooper worked as a life science consultant, where he gained practical experience in the business side of Biotech companies and the Healthcare market. With this broadened view of the market, Dr. Cooper and two co-founders fundraised for their new idea: Rheaply, which is a combination of the words “research” and “cheaply.” Within just 4 years, the company had facilitated the management of internal assets by intermediating the exchange of unneeded resources among and between several world-leading organizations. Imagine Google having a surplus of office supplies that would be a perfect fit for a small local company or a university? How many laboratories around the country have underused or outdated equipment that would be more useful for other laboratories or departments? Rheaply is the bridge between those two ends. Using an award-winning resource platform, Rheaply helps organizations in technology, government, retail, healthcare, and higher education to buy, sell, trade, donate, and rent resources within and between one another. By harvesting their internal and external resources before making any purchasing decisions, organizations can save money, improve efficiency, increase sustainability, and boost their collaborations and network.

As we can see from Dr. Cooper’s experience, the entrepreneur ideation process is quite similar to the well-known scientific method: observing a problem, setting a hypothesis, and testing the solution. But what about the additional hurdles of actually starting and running a company? Can a PhD prepare you to have a corporate level position in a company? The short answer is yes. Scientists can and should run companies. That said, there are of course, some trainings and adjustments that can maximize your chances of success. According to Dr. Cooper, you need to know how to leverage your transferable skills, tailor your journey, and be intentional about what you are doing. Most importantly, he emphasized the necessity of refraining from the temptation of comparing your path and achievements to someone else’s. Instead, he stated that you should focus on defining and accomplishing your own goals.

“…you are in your own journey. Be intentional about your journey and do not compare yourself with others.”

(Dr. Garry Cooper, CEO, and co-founder of Rheaply)

Through years of gathered experience, PhD professionals likely already have the necessary transferable skills to sit in a company’s boardroom. This includes: 1) Problem-solving abilities and critical thinking which can lead to executive decisions and strategic planning, 2) Hypothesis-driven questioning and experimentation which can result in well-executed business concepts, 3) Data collection and interpretation which are necessary for understanding the company’s progress and which can inform well-grounded decisions, and 4) Written and oral communication which are essential to conveying a message with clarity and objectivity.

Although these skills may already be familiar to those who have an academic background, Dr. Cooper acknowledged that showcasing them in the corporate environment is a frequent struggle. You will face several opportunities to apply your knowledge and PhD training, therefore, do not hesitate to show them. “If you don’t tell the world how great you are, no one will notice the value that you were building up for all this period.”

One necessary adjustment that can help PhDs build their confidence is changing the way that they approach problems. Instead of finding answers only in papers, Dr. Cooper highlighted the importance of reaching out to others and actually asking for help. “For academics that are starting a company, the crucial thing is not trying to do it all by yourself,” he stated. The research method is similar, but instead of looking into a paper, you are going to reach out to someone directly. Moreover, it is important to be specific about what the problem is that needs to be solved and to carefully choose who you consult for help. By connecting with others, you become more conscious of your business needs and realize the effectiveness of openly communicating those needs. From his experience as a consultant, Dr. Cooper learned another important lesson that he shared with attendees: do not reinvent the wheel. Identify the problem, find someone that went through a similar situation, and ask for help.

Reaching out to others will help you with the gold-standard action for transitioning from academia to the corporate set up: networking. In addition to all its well-known benefits, networking can help you to deal with the unique struggles of entrepreneurship. “No one will actually know what you are going through unless they have your exact perspective.” By building a network of business-savvy scientists, you maximize your chances of both getting and offering help. Besides, it can potentially increase the opportunities for funding your idea. Most of the time, the initial funding-raising process starts with an expanded network of family and friends. Other good supportive resources are Techstar, Y Combinator, a16z, Sequoia, First Round Capital, and all of Paul Graham’s materials.

Beyond showcasing your transferrable skills, communicating your ideas and expanding your network, considering an internship or shadowing experience is also good place to start. By experiencing the routine of a start-up or other corporate environment, you can diversify your resume and have a taste of the real job experience. For that purpose, iJOBS Phase 2 is a perfect fit. In this phase of the program, trainees can shadow a professional in their area of interest as part of an externship organized by iJOBS. In addition to learning about the field, shadowing professionals could help you to identify areas of your resume which can be improved to make you a more qualified job candidate. The idea is not to mimic someone else’s experience, but to let their experiences serve as an inspiration and guide to your own journey. Dr. Cooper explained that, from the perspective of a capital investor or consulting firm, funding or hiring a professional with a PhD has two sides. On one hand, you will be seen as smart, a fast-learner and an independent professional. On the other hand, regarding the business and market literacy, you will be seen as naïve. If you have any knowledge or activity that can lessen this gap, Dr. Cooper recommended highlighting them. Rather than focusing on papers or any deep knowledge in one specific topic, emphasize alternative activities that will make you stand out.

Thankfully, transforming sound business ideas into fruitful companies has become more common. Moreover, in the biotech innovation field, all available business development assets, like start-up incubators, accelerators, and tech-transfer offices, are powerful tools for that purpose. As we progress through the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of science and applicable biotechnology is unquestionable. That said, in the same way that a new idea or technology needs to be prepared to be marketable, it is important that as scientists, we learn how to make our transferrable skills marketable, a feat that will help us break into an array of blooming fields, including business/biotech and entrepreneurialism. This workshop was a great introduction to how STEM PhDs can prepare to go beyond the bench and join the C-suite executives!

This article was edited by Junior Editor Zachary Fritz and Senior Editor Brianna Alexander.

Virtual Career Panel: FDA

by: Zachary Fritz

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recognizable to most biomedical science graduate students as a lynchpin of the pharmaceutical industry that ensures our medicines, vaccines, and medical devices are safe, effective, and manufactured through the proper channels. Many grad students might not realize that the FDA also provides a wealth of deeply rewarding and meaningful career opportunities. On November 2nd, the iJOBS Program’s “Careers at the FDA” panel brought together five Rutgers University graduate school alumni to discuss their jobs, career prep advice, and what it means to work at this agency.

