iJOBS Networking Event: Students, Postdocs and Alumni

emilynetworkingpicOn the evening of September 12, a casual event between students, post docs, and alumni was held in the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Research Tower at the Bush/Piscataway campus. As a second-year Ph.D. student, this event caught my attention because it was a great opportunity for me to network with other students, ask for advice, and hear about their experiences during graduate school. On the other hand, I was unsure of attending the event because I’m shy and talking to new people is difficult sometimes. Thankfully, this was a stress-free event where everyone shared snacks and drinks while discussing their graduate school experiences. Throughout the event, I spoke with Rutgers alumni about the opportunities that are available to Ph.D students, for example internships, shadowing experiences, and job options after graduate school.

I spoke with two alumni who participated in numerous iJOBS events and were also part of the iJOBs blog during their time at Rutgers. I first spoke with Dr. Dharm Patel, who graduated from the Biochemistry program and now works at Leo Pharma in medical affairs. I also spoke with Dr. Itzamarie Chévere, who did her PhD and post-doc at Rutgers and participated in the iJOBS Phase 1 while also blogging for the iJOBs blog. Dr. Chévere is currently the Associate Director at the Rutgers University Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. Drs. Patel and Chévere both agreed on “how important it is for students to take advantage of networking events and fully participate in them They emphasized that their events are a great opportunity to make new connections that could one day help us during our career paths. Indeed, the iJobs blog itself has shown how important networking is to career advancement.

Keeping an open mind about new opportunities is also important. They both mentioned that sometimes we “know” what we want to do, but there are always unknown areas that could become the one thing that we could develop passion for. Dr. Patel noted, “We need to learn what we are good at, what we like, and what we are passionate about in order to start building a path for our careers.” Attending iJOBS events provide us with the opportunity to explore areas that might be completely unknown to us. Most of us (including myself) have only known academic research and have never been exposed to research in pharmacological, biomedical, or biotechnological companies. Drs. Patel and Chévere both agreed that learning more about the biomedical and biopharma industries would help give a better idea of what career paths we like and what we could do after graduate school.

Another important piece of advice was the need to have good communication skills. An iJOBs networking event is the perfect opportunity to improve your communication skills. For someone like me, these types of events push me to talk to others about my research and to also listen to what others have to say about their experiences in graduate school with lab work and internships. It is also a good idea to check out our networking etiquette tips.

My experience at this event was a positive one. I learned that those who have been successful were once in my shoes. My advice to everyone would be to take advantage of the iJOBS events because you will never know what type of opportunities could be there for you.

iJOBs Networking Event: Students, Postdocs and Alumni

On the evening of September 12, a casual event between students, post docs, and alumni was held in the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Research Tower at the Bush/Piscataway campus. As a second-year Ph.D. student, this event caught my attention because it was a great opportunity for me to network with other students, ask for advice, and hear about their experiences during graduate school. On the other hand, I was unsure of attending the event because I’m shy and talking to new people is difficult sometimes. Thankfully, this was a stress-free event where everyone shared snacks and drinks while discussing their graduate school experiences. Throughout the event, I spoke with Rutgers alumni about the opportunities that are available to Ph.D students, for example internships, shadowing experiences, and job options after graduate school.

I spoke with two alumni who participated in numerous iJOBS events and were also part of the iJOBs blog during their time at Rutgers. I first spoke with Dr. Dharm Patel, who graduated from the Biochemistry program and now works at Leo Pharma in medical affairs. I also spoke with Dr. Itzamarie Chévere, who did her PhD and post-doc at Rutgers and participated in the iJOBS Phase 1 while also blogging for the iJOBs blog. Dr. Chévere is currently the Associate Director at the Rutgers University Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. Drs. Patel and Chévere both agreed on “how important it is for students to take advantage of networking events and fully participate in them They emphasized that their events are a great opportunity to make new connections that could one day help us during our career paths. Indeed, the iJobs blog itself has shown how important networking is to career advancement.

