Mercedes Gyuricza, Ph.D., is a Rutgers iJOBs alumnus and currently works as the Post-Doc Engagement Manager at Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Her role at Janssen is to create, implement, and manage a Post-Doc program for the more than 75 Post-Docs at Janssen. During her time at Rutgers, Mercedes participated in the iJOBs program, which gave her the skills to make the transition from academia to industry. While no transition is without flaws, Mercedes shares what helped make hers a smooth one. iJOBs blogger, Urmimala Basu, talked with Mercedes about how her involvement with the iJOBs program paved the way for her first job.
- Let’s trace you career trajectory: where did you go to school for your undergraduate studies and what was your field?
I started out at Rowan University. I was a Biology major and wanted to go to graduate school. However, before I committed years of my life to graduate school I wanted to try out lab work as an undergraduate. With opportunities limited at Rowan, I transferred to Rutgers and graduated from there two years later. At Rutgers I was a Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MBB) major. I think the rigor of the MBB program at Rutgers prepared me well for graduate school.
- Please tell us about your graduate career: What did you work on at Rutgers? What was your motivation behind going to graduate school?
I joined graduate school because I wanted to be a researcher: I wanted to uncover information no one else knew. I did my thesis work in the laboratory of Dr. Kim McKim at the Waksman Institute. I studied mechanisms for proper chromosome segregation in oocytes: how the proper number of chromosomes get into egg cells. This is important because we know that the wrong number of chromosome in the egg can lead a woman to be infertile or have children with birth defects.
- I understand that you were part of the Science Alliance Leadership Training (SALT) at the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). What skills did you pick up during this training and how did it contribute to shaping your career aspirations?
SALT, offered by the New York Academy of Sciences, is a one week program designed for graduate students to gain the leadership skills needed to make the jump into their first post-graduate position. We learned tools to help us better communicate in unpredictable situations (most useful when you are interviewing and don’t know what the interviewer will ask). We also learned, and witnessed, group and team dynamics and how they can affect a goal. Overall, this was an experience that I am so glad I had. I would recommend this to anyone who is willing to put the time and effort in this experience: you get out what you put in! Most importantly, the program introduced me to 25 like-minded graduate students that are all part of my network today. It truly is a unique and difficult to characterize experience.
- You also participated in the SciPHD program at Rutgers iJOBs. What skills did you pick up during this training and how did it contribute to your career development?
The SciPhD program, offered through iJOBs, is also a 40-hour program. This program helps the participants to gain confidence in their knowledge. In graduate school, there are a lot of skills obtained, but relating them to skills required in industry is not always straightforward. This program helps with that. During this program, you will also learn communication techniques for interviewing (or anytime in life, really) such as asking questions to clarify what the interviewer really wants to know. If you aren’t sure what the interviewer wants to know (or you are sure, but are wrong) you aren’t going to be giving the answer that they want to hear. So, it is wise to narrow down, specifically, what the person is talking about before giving your answer. There were many other techniques given in the program that were useful such as writing a targeted resume and using emotional intelligence.
- Please tell us how you chose your current career path? How did you transition to your current job?
Although I entered graduate school thinking that I would end up at the bench, during my tenure as a graduate student I changed my mind. I loved science and learning, but I felt that bench work was not for me anymore. Therefore, when I set out to find my first post-graduate job I was looking for something where I could still be involved in science without actually doing the pipetting.
I found my current role when a recruiter e-mailed me about it. At first I wasn’t sure what the role was about, but I figured I would apply and find out!
- Please describe your current job at Janssen. What are your duties and how do you manage them? What are some of the major challenges you face?
At Janssen, I am the Post-Doc Engagement Manager. Before I joined Janssen, there were many Janssen Post-Docs but no program that served all of them. My role is to create a program, and manage it. Some of my duties include talking with Post-Docs and stakeholders internally and externally and making recommendations for what the program should include. I also plan networking and engagement opportunities as well as seminars and symposia. Staying organized helps in managing my role and completing tasks as early as possible because something always comes up last minute! One of the biggest challenges for me was transitioning to industry life, and learning all about the company. Luckily, I knew some people from my iJOBs site visit to Janssen that I reached out to with questions when I started.
- What is your view of the iJOBs program running at Rutgers?
The iJOBs program is quite unique in the opportunities that it offers to graduate students. Students should take full advantage of the chance to meet and network with each other, alumni and employees of prospective employers.
- What is your parting advice to graduate students interested in transitioning to a career similar to yours? What skills do you think will make one succeed in a job like yours?
If you are interested in making the jump from academia to industry, you need to talk to as many people as possible and tell them you are on the job market and what you are looking for. You never know who is going to be hiring, or who might know someone who is. Taking advantage of the opportunities that iJOBs offers is a great place to start. Update your LinkedIn page, put your resume on job websites and let recruiters know what you are looking for.