The wide array of departments within the FDA was on full display, with each panelist having very different duties and areas of focus. Dr. Katie Sokolowski is a senior toxicologist in the Division of Pharmacology/Toxicology for Neuroscience at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), where she primarily does nonclinical (e.g. animal studies data) risk assessments on both Investigational New Drug and New Drug applications. Dr. Kathryn Drzewiecki, a policy officer and project manager in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, is responsible for drafting and reviewing policy documents related to medical devices as well as overseeing various processes within the department. Dr. Fanfan Wu was the one panel member whose work centered around food safety rather than pharmaceuticals or devices. As a visiting scientist in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), she conducts consumer outreach research via surveys and focus groups to gauge public opinion on FDA policy, such as the layout and content of nutrition facts panels. Dr. Andrea Gray is a biomedical engineer in the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research and provides regulatory review on the safety and manufacturing methods of proposed cellular therapies and related devices. The most recent FDA hire on the panel, Dr. Anika Haq, is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow at CDER. She does a combination of reviewing generic drug applications, primarily for topical and transdermal treatments, as well as carrying out her own research into in silico models of skin-based drug delivery.

The modern FDA’s establishment can be traced back to the 1906 passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act, a law partly meant to combat the dubious claims of so-called “patent medicines”. This 1950’s informational poster serves a similar purpose for misleading nutritional myths. (Image credit: FDA, https://www.flickr.com/photos/fdaphotos/albums/72157624615595535/page1)

Despite their diverse roles, many of the women on the panel shared commonalities beyond their graduate alma mater. For many of the panelists, their entry into the FDA was through a fellowship program. Both Drs. Wu and Haq are ORISE fellowship recipients, Dr. Drzewiecki was in the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) Scholars Program, and Dr. Gray was a Commissioner’s Fellowship recipient. These fellowships serve an important role, allowing both the recipient and their supervisors at least one year to evaluate whether the fellow would be a good fit at the agency. Dr. Drzewiecki said a common career path at the FDA is starting with one of these entry fellowships before progressing to a temporary Staff Fellow position. Those temporary Staff Fellow positions include benefits and eventually develop into a permanent position. These fellowships also seem to subsume the traditional postdoc role. However, it should be noted that Dr. Sokolowski did do a postdoc at the Center for Neuroscience Research at Children’s National Medical Center before joining the FDA, essentially bypassing the fellowship route.

As for getting your foot in the door for a fellowship opportunity, the panel emphasized the need for networking and leveraging your PhD work. Potential key connections can come from a variety of places and events, so it always behooves you to be on the lookout. Each panelist had their own way of finding and leveraging their connections throughout their careers. Dr. Haq did an internship that provided her with important references for her ORISE application, so she advised attending conferences and doing an internship in a field you want to work in to build your network.  Dr. Drzewiecki worked for a variety of small biotech companies when she moved to Maryland shortly after receiving her PhD and built a formidable network right in the FDA’s backyard. Dr. Wu was actually referred to the FDA by an older student in her graduate lab that recommended her for the ORISE fellowship and position. Dr. Wu’s experience as an international student and non-US citizen was not a huge obstacle for her as she developed close relationships with her network including FDA supervisors who were determined to help her stay in the country and continue working there. For many of the panel, it helped that they were able to directly apply their PhD expertise to similar projects that would ultimately be their focus at the FDA. However, Dr. Drzewiecki pointed out that specific expertise developed in various PhD projects isn’t necessarily a prerequisite. Dr. Drzewiecki’s own PhD research on collagen-based biomaterials differs greatly from the medical device applications she reviews now. Instead, she noted that her PhD gave her the problem solving and critical thinking skills she needed to succeed at the FDA. The panel was in agreement that emphasizing these and other “soft” skills, especially reading/writing and interpersonal communication, is critical for acing any job or fellowship interview at the FDA.

When asked about their work-life balance, all of the panelists agreed that the work-life and culture at the FDA is excellent. Dr. Drzewiecki felt that her schedule was very flexible and leant itself well to a good work-life balance, though she pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased her workload and hours, but this is an exceptional case. Dr. Gray highlighted the excellent benefits, such as her 12-week maternity leave that substantially improved her work-life balance. As for transitioning into the workplace with training, Dr. Sokolowski said her experience was not very formal and more of a “learn on the job” situation, though she acknowledged this may differ by department. Overall, the panelists are very satisfied with their careers at the FDA because they all feel valued and heard at their job, and that their work at the FDA truly makes a difference in improving people’s lives.

If the thought of helping safeguard America’s food and medicine appeals to you, I’d recommend reviewing the FDA’s fellowship programs as a good jumping off point. As biomedical science marches forward with ever more complex advancements that require careful review, the valuable and rewarding work done by the FDA cannot be denied.

This article was edited by Junior Editor Natalie Losada and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.

From Bench to Business: An Exploration into the Business Profession for the STEM PhD

By: Brianna Alexander

In recent years, STEM PhDs have begun to explore an array of non-academic career fields, including science communication, research & development, and patent law/government. Perhaps this career venturing has popularized as a result of graduate students learning the translational potential of their training. Excitingly, as the workplace expands and more value is given to new insights and perspectives, there are a growing number of positions being filled by and created for STEM PhDs in a host of non-traditional STEM fields, including Business. 

Business, according to Investopedia, refers largely to the “organized efforts and activities of individuals to produce and sell goods and services for profit.”  To explore this topic more and invite students to step into the shoes of a business professional, iJobs hosted a virtual Business simulation and workshop on October 26th. The iJobs workshop featured well-seasoned business professional, Evelyn Chang, who lead an informative discussion and engaging case study.

Ms. Chang is currently the Associate Director of Compliance at Minaris Regenerative Medicine LLC. There, she is responsible for various tasks including internal auditing, ensuring data integrity, as well as management review. She received her bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering and master’s in Pharmaceutical Engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Furthermore, Ms. Chang earned her Executive MBA in Finance, Strategy, and Leadership from the Rutgers school of Business. Ms. Chang shared that in her 16+ years as a business professional that she has worked in several areas including contract development, biotechnology, medical device management, and cell and gene therapy. She has even co-founded a software solution service called JaBed Tech.  After a brief introduction and gauging the business-knowledge of the attendees, she led a keen and well-tailored workshop diving into the principles of business and business development, including a case study to engage participants in practical application.  

What is Business about? To help participants envision life as a business professional, Ms. Chang began the event by discussing some tasks/activities in which a business professional might engage.