Keeping an open mind about new opportunities is also important. They both mentioned that sometimes we “know” what we want to do, but there are always unknown areas that could become the one thing that we could develop passion for. Dr. Patel noted, “We need to learn what we are good at, what we like, and what we are passionate about in order to start building a path for our careers.” Attending iJOBS events provide us with the opportunity to explore areas that might be completely unknown to us. Most of us (including myself) have only known academic research and have never been exposed to research in pharmacological, biomedical, or biotechnological companies. Drs. Patel and Chévere both agreed that learning more about the biomedical and biopharma industries would help give a better idea of what career paths we like and what we could do after graduate school.

Another important piece of advice was the need to have good communication skills. An iJOBs networking event is the perfect opportunity to improve your communication skills. For someone like me, these types of events push me to talk to others about my research and to also listen to what others have to say about their experiences in graduate school with lab work and internships. It is also a good idea to check out our networking etiquette tips.

My experience at this event was a positive one. I learned that those who have been successful were once in my shoes. My advice to everyone would be to take advantage of the iJOBS events because you will never know what type of opportunities could be there for you.

 

How to Overcome Common Career Challenges

The newly established Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, in association with Rutgers iJOBs, recently held a workshop titled ‘How to Overcome Common Career Challenges’. This workshop was conducted by Dr. Thomas Magaldi who serves as the Manager of Career & Professional Development at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Identifying the graduate and post-doctoral training experiences as ‘training in humility’, Dr. Magaldi started off by recounting his own experiences in graduate school and subsequent post-doctoral training. He recalls that he got training throughout this period that he did not value: he attributes this as not a unique but extremely common symptom that plagues the graduate student population and even lingers during post-doctoral training phases.  Upon prompting, the crowd identified some common challenges they confront daily: insecurity of future prospects, transitioning into the next career stage, feeling ‘over educated but under experienced’, dealing with a challenging advisor, funding crunches and so on. In addition to these structural issues, internal ones such as uncertainty, rejection and competition weigh down students and post-docs the most. Dr. Magaldi stressed that the key to these problems is to identify these challenges and reach out to the community of scholars for help. He listed the common challenges faced in graduate school and beyond and suggested some remedies to alleviate them.wordle
First is, ‘loosing heart’: a steady decrease in passion for research. He suggested getting out from your own lab and taking an interest  in research outside your own arena. Listening to science commentaries on Radiolab and NPR can go a long way in peaking your interest in science again.

Second is ‘learned helplessness’: failing to step outside one’s comfort zone and hence, inevitably failing to grow. He strongly encourages applying for fellowships, which not only ensures independent funding, but goes a long way in building your confidence and encourages original thinking. He also suggested short-term internships like those available in the Rutgers Office of Research and Economic Development to learn about the emerging trends in various disciplines. This can be instrumental in renewing your vigor for science.

Third is the classic ‘imposter syndrome: a sense of distorted reality that makes one believe that they do not belong to the elite community of scholars that they are a part of.  On his probing, 95% of the crowd present at the workshop confessed that they have experienced imposter syndrome at some point of time. Unfortunately, imposter syndrome can have a lingering effect on one’s career, Dr. Magaldi cautioned. The solution? Accept praise and celebrate your small and big accomplishments. If the situation escalates, it is best to reach out for peer counseling or professional help. Several such resources are available and widely used at Rutgers: Rutgers Student Wellness Program, Rutgers Work/Life balance, Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, Rutgers Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Rutgers CAPS program to name a few. Practicing mindfulness through yoga sessions or by using apps like Headspace, Calm etc. can also prove useful.
Fourth on his list of common graduate school downfalls is being envious of your peers: the constant feeling that others around you are doing better than you are. The quite famous Stanford duck syndrome  talks about how it may seem that some ducks in a pool are peacefully swimming around, but underneath the water surface they are paddling vigorously to stay afloat.  Being a victim of such syndrome can weigh you down greatly, potentially leading you into depression. It is crucial in these moments, to think of the perks of being in graduate school. It might be prudent to gently remind yourself that in choosing to become a scholar you have committed yourself to lifelong learning. You have been trained to problem solve, which makes you extremely marketable in the long run.

Active participation in career development endeavors can make you aware of the possibilities to take the next leap in your career. Volunteering at various science organizations, be it here at Rutgers or organizations like the New York Academy of Sciences, American Chemical Society (ACS), American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) etc. can not only bolster your confidence, but also go a long way in giving back to the community as a scientist. I especially enjoyed Dr. Magaldi’s simple yet accurate presentation during the event and will try to keep it in mind his advice as I brace for yet another year in graduate school.