  • Start-up: recruiting/expanding team to  increase in potential revenue
  • Phase-out: Shifting from less-revenue-generating product to more-revenue-generating product. This is necessary when a previous business is no longer fruitful.
  • Strategic alliance: Establishing potentially profitable collaboration between businesses
  • Identifying + acquiring companies: expanding a business to include smaller, manageable companies to increase potential output and revenue
  • Securing corporate financing: strategizing funding sources to maximize product value and profit
  • Divesting assets: Selling an asset to increase profit potential
  • Management of Intellectual property: i.e patents, copyrights

What are the stages of Business Development? After familiarizing attendees with some areas of business, Ms. Chang discussed a strategy of business development. She emphasized that business development can be distilled down to three main points: Vison, Strategy of Execution, and Commercialization. 1)Vision– what an individual brings to a business which, ideally, should align with the company vision and be “top tier”. 2) Strategy of Execution– this is an evaluation of the plan and the steps needed to execute the plan successfully. At this stage, practical decisions are made regarding the feasibility of the project (i.e- are there enough starting materials, equipment/resources at the site, etc.).  3) Commercialization– this, Ms. Chang stated, is when the project has been approved and is ready to be moved into the active state of large-scale production. Keeping these phases in mind can help to maintain organization and a realistic sense of progress and productivity within the business environment.

Finally, the capstone of the workshop was a case study simulation where attendees participated in evaluating the potential of a drug in a competitive market. Attendees were divided into three groups and given a template of information for their drug, including drug inventory, as well as  links to federal resources to learn more about the approved use of the drug. After investigating current market competitors and potential uses of the drug, groups decided if the drug was a “go” or “no-go” to market. This simulation resulted in a very enlightening conversation where several unique arguments were presented in the decision-making process. For example, one point discussed was the feasibility of marketing a drug for an alternative implication/to a new target group if the competitive window is wide. Participants were encouraged to be creative in the thinking process, and to fully utilize publicly available resources and datasets. In addition, one very valuable aspect of the simulation was that it allowed attendees to see how skills honed every day in the lab, including critical thinking and project management, can be useful in the capacity of a business professional.

This was an extremely useful and informative workshop/simulation where attendees learned about some of the activities of a business professional, reviewed a strategy for business development, and engaged in a practical case study. Ms. Chang was very enthusiastic, eager to share her experiences, and happy to answer student questions. This event, like many others this semester, demonstrated how our PhDs can be stretched beyond the traditional STEM career paths and into more non-conventional fields such as Business!

This Article was edited by Junior Editor Rukia Henry and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.

Consulting and Science Communication: “GRO Your Career 2020 Industry Conference” Day 1 Session 2

By Natalie Losada

Day 1 Session 2:

The second session, The Nuts & Bolts of Consulting, included three panelists who discussed consulting responsibilities (before and during the pandemic), transitioning from a Ph.D. to consulting, and some quick questions at the end. Panelist Andrea Campi works as a consultant at Prescient Healthcare Group. This company was interested in a preclinical stage product she had developed during her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering that was later approved right before she defended.  The second panelist, Bill McCormick, joined the life science consulting team at Qral Group as a short term plan, but loved their company environment and biotech focus so much he is still working there four years later.  Final panelist Kevin Hartman originally focused his efforts on the research side of science until consulting caught his eye and made him realize he enjoyed the business side of science a lot more.  He is now a consultant for ClearView Healthcare Partners.

Panelists for Day 1 Session 2.  Photo taken from a screenshot of the GRO-Biotech Conference moderator’s slides.

Consulting Responsibilities (Before and During the Pandemic)

“Sometimes 90-110% of your day is spent with the clients”, said Mr. McCormick.  Generally, a consultant’s days are variable. Consultants will often have a mix of bigger and smaller clients with short-term or long-term relationships. With each new client, a consultant must learn about the company, their needs, and the problem they need solved.  Similar to graduate school, this requires gathering data, building the story around the problem, and presenting the plans and solutions to higher-ups.  A science background helps understand the clients’ problems faster and more robustly. However, a Ph.D. is not always required.  Consulting is about asking questions to/for the client to create structure around an unstructured problem.

Consulting is about creating structure around an unstructured problem.

Mr. McCormick

Depending on the company, consultants sometimes travel to meet current or potential clients, which has been difficult during a pandemic for some, like Dr. Campi.  Her company struggled to transition to social-distanced events because much of their intelligence gathering for clients happened at conferences.  Some like Dr. Hartman and Mr. McCormick had surprisingly easy transitions since their companies were accustomed to online meetings even before the pandemic.  All the panelists expressed gratitude towards their companies’ dedication to their employees during these challenging times.  Dr. Campi said her company reminds employees to be mindful when planning meetings. Cooperation is key now that everyone has been introduced to each other’s personal lives more than ever expected.  Dr. Hartman’s company also tries to avoid employee burn-out by requiring them to choose two nights per week where they are “out of work” by 5 pm – phones off, you’re done.  When looking for a job, I recommend finding similar companies that treat each team member as a valuable part of the machine and respects work-life balance practices.

Transitioning from a Ph.D. to Consulting

Dr. Hartman suggested demonstrating something “non-academic” on your resume that is more business-related, e.g., participating in an internship outside of a lab setting. 

Life science and biotech consultants can be hired from diverse research backgrounds.  The critical qualities employers look for don’t include expertise is a specific topic; they look for an ability to work with a team, dig into a problem to tackle a challenge, and ask the right questions.  As Mr. McCormick said, they are “looking for a mindset” more than anything.  Your resume can and should speak to your mindset by showing the employer how you’ve developed the mindset and where you’ve practiced using it.  Dr. Hartman suggested demonstrating something “non-academic” on your resume that is more business-related, e.g., participating in an internship outside of a lab setting.  If you’ve come straight from academia, the employers don’t expect you to understand all the nuances of the consulting job.  They provide thorough training after hiring and want you to learn fast and think on your feet.  However, training is usually ongoing in your career as you learn about new client companies and products.

In fact, during the interview process, you’re usually given a case study to evaluate on the spot…

Luckily, there are ways to “study” for the position and hone your skills to become a more competitive candidate.  There are online resources to provide case studies that you can practice working through to determine solutions.  In fact, during the interview process, you’re usually given a case study to evaluate on the spot because they want to see your thought process and problem-solving methods.  Another way to prepare to be a consultant would be using LinkedIn to talk to consultants from different companies to learn the nuances and see which company might be a better fit.  This is important for any job in any field – use LinkedIn as a research tool, not a “job-begging” tool.  Your networking will be more fulfilling and more comfortable that way. 