Adapt to Succeed!

By Tomas Kasza

How do doctoral recipients adapt their career interests and career searching techniques to pursue careers outside academic pathways? As a growing percentage of doctoral recipients enter non-academic careers, understanding how they choose or investigate those careers has become more important. In the article The New Normal: Adapting Doctoral Trainee Career Preparation for Broad Career Paths in Science the authors use the Social Cognitive Career Theory, which states that, “an individual’s career choice stems from their background (demographics, family education, etc.), as well as from their learning experiences, which in turn drive their self-efficacy and career outcome expectations.” A doctoral recipient’s effectiveness in investigating new careers and acquiring the needed skills for those careers is termed career search efficacy.

Most people assume that more institutional support for non-academic careers would result in better career outcomes, but does it actually improve the effectiveness of a student’s career search? Interestingly, career search efficacy determined the effectiveness of an advisor’s and graduate program’s support as well as the type of career development strategies those doctoral recipients pursued for a non-academic career. However, if a recipient perceived low levels of support from their advisors and program then this could result in a reduced career search efficacy and therefore limit their career options. In this sense, institutional support for doctoral recipients interested in non-academic careers is essential for higher career search efficacy to occur. With a lack of institutional support, a doctoral recipient could end up spending more time career-searching and acquiring necessary skills. Alternatively, doctoral recipients may end up lowering career expectations or missing out on great non-academic career fits entirely.

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If you feel that your program and institution are not giving you the support you need to identify non-academic careers you should check out these resources to improve your career search efficacy:

Some universities have addressed this problem by introducing programs that assist doctoral students and recipients in their career searches. iJOBS (Interdisciplinary Job Opportunities in the Biomedical Sciences) is a Rutger’s program funded by the NIH’S BEST (Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training) grant. iJOBS was established “To help PhDs discover these non-academic areas of opportunity and to provide the required training so that they are better prepared to work in the professional environment.” iJOBS holds a number of informative seminars that help students learn in-depth knowledge about diverse careers. Additionally, iJOBS runs programs for students interested in developing skills that are needed for non-academic jobs, such as the SciPhD. The iJOBS blog contains numerous resources investigating many different non-academic careers so be sure to check out our blog posts!

US Job Search for International Students: Focus on Informational Interviews

Bench Skills to the Rescue: How Skills Learned on the Bench Aid in Non-academic Career Paths, An Article Review

iJOBS, an overview of the iJOBS program and its services

The AAAS Individual Development Plan is a great tool to explore non-academic careers and for finding a career fit that matches your skill set and personal preferences. You will have to set up an account to access the resources.

Bitesizebio.com; contains several articles and blogposts that can bridge the gap between bench science and soft skills like networking

Communication Tips for Non-Native English Speakers

By Jennifer Casiano

Communication

Many of us are or know someone whose first language is not English. Some of us they are. As a non-native English speaker myself, my main piece of advice is to not underestimate yourself and be confident that with practice you will get better. When someone asks me why I volunteered for the iJOBS Blog, or for anything communication-related, I always say it is because I want to improve. I have put together several tips here that can help you improve your oral and written communication skills in ways that you may never have thought before!

Don’t be afraid

Talking in public and meeting new people can be intimidating at first. Be confident that you have the knowledge and the skills to do so and practice ways to improve your vocabulary and writing skills with friends and partners. Practice makes perfect, yet, without mistakes, there is no progress towards that perfection. You need to test your capabilities even if that means making mistakes in the beginning.

Read guidelines, journals or books

Not so long ago I bought the book Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English by Hilary Gasman-Deal. This book is helping me increase my vocabulary and have given me guidelines on how to write a scientific piece. In addition, you should read books, magazines, reports and anything that you feel will help you to expand your vocabulary.

Join a blog or a journal club

In a blog, you can share your thoughts, pieces, and opinions with peers that can give you feedback on the documents. You should even consider joining the iJOBs blog! In addition, joining a journal club will improve your scientific vocabulary and communication skills. Writing a piece daily or weekly will give you the practice you need!