Attendee Questions

  1. Can international students become consultants?
    • Depends on the company.  Be ready to discuss this with the company.
  2. If you only have a B.S., will certificates from  Coursera help?
    • Certificates in fields that will specifically complement your career interests is a great idea.  It would be helpful to earn a Coursera course certificate before you graduate, but it’s not required.
  3. Most memorable project?
    • Mr. McCormick: Joined a project at a later stage and witnessed all the exciting approvals, distributions, and ultimate success as he played his part along the way.
    • Dr. Hartman: Had a very open-ended problem to develop a corporate strategy with a major client.  It felt nerve-racking to be precise and correct, but it felt so impactful.
    • Dr. Campi: She realized a laid-back client of hers had a crucial finding that she had to bring to their attention to develop further and become a vital thought partner.

Life science and Biotech consulting can be very rewarding or a fun challenge.  And much like the other topics during this conference, it’s the type of career that grad students don’t immediately consider pursuing.  A company may appear to consist of a CEO and a scientist who makes the products, but there are so many critical roles within and outside of a company that help get products developed, funded, sold, marketed, supported, redesigned, and expanded upon.  More importantly, with an advanced degree and a STEM background, you are prepared for any career at every step of the product or company development.

This article was edited by Junior Editor Janaina Cruz Pereira and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.

Meet the Blogger: Gina Sanchez

Hi! My name is Gina Sanchez, and I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Weinstein Lab. We study the roles of T follicular helper (Tfh) and Germinal Center (GC) B cells in the development of autoimmunity, specifically Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. My project aims to understand what allows GC B cells with self-reactive B cell receptors to exist and expand, bypassing the tolerizing selection process that exists within the GC. I have also recently started to study a new subset of B cells, Inflammatory B cells, which are also associated with autoimmunity but do not have a clearly defined function. But I would like to tell you more about myself.


I was born and raised on Long Island, NY. I went to Stony Brook University to pursue a B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Developmental Genetics. I performed research in the Clinical Psychology department in the lab of Dr. Klein, where we had an ongoing longitudinal study examining how children develop psychologically, specifically in terms of psychopathologies. I also performed some research using Nematostella vectensis (sea anemone) to look at the involvement of critical pathways in their development and how they can be targeted for cancer therapeutics. In my spare time, I was actually a belly dancer! I was the president of our dance troupe from 2016 to 2017 and coordinated many events. It became a quick passion of mine.

I came to the Rutgers PhD program in 2018 in the Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Cancer track. One of the selling points for me to come to Rutgers was actually hearing about iJOBS! No other institute that I had visited or interviewed at had mentioned any program like it. Being someone who was unsure of what they wanted to do after grad school, this seemed like an amazing opportunity for me. After attending an iJobs-sponsored event (What Can You Be with a PhD), I realized that I was really interested in communicating science. This led me to become involved in the iJOBS blog shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic came to New Jersey. I have since written several blog posts since joining.

Aside from spending time in the lab, I also greatly enjoy baking, photography, and my fair share of binging various tv shows!


This article was edited by Senior Editor Samantha Avina

Combining Business and Science: “GRO Your Career 2020 Industry Conference” Day 1 Session 1

By Natalie Losada

Preface:

The GRO Biotech Industry Conference was held by the Graduate Research Organization for biotechnology and took place over three days to prevent the infamous “Zoom fatigue.”  The aims of the GRO-Biotech align very well with the aims of the iJOBS program; they try to act as the bridge between academia and industry by helping students understand and prepare for the different career options they have, as well as understand what is expected of them in those careers.  Since 2015, they have actively tried to connect students to leaders in various industries, much like iJOBS does, through networking and informational events (including this event!).  During this conference, the speakers, panelists, and workshops managed to discuss careers in and around the life sciences that exemplified the industry’s depth or breadth.  The speakers undoubtedly inspired students to explore more career options that can challenge them to apply their scientific methods to new problems. 

Day 1 Session 1:

The session Drawing and Sharing Insights may sound vague at first, but the topics and panelists could not have been more fitting.  The panelists discussed venture capitalism in science, transitioning from academia to industry, science communication in industry, and some thoughtful career tips.  The session was so full of advice that you might not believe there were only two panelists.

Photos of panelists taken as a screenshot from the GRO-Biotech Conference moderator’s slides.

The first panelist, Arthur Klausner,

earned his B.A. in biology from Princeton and after graduating became a biotech magazine writer because it combined his passions for biology and writing.  While there, he was exposed to the business side of biology and found passion in that as well.  He earned his M.B.A. from Stanford before breaking into the biotech venture capital and start-up world where he was able to explore science topics in the depth and breadth that he desired.  He is now the President and CEO of Goldilocks Therapeutics Inc., a start-up biopharma company focused on undertreated kidney injuries and diseases. 

The next panelist, Dr. Julie Wolf,

earned her Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and was previously a Features Editor at the American Society of Microbiology.  She now works as the Communications Director for IndieBio, a biotech start-up accelerator that provides custom assistance to small biotech companies—think bigger than a garage set-up, but not yet national—to grow and succeed.  IndieBio is backed by a venture capital firm, but they are similar to venture capital investors, except IndieBio does due diligence with start-ups in a rigorous 4-month program that works as a true risk assessment before the VC invests money. If you’re interested in learning more about how venture capitalists (VCs), scientists, mentors, and experts work together, Dr. Wolf mentioned she was part of a short Youtube Series called “Knowledge – Webinars, Conversations and Presentations From Across the SOSV Ecosystem.”

Since Dr. Wolf and Mr. Klausner both had experience working in a venture firm, this became the first topic as the predominantly academic audience was mostly unfamiliar with it.   