Be open to feedback

Every time you have the chance to volunteer for a presentation- do it! Be sure to take advantage of the opportunity and ask your peers for feedback. You can always ask a native English speaker to review your work, listen or just practice with you. Maybe you can teach them your mother language too.

Find speakers or writers you like

Having someone to follow can be very inspirational. Recognizing how they pronounce the words, build their sentences or engage the public can help you a lot.

Don’t be embarrassed of your accent

Researchers from the University of Washington found out that accents are determined by those first few months in our lives and that babies failed to notice sounds that are not on their mother’s tongue and that is how an accent is created. Our first words alter our phonetic perception and our pronunciation (see article here).

An accent is part of us and it is not something to be ashamed of. Many professors at top universities have strong accents because the university cares more about their brilliance than about how they pronounce certain words. When meeting new people, you should be yourself and embrace your accent.  Speaking slowly can also help others understand you. Sometimes we rush into an idea instead of speaking slowly. Slowing down can ultimately help with pronunciation and in realizing a mistake before you make it.

Remember that improving and optimizing your communication skills takes the guts to accept constructive criticism, the courage to rewrite a piece several times and the initiative to practice speaking with others. There is nothing to be afraid of, especially when you are doing it to get better. I am sure that you have the potential to achieve your goal of becoming an effective scientist and communicator! 

English Learning Resources

Books

Science Research Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English. by Hilary Glasman-Deal

Quizzes, Practice, and others 

https://www.usingenglish.com/

Pronunciation Podcasts like “Grammar Girl”.

Rutgers Writing Coaching

https://rlc.rutgers.edu/student-info/group-and-individual-academic-support/writing-coaching

Communications and Marketing Department

https://ucm.rutgers.edu/print/tips-writing-editing-proofreading

 

Required Reading for Young Scientists Trying to Make it in the World

The academic year is closely approaching. For some of us, that means a return to filling young minds with new ideas.. Those who are still in the early years of graduate school must return to classes of their own. For the older students, it is a mere marking of time. Regardless of where you are in your journey, an outside perspective may be just what you need to make the most of this year.

Here, I provide a selection of books that have been personally recommended by professors at Rutgers and my peers in other programs or careers, and my own reading. These books are particularly useful for those interested in Science Communication, Science Writing, or Policy. We frequently discuss transferrable skills here on the blog, and writing is a big one! All of these authors serve as proof of that.

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Let’s just get through grad school first…

First up: the swath of advice books at your reach. I have chosen books both old and new, as truly good advice can be timeless. The oldest one is from 1897 and is written by Santiago Ramon y Cajal. For the non-neuroscientists in the room, Ramon y Cajal is the father of modern neuroscience. Learning from Cajal is something we can all do with his book, Advice for a Young Investigator; its original title in Spanish is, Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigación Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad, which translates into: Rules and Advice About Scientific Research: The Shades of Motivation. Luckily for us, these shades of motivation are not nebulous and Cajal was quite funny when detailing personality types of scientists. Here is an excerpt in which he discusses one of his “Diseases of the Will,” the bibliophile and polyglot:

The symptoms of this disease include encyclopedic tendencies; the mastery of numerous languages, some totally useless; exclusive subscription to highly specialized journals; the acquisition of all the latest books to appear in the bookseller’s showcases; assiduous reading of everything that is important to know, especially when it interests very few; unconquerable laziness where writing is concerned; and an aversion to the seminar and laboratory. Naturally, our bookworm lives in and for his library, which is monumental and overflowing.

Eccentric personality quirks is something that one of our own bloggers, Paulina Krzyszczyk, picks up on in her recent post about common lab pet peeves. Cajal also details classic bias traps and how to do the work of science.

In a similar vein, and even title, Dr. Peter Medawar is known as the father of tissue transplantation. He completed ground-breaking research on immune tolerance that earned him a Nobel prize in 1960. In addition to his academic legacy, Medawar left behind a tome of advice aptly called, Advice to a Young Scientist. This book is known for insightful advice on manuscript writing.