Venture Capitalism in Science

One big difference between academia and industry is what they aim to accomplish.  Academia usually aims to answer specific fundamental questions of a larger research project, while industry usually aims to scale up products or services for public investors or consumers.  Occasionally, these aims are switched, such as the development of the CRISPR-Cas9 system, and sometimes these roles are combined, like in many biotech start-ups.  To go from an idea to a product or service that is widely used, a start-up company needs an investor, who becomes a partner in the company.  It might help to think of the investors on the TV Series Shark Tank and how they question the service/product’s marketability, growth and potential, and overall logistics.  The investor understands there will be no immediate returns (profit used to pay back investors), so they want to know if they are making a decision that will lead to a successful long-term relationship with the start-up.  As the start-up grows, its goal is to diversify its efforts and decrease any risks.  For example, if you had a product used on human patients, your goal would be to work on clinical trials and gather safety data to decrease investor risk and increase company market value.

After understanding the VC world better, the next questions were how and why does one enter the biotech venture capital (VC) world? 

After understanding the VC world better, the next questions were how and why does one enter the biotech venture capital (VC) world?  Mr. Klausner’s quick response to “why?” was that you have leverage—there are not many venture firms in the biotechnology industry and the ones that exist are not large.  VC firms will hire someone with an MBA and technical background, or even just an MBA, however they will only hire people they know.  However, it is difficult to get to know venture capitalists, so if you want to be hired and you find a VC networking event, great! Otherwise, try to find a way to work with them. Find jobs for Biotech companies that are already venture-backed or volunteer for their firm.  Dr. Wolf shared a networking event that her company attends, run by 50 Years, and is called “Ph.D. to VC.”  The next event date is TBD, but you can read all about their last “Ph.D. to VC” from 2019 on their website!

To play the scenario, let’s say you work at a VC firm and are thinking of investing in a biotech start-up.  One of the first crucial steps is thinking about and planning your “exit strategy.”  At first, it may sound like a plan for the worst-case scenario where the start-up biotech doesn’t succeed, but it’s quite the opposite.  If everything goes well and the start-up grows into a large self-sustaining company, the VC investors need a plan to one of three things: allow the company to be independent, sell the company to a larger company, or form an alliance that becomes a partial exit.  However, more important than the choice in strategy for the VC is the planning and execution of the strategy.  Mr. Klausner and Dr. Wolf agreed that the start-up companies should have ideas for an exit strategy when investors ask questions about it in later stages, but it’s not a main focus for the start-up.  The start-up will focus on growth and decreasing investment risk and the VC firm will learn enough about the company to ensure they are making a good investment.  The goal is to make a synergistic relationship that can benefit everyone involved.

Transitioning from Academia to Industry

The panelists were broadly asked aboutthe transition from being grad student or postdoc to working in industry.  Mr. Klausner and Dr. Wolf discussed their personal experiences, but they understood the transition is not for everyone.  Whether or not to take the leap away from academia isn’t straight forward, like most things in life.  Still Arthur Klausner provided a general guideline to help with that decision.  He suggested asking yourself: Do you want to be constantly learning?  Or do you want to be the expert in the room?  On the one hand, constant learning can feed a natural curiosity to understand a broad range of topics.  On the other hand, it might be fulfilling or exciting to use your expertise to help others with your in-depth knowledge of one topic.  The two panelists’ transitions to industry actually support the fact that you will likely experience both the “learner” and the “expert” states in your career regardless of your path.  After academia, Mr. Klausner, like most, was in a “learner” state as he entered the world of industry but held some “expert” positions along the way.  In contrast, Dr. Wolf left academia exuding confidence in her “expert state,” but found herself humbled in her current position. The communication style changed (see triangle photo below), and the experts were largely unknown to her, but she enjoys the challenge.  Career panel discussions are a great way to understand how there is no “one size fits all” in a career path, and you have to experiment along your journey to find what you most enjoy doing.

Science Communication in Industry

In academia, reliable information and the newest advancements in the field come from peer-reviewed articles in journals.  In the biotech business world, there has been a shift to platforms frequented by and accessible to customers.  So, where do the science communicator and biotech CEO look for updates?  Predominantly social media and email newsletters.  Dr. Wolf explained that Twitter is vital for keeping up with the latest science and having active discussions about the research, provided you follow scientists you can trust.  And even when the scientist is trusted, Mr. Klasuner reminded everyone to always check their cited sources because, in the end, leading scientists are still people who can make mistakes.  If you’re interested in keeping up with your field, you can check Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.  If you want to know what’s happening outside your field, you can subscribe to an email newsletter that provides a broad selection of articles.  A large part of science business roles is communicating with people from various backgrounds, and staying updated on current events and publications can prove to be an invaluable asset.

If you’re interested in getting into science communication to any degree, it’s important to find opportunities to practice writing.  Knowledge of a specific topic studied during a Ph.D. won’t usually help you.  Still, if you can take that knowledge and learn how to communicate outside of academia, you can apply it wherever you like.  Dr. Wolf suggested learning a writing style for the platforms you most often use, e.g., write blogs if you enjoy reading blogs!    

Photo is taken from: https://www.aaas.org/resources/communication-toolkit, which the coalition adapted from Nancy Baron’s  Escape from the Ivory Tower. It describes the different communication styles of researchers and the public.  Information needs to be described starting from the top and working to the bottom.  You can explore the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) site for other writing tips, programs, workshops, and social media links.

Wherever you end up writing, it’s important to keep your audience in mindArguably, most communication is about trying to get others to understand why they should care.

Wherever you end up writing, it’s important to keep your audience in mind.  Academics in your field want to see all supporting details and more.  Academics outside your field need some background and still want supporting details.  The public or business people outside your field will actually need the most background, but want a version that will lead them immediately to why they should care.  Arguably, most communication is about trying to get others to understand why they should care.  The triangle diagram above is just an outline of each extreme on a hypothetical scale of communication methods. It is most likely that you will need to adapt a combination of the two triangles that will properly introduce the topic, but keep everyone’s eyes on the prize, which should be your main take away from your talk or article or presentation.

This blog article merely scratches the surface of careers you can find in the field of biotechnology.  If you’re interested in being part of it, especially if you’re unsure, take some time to think about what biotechnology really is and discuss it with your friends or colleagues.  Is it technology that incorporates nature? Or nature that incorporates technology?  Is it contained to one particular STEM field?  Does biotechnology refer to tools, methods, or practices?  This thought exercise just might help you find a new passion. 

What really is biotechnology?  Is it technology that incorporates nature? Or nature that incorporates technology?

Last-Minute Tips!

The ones who like writings…

  • Practice actually writing – it’s hard to take ideas and bring them to a conclusion, so practice!
  • Promote your work on social media – a valuable tool!
  • Get experience as a professional editor!