While being productive and doing the work of science is important and fairly straight-forward, sometimes the ‘how” of it is more of a mystery. Dr. William I.B. Beveridge provides us with, The Art of Scientific Investigation, and gives us insight into the thought patterns of scientists. Though guided by the all-powerful hand of the Scientific Method, scientists rely on a fair amount of “educated” intuition to get by. Written in 1949, this book discusses the mental strategies that scientists actually use to make discoveries. Despite its age, this book comes widely recommended to grad students.

As good as some of these great older books are, the scientific landscape has changed drastically and will likely continue changing. For example, current projections suggest that less than 10% of all biology PhDs will land themselves in a tenure-track position. Universities are encouraged to help their students explore their options. There are, in fact, a number of excellent articles on this blog that address modern challenges such as developing your mentor-mentee relationship. Beyond our blog though, we can find some advice in: A PhD Is Not Enough!: A Guide to Survival in Science, By Peter J. Feibelman. While this book seems to be geared a bit more to those of us who are interested in academic careers, it admits the pitfalls of academia and openly discusses how to obtain a research career in industry or government. The book details how to make the most of your training. Still, while we can work ad nauseum on being our best scientists, a good break and ability to laugh at ourselves may be the best approach to success. For that, Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to go to Grad School by Adam Ruben, comes highly recommended. Dr. Ruben receive his PhD from John Hopkins, where he also kindled an interest in stand-up comedy. This book is the marriage of those two experiences. Dr. Ruben also writes a column for Science Careers called Experimental Error that is worth a read.

I would be remiss if I did not recommend Dr. Kathy Barker’s series of “Laboratory Navigators.” For those of us in grad school or just starting in science, At the Bench is an excellent resource. Meanwhile, for those Post-Docs who are on the road to starting their own labs, the sister book, At the Helm, comes highly recommended. These books are full of practical and modern advice for scientists. When I say practical, I mean it; Dr. Barker discusses everything from lab meetings, to dress codes, to planning building renovations for new equipment.

Communicating Science

Communicating science is HARD. This is a paradox, as one would think that more knowledge means more things to talk about. Yet, the more we learn in our programs, the more caveats we become aware of and the harder it is to make hard-and-fast statements about our findings and what they mean for the field. Personally, I have never seen a neuroscientific concept conveyed so elegantly as when Eddie Redmayne was discussing ALS while promotingThe Theory of Everything, in which he plays renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. Actors are also professional communications experts and they seem to have the upper hand in knowing how to convince others of current research! That is why I am recommending Alan Alda’s book in communication, If I Understood What You Were Saying, Would I Have This Look On My Face? Alan Alda has spearheaded a movement to improve scientists’ abilities to communicate with the masses through improv classes as well as through a course at Stony Brook. This advice seems to focus mostly on oral communication.

Of course, clarity in written communication is needed in our lives as well, as we must write grants and manuscripts. The Art of Scientific Storytelling: Transform Your Research Manuscript using a Step-by-Step Formula By Dr. Rafael Luna, is a practical guide for scientists at any stage. Dr. Luna recently came to Rutgers to discuss his formulaic approach to communicating science. I distinctly recall his entertaining and useful advice in constructing the perfect title, as well as his tip of making characters and a story line out of molecular concepts! If getting published is your aim, as it very much should be during this period of your life, Dr. Luna’s advice will help get you there.

What can I do with all this knowledge?

What do star athletes and the Harvard Medical School post-doc director have in common? Both recommend, Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Can Create a Powerful Purpose for Their Lives by Isaiah Hankel. This is a good book for those of us who are just beginning to question what kind of career we want to build with the full set of knowledge we have/will have obtained in our PhDs. Identifying your goals is key to building your future, and don’t forget that iJOBs can help get you there!
A real-world example of someone who has exceptionally clear goals is Elon Musk. In a recent book, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance biographically chronicles Musk’s rise to prominence in the business world. Parallels between Musk and most of us (especially if you are reading this blog) are purely metaphorical. Musk famously began a PhD in Applied Physics and Material Science, but left after two days. He states that, “I wasn’t sure success was one of the possible outcomes.” Certainly, this is a thought that many of us can relate to. Of course, having a PhD AND a strong entrepreneurial spirit is indeed something to be envied. Musk’s experiences show us how to exercise the latter part of that equation. For those of us interested in the business of science or in starting a biotech, taking a page out of this modern powerhouse’s life is a good place to start.

I hope that these selections will lead you to the path of success that you want in your life, or at least in a position to identify exactly what that is. Please leave your comments with books you loved, would avoid, or would further recommend!

Student Perspective: Career Updates from Post-graduate Blogger Eileen Oni

Hey everyone!

I hope your summers have been well! Things have flown by. I thought I’d give you all an update. I am currently preparing for my next journey in the D.C. metro area science policy space as an American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Fellow in the Division of Engineering Education Centers in the Broadening Participation in Engineering division.

Also, I’d like to take this time to thank the Rutgers iJOBS community. The various programs I participated in were eye opening and broadened my perspectives. I will always have fond memories of attending career panels and hearing about different jobs, from Medical Science Liaisons to work in non-profits, and for every site visit I had the opportunity to attend! All of these have widened my experiences, and expanded my training as a graduate student.

More specifically, this blog has improved my writing and editing skills. I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing my insightful shadowing experience with Congressman Leonard Lance(NJ-07) learning the unique and broad circumstances Congressional members deal with when making decisions. Additionally, I have also had the pleasure of writing about science policy related iJOBS programs which delved deeper into congressional voting and climate policy perspectives from former New Jersey Governor, the Honorable Christine Todd Whitman. Throughout other IJOBS programming, such as the SciPhD course I learned the value of networking and informational interviewing. I am currently wrapping up my phase 3 programming by honing my online networking skills via the 2Actify Networking online course, iJOBS programming has provided me the stepping stones to develop skill sets to be a more well-rounded Rutgers alumni.

To fellow graduates and postdocs, I highly recommend iJOBS to supplement your training and prepare you for the next stage in your career. Also, for current students and recent graduates who want to work on writing and editing skills (outside on manuscript preparation) please contact rutgersijobsblog@gmail.com! In the future, I hope to try and expand or develop similar programming at other institutions. But for now, stay tuned, and I hope to be able to provide insights on my journey as I learn the ins and outs of broadening engineering education as AAAS Fellow at the National Science Foundation.

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ACA Lunch and Learn Recap – Opportunities in Drug Development

ACA Lunch and Learn Event

This post was written following the ACA Lunch and Learn Event, Opportunities in Drug Development, on July 13 with Sam Kongsamut, PhD.

On July 13th, Rutgers Newark ACA graciously hosted Sam Kongsamut, PhD, a scientist and entrepreneur, regarding his career path in drug development. Dr. Kongamut is a tall, soft spoken, knowledgeable man with a wealth of experience ranging from academia to industry to biotech start-ups. He began his studies at the University of Chicago and received his doctorate in Neuropharmacology. From there, he continued on to complete postdocs at Yale University and Cornell University. He currently works as a consultant for various academic institutions and smaller companies with Rudder Serendip LLC, his own consulting firm. In addition, he acts as an industry advisor for the Institute for Life Sciences Entrepreneurship. On top of that, he has played a role in providing mentorship for the founding of two biotech companies, Biochron Therapeutics and Neurotrope Bioscience. And, he is co-founder of BryoLogyx Inc. Phew!

From his experience, Dr. Kongsamut has immense insight into the drug development process. It is long and complex, and involves many phases of evaluation. The total cost can be up to $5 billion and take as long as 12 years. In the past, larger pharmaceutical companies focused all of their research in house. Currently, it is more common is for industry to partner with smaller companies to enhance drug development innovation. Dr. Kongsamut has had the opportunity to work on both sides of the drug development aisle; at a larger pharmaceutical company, Sanofi, and now working with his smaller start-ups. Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart. Changes occur frequently in small companies and he himself has been laid of twice. Yikes! As a consultant, Dr. Kongsamut wears many hats. He can play a role at literally any part of the drug development process from writing an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to helping with grant reviews.

From his experience with both industry and biotech start-ups, he stressed the following three points that can be applied to any career path after graduate school:

  • Learn new things constantly throughout your career
  • Keep your eyes out for opportunities
  • Know your worth

Dr. Kongsamut covered several specific questions during the Lunch and Learn. Students asked questions regarding the role they might play in the process in Research and Development be it as a bench scientist, or as a consultant. After the event, I continued the conversation with Dr. Kongsamut to get a better understanding of what his day-to-day is like and what it takes to become an entrepreneur. Below is a brief summation of our exchange.