The ones who want to pump up their resume…

  • Volunteer as a scientist to teach students, e.g., Genspace, a community biology lab where people learn and work on biotechnology.
  • Depending on your knowledge and interest – volunteer at a museum!

For everyone…

  • Use the Mixmax software to apply to jobs when there are over 30 people to email – can upload your CSV and track emails.  Otherwise, copy-pasting an email with a great two-line introduction works much better. 
  • Face-to-face networking is so valuable.  It might not be doable during a pandemic, but the effort is key.  When not in a pandemic – nothing compares to getting to know people over a drink and good conversation.
  • Remember their name! Use whatever weird trick you can to keep it in your head later.

This article was edited by Junior Editor Janaina Cruz Pereira and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.

It’s not just you: Impostor syndrome in academia

By Helena Mello

When I was finishing high school, I had to pass a University Admission Exam in order to start college. I come from Brazil, where universities accept students based on how well they score on the exam compared to everyone else applying for the same major. It is not easy to pass on the first attempt, especially if many people compete for it. At age 16, I applied for the biology major. It was a subject I enjoyed studying in high school and it was not a college major competitively sought after by many exam applicants. To my absolute surprise, I passed and started college at 17 years old.

I worried that people would find out that I wasn’t as invested in biology as they were – after all, I had never dreamt of being a scientist! I spent many years in college with the constant fear that my more qualified, smarter peers would uncover my unpreparedness. Right after starting the Ph.D., the same feeling surfaced. Thoughts as “When are they going to find out that I haven’t really thought about being a scientist until I started college?”; “How long until they say there was a mistake and that I was wrongfully accepted into the program?” would come to my mind every day. It wasn’t until I started therapy in my third year of the Ph.D. that I was introduced to the concept of impostor syndrome.

First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, Ph.D. and Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D. in the 1970s, impostor syndrome (or impostor phenomenon) occurs among those “who are unable to internalize and accept their success”, according to this article by the American Psychological Association. As an exercise, my therapist asked me to list the objective reasons why my peers deserved to be in the program and I didn’t. She asked me to concretely identify why I didn’t think I could be a terrific scientist even though I hadn’t planned to become one. Why would people say nice things about my work and professionalism if they really didn’t believe in it? No, they were not saying it just because I am nice. I started to understand that my thoughts were not rational: I am not faking my abilities; I am qualified, and I possess skills that have brought me where I am.

In academia, we are surrounded by highly accomplished individuals. People who have spent years deciphering important aspects of life and have made groundbreaking contributions to the world as we understand it today. It is absolutely expected that we feel overwhelmed in this environment. It may help to remember that they were also juniors some time ago. Most of them will relate to your discomfort and guide you to realize that you are exactly where you are supposed to be: in a place to learn and develop professionally. Although these senior researchers have gone through most of their academic training, they also face impostor fears from time to time. Professionals in transition stages (from Ph.D. to postdoc to faculty, from academia to industry, for example) tend to experience these fears as well.

Impostor symptoms range from avoiding questions in meetings (“this would be a dumb thing to ask”) to thinking you got where you are by being lucky and not seeing the worthiness of contributions. Regardless of how many times your peers and supervisors say you are important to the team and your contributions are relevant, you simply cannot see the value of it – and you firmly believe they only say that because they like you. To address that at an individual level, there is no better approach than therapy. Specialized therapy will help you unravel your own reasons for not being able to see your worth. If you are a student at Rutgers University, you are eligible for the Student Wellness Program, where you can find specialized counseling free of charge. You may also be able to attend therapy sessions through your health insurance provider.

However, at a community level, we can take a few action steps to lessen the burden of these fears collectively. First, we should acknowledge that most of us have impostor fears: sharing our thoughts and experiences with peers and people we trust will put things in perspective. Second, we should promote an environment that is diverse and inclusive for everyone. Many individuals face impostor fears because of lack of representation – i.e., they don’t share an identity with other members of a given group. This is especially true for minorities and needs to be addressed institutionally. For instance, departments, workgroups, and classrooms should strive to build an environment where everyone feels safe and welcome. Third, peer mentoring programs are great tools to welcome new members to the team. It will show them that their presence is valued, and their contributions are taken into account.

In order to deal with my impostor’s fears, I have been more open about it (for example by writing this piece!), and I have started to assess my accomplishments more rationally. If I feel discouraged in the lab, I look back at my old notebooks, and I realize how much I have grown as a researcher in the past five years. Likewise, I compare old and new posters to see how far my thesis research has come. When this bigger picture approach doesn’t do the trick, I get more specific: I look at microscope images from three years ago and compare them to my latest ones, and quickly realize that I have come a long way in this particular technique. I also like to identify activities that I know I am good at. Take cell culture, for example: I know how to take proper care of cells, I can quickly learn new cell-based experiments, and I rarely have contamination issues. This reminds me that I am skilled in the lab; therefore, there is a reason why I was chosen to be there.

Finally, remember all the steps you went through: graduate program interviews, interviews with PIs, CV evaluation, and much more. In each step, there were qualified individuals who evaluated you and concluded that you have what it takes to be where you are. They also did the same thing to your peers – whom you tend to think are far better than you. How do you rationalize that they did a good job by hiring your peers but made a mistake by hiring you?

I don’t intend to lecture you how to completely overcome impostor fear, or how to shut this inner voice (because I haven’t learned that yet, either). I do want you to understand that most of us experience it, though, and that everyone has a different underlying reason for it to surface. It might be insecurity, low self-esteem, perfectionism, fear of judgement, or other reasons. I just want you to know that this is perfectly common and talking about it is a great first step to make you feel better about yourself. If you’d like to talk about it but are unsure of where to start, you can reach out to me on our blog’s twitter page. I will be happy to chat with you. I hope you enjoyed this article and that it has helped you in some way!

This article was edited by Junior Editor Janaina Cruz Pereira and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.

iJobs Virtual Career Panel: Careers at the NIH

By: Gina Sanchez

Pursuing a job opportunity at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can appear ambitious, especially as competition for federal funding and resources increases every year. In this iJOBS virtual career panel, iJOBS trainees were able to meet with four current NIH employees to discuss various career opportunities at the NIH, how to effectively apply for these jobs, and overall biomedical science career advice.

Aerial view of the NIH

Dr. Leia Novak is a program officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH. Prior to this, she had received her PhD from Rutgers University and originally did not wish to pursue post-doctoral work. However, during her research into potential jobs, she came to realize that in both academic and non-academic careers, a post doc is required for you to be a competitive applicant. Therefore, she decided to complete her first post doc with the NIH at the National Cancer Institute and her second at the Federal Drug Administration. Dr. Novak eventually became a Program Manager for the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute focusing on HIV/AIDS. In this position, she developed funding opportunity announcements while leading a team that prioritized and recommended grants for funding. Additionally, she analyzed portfolios, attended conferences, and coordinated seminars/workshops to raise awareness in HIV-related research. Currently as an NIH program officer, Dr. Novak is highly involved in grant-related activities including managing and attending grant review meetings, presenting grant applications, and developing funding opportunity announcements.

NIH panelist Dr. Caroline Pantazis is a scientific project manager at the NIH within the Center for Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias. In her role, she “manages large, multi-laboratory projects . . . to develop therapeutic strategies.” Like Dr. Novak, Dr. Pantazis also earned her PhD from Rutgers and knew that she was ready to leave the bench. During her post-doctoral work, she realized that she wanted to play a more supportive role in research. Dr. Pantazis is a contracted employee hired through a third-party agency. She noted that becoming a contracted employee in the NIH is a faster process than applying directly but provides less job security than a regular full-time employee.

            Dr. Ashlee Van’t Veer is a Director in the Office of Research Training and Career Development in the Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science at the NIH. She told us that in her role, she “supports research training at the pre-doctoral, post-doctoral, and early-stage investigator levels to ensure that . . . highly-trained research investigators will be able to address basic research questions.” She believes that regardless of your intended path, a post doc is beneficial. In her division, program officers work with grantees prior to and upon submission, as well as during resubmission seeing as they monitor the award progress. They also make funding recommendations. Program officers can additionally foster initiatives that they develop, drawing attention to specific niches. As Dr. Novak mentioned, program officers here also plan meetings and workshops to bring the community and experts together. While doing all of this, they maintain their own scientific expertise by staying abreast of active research in the field by reading grants and papers as well as attending meetings.

Dr. Hugo Tejeda is a Stadtman Investigator in the Unit on Neuromodulation and Synaptic Integration at the National Institute of Mental Health within the NIH. Similar to a PI in an academic institute, he helps trainees develop their careers. However, Dr. Tejeda does not do formal lecturing. He did note that many people in his role at the NIH have adjunct teaching roles at nearby universities, so formal lecturing is still an option. He also advised that graduate students start looking for a potential post doc mentor approximately 1.5-2 years from completing their PhD. The sooner you start communicating with mentors, the more likely they are to remember and potentially hire you.


Dr. Van’t Veer made an important point: the responsibilities for the same title vary between programs within the NIH.


During the Q&A session, attendees had many questions for the panelists. One of the first questions was regarding the potential to develop skills that would facilitate a smooth transition to the NIH. Dr. Novak discussed that there are many opportunities at the NIH to develop skills, including the ability to shadow someone in your position of interest. Dr. Tejeda also shared with attendees that desirable skillsets go beyond benchwork to include interpersonal communication, effective time management, organization, and critical problem solving. Dr. Pantazis also stressed the importance of developing communication skills regardless of your intended career path in science. It is critical, even outside of academia, to foster various communication skills – written, oral, or anywhere between. There are many opportunities for this at Rutgers that we should be taking advantage of such as elective classes, writing for the iJOBS blog, or joining Science Policy and Advocacy Rutgers (SPAR).

The application process was also a common theme throughout the event. Dr. Van’t Veer told attendees that she had applied for a position different from the one she had interviewed for. Essentially, anyone that is hiring within the NIH can look at applications once the applicant has passed through HR . She noted that for a program director position, a post doc may not suffice, and that R01-level funding may also be needed. Dr. Van’t Veer recommended doing informational interviews when you still have sufficient time left in your current position, as this will lower the stakes and prevent it from becoming a job interview. She explained that it is hard to know what happens in a position without doing it, which is why informational interviews are very helpful tools. As for the job interview itself, Dr. Novak emphasized that we should not be shy! We need to interview the interviewer as much as they need to interview us. It is essential to ask your questions, but also to talk to other lab members – current and past. This is how you will gain a more honest insight into the lab as well as where you can go after it. A tool that she advised using is NIH Reporter, which allows you to see what kind of funding the lab currently has. Finally, she advised looking into the publication record of your potential PI to ensure that you will be able to successfully progress through your career.

The panel concluded with a series of comparisons between a research job at the NIH vs academia. In terms of getting a post doc position, Dr. Pantazis told us that the process was very similar between each environment: reach out to a potential mentor and demonstrate that you have done solid and productive work in graduate school. Dr. Novak noted that the PIs do not apply for grants at the NIH. They are restricted to the number of students, post docs, etc., that they can have based on the total sum of funds that they are allocated, which is why it’s good to reach out early. Dr. Tejeda also spoke about his role as a PI at the NIH. He explained that the main source of tenure-track positions at the NIH come from Stadtman or Lasker applicants. For Stadtman, basic scientists across biological disciplines apply and meet with various NIH institutes. During this meeting, individuals and NIH institutions go through a match process where both parties rank each other. Once a list of finalists is generated, anyone on that list can be hired by the NIH institutes. Lasker applicants have a process more similar to academia. Here, applicants generate a statement of research of their vision for their independent program, their vision for teaching, how do they see themselves integrating into the NIH, and why their research belongs in the NIH. While research at the NIH is similar to academia, there are some differences that must be kept in mind.


Before ending, Dr. Van’t Veer and Dr. Novak wanted to make sure that we connect with our program officers! Talk to them when you have ideas at any point during the grant process. They are involved in the application and overall funding process, so use them to your advantage.

Overall, there are many types of jobs at the NIH to consider. It is a prestigious workplace with many opportunities to take advantage of.


This article was edited by Junior Editor Zachary Fritz and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.

From Mice to Databases: Health Economics and Outcomes Research

By: Keyaara M. Robinson

Many STEM Ph.D. students may be wondering how they can translate their lab bench skills into a career outside of academia. The good news is that our knowledge of the scientific method is valuable both in solving complex problems both in the lab and in a career in Health Economics and Outcomes Research. If you would like to learn more about this exciting field, keep reading!