  1. What experiences during your graduate education helped prepare you for your current career?

It’s great that you have a program like ACA – such things did not exist in my time in graduate school. I was pretty much in ivory tower academia and expected to continue in academia. I “sold my soul” by joining industry. Of course, times and attitudes have changed. And Academia is not as lucrative (nor respected) as much as before. I had little to no preparation for industry; it took me some time to get used to things. I did enjoy two things off the bat though: (1) the research is goal-directed, and (2) it is multi-disciplinary. Being a curious scientist, I loved learning about other aspects of the business.

  1. You wear many hats and are involved in multiple projects – what does an average day look like for you?

Hmm! An average day varies quite a bit. If I am working in my home office, I will begin the day with responding to emails, unless I have a phone call, or something more urgent to attend to (grant reviews for example, or some sort of report). I work best in the morning. In the summer, in the afternoon, I will take a couple of hours off to go exercise (usually swimming, 2-3 times per week). I am usually working in the evening as well, until bed-time. While home, my wife often interrupts me to do this or that. So, I am quite busy, but my time is flexible. Other days, I may be out at meetings all day. I try to combine meetings to reduce time lost in travel; for example, I won’t go into NYC unless I have two (or more) meetings set up.

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

Yes. I have a difficult time saying “no” and hence am involved in too many things. But, since I work at home, I can be flexible with my time.

  1. What advice can you give to biomedical students who are interested in entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Be sure you are passionate about the idea you want to pursue as an entrepreneur. Be ready to work 80h a week (graduate students are well-prepared for this, of course!). Be ready for many set-backs, twists and turns, but also times of utter joy when something works out (again, scientists are well-trained for this scenario). Be a good listener – balance between passion for your idea and what the business requires. Being an entrepreneur means building a business – taking someone else’s money and making a return on that investment. In biotech, one can make 10x or more return, but there are also a lot of failures.

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

More retired. Better balance of work and life. BryoLogyx has become a successful company and has been sold to JNJ (or other big company).

Entrepreneurship is a challenging and dynamic career path. Dr. Kongsamut could address its complexity and risk-taking as he discussed his own career decisions. The rewards can be great when a drug makes it to market after years of investment which I think this is part of the drive that keeps Dr. Kongsamut part of the pipeline. Anyone planning on pursuing a career in entrepreneurship can expect to follow a similar journey of ups and downs, constant learning, and a multitude of responsibilities within the drug development process.

drug development
Image courtesy of Sam Kongsamut

 

Does Innovation And Technology Have A Bias Towards Men While Leaving Women Behind?

By: Yaa Haber

On June 14th, 2017, I attended the 3rd Women’s Healthcare Innovation Leadership Showcase (WHILS) at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway New Jersey. It was a phenomenal experience to be surrounded by such a diverse group of women, both scientists and clinicians, who have a passion for addressing issues facing women in science and technology. One of the comments that redefined my thinking was shared during a presentation by Dr. Saralyn Mark, the president of iGiant (impact of Gender/Sex on Innovation and Novel Technologies). During her talk she mentioned that most new technologies are created by men and tested by men, and when used by women they are not always adaptable to the unique needs of women. Two examples that she provided, which have stuck with me were the following: a) personal protection equipment for women, b) touchscreen responsiveness of the iPhone.

In her first example, she described that during the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the personal protection equipment worn by the workers were designed primarily for men. Women who dawned the same equipment, experienced some gaps in the head pieces due to the shape and size of the women’s heads and as a result, there was increased risk of the virus being transmitted to the women. More of the women workers became infected than the men. If the equipment was tested for women prior to use, these inadequacies would have become evident sooner.