On September 20th, the Rutgers iJOBS program hosted a unique simulation exploring the Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) career field. iJOBS simulations provide participants with the opportunity to experience what it’s like to work in the specific field that is being presented, in this case: HEOR. HEOR is a growing field within the pharmaceutical industry that functions to strategically develop plans to ensure that patients are prescribed the best drug therapy for their disease. The speaker for this event, Dr. Dharm Patel, provided participants with a plethora of information about the exponentially growing field.  Furthermore, participants were able to complete hands-on activities to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day projects that one would undertake in an HEOR role.

The event began with a brief introduction to the speaker, where participants learned about Dr. Patel’s past and present experience in the HEOR field. Dr. Dharm Patel began his scientific career studying biology at Monmouth University where he received his BS. Like many of you reading this blog, Dr. Patel completed his Ph.D. training at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and was a fellow in the Biotechnology Training Program. He earned his Ph.D. in Molecular Biosciences with a focus in Biochemistry in the lab of Dr. Samuel Bunting. While pursuing his Ph.D., he also obtained a certificate in Pharmaceutical and Clinical Trial Management from Rutgers University-New Brunswick and was part of the first iJOBS trainee class. Dr. Patel began his professional career at LEO Pharma where he supported LEO’s psoriasis portfolio as a Manager in Scientific Affairs. He later transitioned into Health Economics and Outcomes Research as a Senior Manager, where he supported the immuno-dermatology portfolio at LEO Pharma. In this role, he was responsible for executing pre-launch HEOR activities for LEO’s first biologic to treat atopic dermatitis, tralokinumab. Dr. Patel has since joined GlaxoSmithKline as Director of Global Value, Evidence & Outcomes-Specialty.

 What is HEOR?

Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) is a quickly growing field within the pharmaceutical industry that functions to ensure that patients receive the best possible treatment for their conditions. As with many roles within the pharmaceutical industry, the HEOR team works collaboratively with a variety of functional groups. They are part of the Brand/Asset Team which consists of different functions including Medical Affairs, Marketing, Regulatory Affairs, Sales, Finance, Market Access, and Legal & Compliance. The HEOR team is primarily on the business side of pharma, but remains a scientific discipline in which one works with large databases and data structures to answer questions about physician treatment patterns, and whether the prescribed treatment will provide each patient with the best possible chance for success. Additionally, members of the HEOR team research a patient’s treatment history to determine whether they are receiving the best, most cost-effective treatment for their illness. To relate this to Ph.D. students, Dr. Patel provided an example of his own experience: As a student researcher, he worked with animal models to understand a specific disease. In his role on the HEOR team, he uses databases instead of mice to obtain answers, but the process of applying the scientific method to solve problems is the same. Instead of researching at a bench, team members are using published scientific results to support the strategies necessary to launch pharmaceutical products.

https://hitconsultant.net/2017/05/30/evidence-based-medicine-adoption/

The Brand/Asset team begins its work in Phase IIB of the pharmaceutical development process. Members collaborate with the R&D and clinical development teams to gain critical clinical information about the drug product, its mechanism of action, and any information on the disease that can educate and enable physicians to properly prescribe the product.  The goal is to ensure that the product in question is being prescribed to patients who will have the most successful therapeutic outcomes. Once the product reaches Phase III, there is a “significant cross-functional collaboration” between the business and science teams to get the drug from Phase III to product launch. During this time, the HEOR team is responsible for gathering clinical evidence (i.e patient outcomes, patient quality of life) and developing strategies to communicate this scientific evidence to a diverse group called key customer segments, which include:

  • Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) – Experts in the field who educate doctors at conferences and congresses.
  • Healthcare providers – Doctors, clinicians, etc.
  • Health system – Hospitals, insurance coverage holders
  • Regulatory agencies – US FDA, European EMA
  • Payers and PBMs- Organizations that pay for therapy
  • Patients and patient advocacy groups – The most important groups in pharmaceutical development. Those receiving treatment and advocating for patients’ treatment.

Each key customer segment has a unique role in the process of getting a product from initial filing with the regulatory agency, to reaching the patients. Moreover, the HEOR team works strategically with the key customer segments at every step to make all of this possible.

To gain a better understanding of this unique field and get a feel for the type of projects undertaken in the role, participants were able to work on case studies based on real-life scenarios. As an example, one task was to convince a national payer to cover the cost of a drug so that patients could receive that specific therapy when it’s prescribed, instead of an alternative. To do this, participants were to develop a Value Proposition, or (a case for why one drug therapy should be used over another), in the treatment of severe asthma To develop their Value Proposition, participants were provided with literature containing Phase III data so that they could record the patient’s unmet need along with the drug’s mechanism of action, efficacy, safety, and costs associated with the therapy. Additionally, participants had to identify the weaknesses of the Value Proposition, i.e. areas where there was no evidence to support aspects of the Value Proposition, and figure out how to generate evidence to support the use of the therapy. In the end, participants developed a Value Proposition that successfully convinced the organization to pay for the therapy.

 How do you move beyond the bench?

So, you’ve gained a better understanding of what HEOR entails and are ready to take the next steps to transition into this career field. Here is what you need to know:

There are many pathways that one can take to secure a position in the field of HEOR. Dr. Patel provided some examples including training in epidemiology, health economics, and statistics, supporting HEOR from another role within a company, or obtaining a PharmD. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, all hope isn’t lost.

Dr. Patel provided some general career advice for breaking into HEOR:

To set yourself apart from other candidates, he stressed the importance of being familiar with the professional terminology and knowing how to apply it during interviews. Additionally, obtaining an internship in the industry before graduation, demonstrating that you are capable of learning new things, as well as being inquisitive and hard-working are all valuable skills. Dr. Patel also stated that once you are in an organization, that it is important to continue to work hard, build meaningful connections, and seek out mentorship—all of which will help with career advancement.

HEOR is a very accessible career field for STEM Ph.D. trainees; after all, we already have a major component of what it takes to work in HEOR: the ability to solve complex problems using the scientific method! All in all, this event showcased another career option for the STEM Ph.D.: how to break into the exciting field of HEOR!

References:

https://www.ispor.org/heor-resources/about-heor

This article was edited by Junior Editor Natalie Losada and Senior Editor Brianna Alexander.