In her second description concerning the touchscreen responsiveness of the iPhone, Dr. Mark mentioned that touchscreen technology was both designed and tested by men. Women have more tactile receptors on their fingers than men. As a result, when they use the device, in comparison with men, they end up having to press their selections harder and longer leaving them with increased strain on their hands. If the touchscreen technology was beta tested on women just as much as men, this nuance would have become apparent. I own an iPhone myself and have noticed the annoyance of having to repetitively press my selection before the phone responds. Prior to hearing Dr. Mark’s presentation, I didn’t really think about why my phone was unresponsive at times. Now that I know my phone was not designed with my needs in mind, I realize that there is a new opportunity here. This has fueled my passion to pursue R&D that is geared towards providing technology and innovative options suited to the unique needs of women.

In both examples, her message was clear to me. The lack of design accommodations and testing of innovative technology to suit the needs of women may lead to detrimental effects in the future. As a result, there is a need to provide technology options for women just as much as for men. This idea, that the differences between men and women should be accounted for during the design, implementation and application of technology is one of high importance and has reframed my thinking about my own scientific questions.yaaspost

In my current research project, I have mostly collected data on men and have not even begun to acknowledge how my findings apply to women since there were so few women participants. Thus, while I have only identified a partial answer to my research question, I can only answer the question fully when I have sufficient data on women. This new way of thinking about research is one that should be applied to so many other fields. For so long, I have watched other scientists answer their research questions based only on data from males, and insist that they have completely answered the question; ignoring the lack of answers using female data. For example, if a pharmaceutical company used this approach and performed clinical trials assuming that the male response would directly translate to females, there can be increased risks of adverse events in the female population because of the lack of female data. This could potentially cause serious consequences. For this reason, science must pursue a complete answer to any research question by ensuring adequate data from both male and female perspectives.

Within the fields of science and engineering, many strides have been made in recent years. However, when it comes to customizing technology based on the unique needs of women, more work is still needed. Dr. Mark inspired me with her speech to pursue opportunities that encourage customization of technology for women just as much as for men. It is wonderful to create technologies that advance humanity. However, if the innovation advances the needs of men while creating new problems for women, this must be addressed.

 

Phinishing Celebrations

Not too long ago, I went to my good friend, Jay Patel’s, surprise graduation party. He PhinisheD!  (Phinished = a pun on finishing the PhD process). Congrats Dr. Patel! I’m sure there’s only one of you out there! (Haha– just forget about the other three Dr. Patels in your immediate family alone)

Being surrounded by his huge, supportive family was deeply touching. You could feel the pride beaming off from each person who was there. Pride that their son, grandson, nephew, brother, boyfriend, or friend, had finally done it. After six long years of numerous experiments, redirections, and long-term studies, he finally made it. He PhinisheD!JayEach person there, I’m sure, played an important role in helping him complete his degree. I imagine they listened to him troubleshoot problems he was having in the lab. Perhaps they offered him some advice and perspective, be it scientific or not. Maybe they took him out for dinner after a frustrating night  at the lab, or even after a successful one! Whatever it was, no matter how trivial, I’m sure it made a difference. Like the saying goes, it truly “takes a village” to finish the PhD.

Attending his graduation party was great. Not only did it provide a set standard for my own graduation party (I’m looking at you, parents! Haha, just kidding), it also made me truly appreciate all of the people in my own life who have helped me along the way to the PhD. My friends, both inside and outside of the lab, have helped me immensely to de-stress by providing an outlet to vent. Our adventures have been a valuable source of entertainment, getting my mind off of lab-related matters. My family often lends a listening ear, and provides much-needed home-cooked meals during my visits home. I’m not sure if all of these people truly understand how much their seemingly small actions have helped me keep momentum in the PhD process, but here is my opportunity to say Thank You!

A word of advice to my fellow graduate students: use your network of non-scientist friends and family members who care about you. Lean on them, grab dinner, or take a walk in the park with them. Although it may not seem like it at times, there is much more to this world than your research project! This network can help you keep this in perspective and possibly help you approach your work with a fresh attitude.

Attending Dr. Patel’s party about a year before I plan to graduate gives me something to look forward to, especially those conversations, pep-talks, and dinners. I’m sure they will be much-needed, especially when I sit down to write the dissertation.

Thank you, frieCalendarnds and family members, who have already supported me thus far. Thank you for not letting me quit. And thank you in advance for being there in this year to come: the final year until I phinish. I look forward to seeing you at my very own phinishing celebration in 2018. Mark your calendars!