Where Are They Now — Myka Ababon

 

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

Myka1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

iJOBS Workshop — The Many Hats of Consulting

Written by: Paulina Krzyszczyk

Edited by: Huri Mücahit and Tomas Kasza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Roles of A Consultant

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

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

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

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

Data

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

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

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

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

Where Are They Now: Maria Qadri

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

Maria 1

1) What have you been up to since graduating?

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

2) How did you approach the job search process?

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

3) What got you interested in this field?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Rutgers Grad Experience: A Few of my Favorite Things

By: Paulina Krzyszczyk

Edited by: Eileen Oni

Having spent several years within Rutgers’ campuses, I have had some time to learn about the university and reflect on my experiences here. Although there have been ups and downs throughout the progression of my Ph.D. (as expected!), I have identified a few things about Rutgers that have enhanced my graduate experience.Rutgers Experience Quadrant

First up: Diversity. Rutgers (including Rutgers-Newark campus) has consistently held top rankings in diversity across U.S. universities for several years (e.g. 2018, 2015, 2008). Speaking from my own experience, Rutgers has truly exposed me to individuals from every background, religion, race, ethnicity, and culture. My graduate school experience has been enhanced by learning about different kinds of people and their rich culturesand traditions. In my research lab alone, there are males, females, Christians, Buddhists, Orthodox JewLab Photo 1s, Atheists, Indians, African Americans, Asians, Latinas, and individuals raised in various socioeconomic classes. We are quite diverse. During many lunch sessions, you can find me inquiring about one’s culture or traditions to learn more about their lifestyle and who they are. It is intriguing that, despite coming from such different backgrounds, all of our paths brought us to the same place, where we are able to effectively work together. Our research lab is a microcosm of America: one melting pot of races and backgrounds, working together to improve lives—in our case, through biomedical engineering.

Second on my list of favorite things about Rutgers is its status as a BIG 10 large research university, complete with medical hospitals (Robert Wood Johnson and University Hospital, Newark) and several centers such as the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Child Health Institute of New Jersey, and many more. Coming from a smaller undergraduate university, it is impressive that Rutgers has separate buildings on campus for many different sub-fields of medical sciences, including biology, chemistry, biomedical engineering, proteomics, public health, and more! The research opportunities at Rutgers are vast. This means if you are looking to borrow a reagent, test out a piece of equipment or connect with an expert about a specific lab technique, chances are, there is a lab close by at Rutgers that can help you out. This network has been invaluable to the development of my research project at Rutgers.

On a less serious note, there are plenty of fun things to do and beautiful places to see among the Rutgers University Campuses. Rutgers Gardens is beautiful in the spring, complete with a weekly farmers market. Several spots on College Ave and Cook Douglas campuses are also quite serene and photogenic. For the art lover, the Zimmerli Art Museum is free for Rutgers students and has interesting, rotating exhibits that warrant return visits. Off-campus attractions include Duke Farms, a prime location to enjoy a bike ride. If you like to hike, I recommend Eagle Rock Reservation and Norvin Green State Forest. For slightly further trips, Princeton, Philadelphia, and New York City are just a simple car or train ride away! And, if you are looking for a thrill to shake up the monotony of days and weekends spent in lab, visit Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ!

On a similar note, the Rutgers New-Brunswick Campus has several delicious restaurants and bars that have kept me well-fed. In New Brunswick, there is Destination Dogs, Brother Jimmy’s, Harvest Moon, and more. Nearby, the town of Highland Park has quality dining spots, such as Midori Sushi, Pithari, Chef Tan, Pino’s, and even some Kosher options (Sushiana, Jerusalem Pizza). Other noteworthy restaurants and bars in the area include Brickhouse, Stagehouse Tavern, Sushi Palace, and Thai Lanna.

Thank you, Rutgers, for being my home for the past several years! To all those reading who are considering Rutgers for graduate school or a postdoctoral position, or are just starting out on your academic career, remember that at Rutgers, you will be immersed in a diverse environment with boundless research opportunities, as well as great food and entertainment!

iJOBS Career Fair: What you Can Do with a Ph.D.

Job SearchThe annual iJOBS/BioNJ career fair is the epitome of what you can do with a Ph.D. The iJOBS program stresses that Ph.D.’s can do much more than practice science in the traditional sense. The opportunities are essentially boundless. There is demand for Ph.D.’s in medical writing and communication, consulting, project management, manufacturing, and of course, research and development. The companies present at the career fair ascertained that this is, in fact, true. Companies from each of these different fields were represented and looking to hire fresh talent.

PTC Therapeutics, which was started by a professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and is located in South Plainfield, was a very popular booth at the fair. This company uses technologies that identify novel small molecule therapeutics that can modulate protein expression and treat disease. The company currently collaborates with Roche and the SMA Foundation for the development of a small molecule to treat spinal muscular atrophy. There are currently several openings for Ph.D.-level research scientists across the RNA Biology/Chemistry/Pharmacology fields. Teligent, a generic drug company, also has several open chemist, microbiologist and quality positions. Amicus Therapeutics, an orphan drug company, has some scientist andclinical scientist opportunities at their headquarters in Cranbury, NJ, and a lot of other open positions across the country. Celgene was also present, with openings in manufacturing.

In the medical communications/writing field, there was The Lynx Group and PRN Experts; contract research organizations (CROs) present were BioTrial and Biotech Support Group; and for project management/consulting—The FlexPro Group. Although these areas may not necessarily be the immediate next step in my career, I had meaningful conversations at each booth. Gaining more information about possible career paths is always important–you never know where life may take you! Your dream job when you were single and in your 20s may not fit your lifestyle if you have children, or find yourself wanting to work from home one day. Luckily, the Ph.D. process teaches us transferable skills, which can help transition from one field to another.

Not everyone might have the same experience finding a job. If you are having trouble, there are several options available to help you in the search. One option is working with a recruiting company. There were two of these present at the fair—Aerotek and Adecco Medical & Science. Recruiters interact with hiring companies and help immensely with the job search. By working with a recruiter, you can find a position and company that is a right fit for you! If you think your resume or interview skills are the problem, then you should consider reaching out to a career coach. During my conversation with Juliet Hart, from Hart & Chin Associates, LLC, she gave me suggestions for framing the skills that I have gained during my Ph.D. studies in a way that is meaningful to companies and will make them more likely to consider me as a candidate. Lastly, if you feel that you are lacking practical, hands-on skills for the job that you desire, you can enroll in short-term training programs at Sollers College in Edison. They offer 3- or 5-month programs in several tracks, including clinical research, drug safety and data science. Their website boasts that, “Sollers bridges the gap between the theory and the applied skills required in the workplace.” The training can include an internship, and the first payment is due only after you secure a job.

The iJOBS/BioNJ Career Fair was a good opportunity to network with not only potential employers, but also with some of my peers who are also on the job search. These conversations, and my overall experience at the event, reminded me about a few important things:

1) Be patient with the job search. Although it may be lInterview Girlong and frustrating at times, don’t forget that you are highly qualified. Do not lose confidence that your Ph.D. provided you with many valuable and transferable skills that will bring you success.

2) Explore opportunities. Even though you may have pictured a career in research, perhaps another field may also be well-suited for you!

3) Use your network. Reach out to students who graduated before you and ask how they like their jobs. They may even know about some potential job openings!

4) Consider additional training, certification, or involvement in a professional society. Not only will these activities add to your resume, but they can also widen your network and aid in the job search.

5) Start the search early! Finding a job takes time, so, it is best to start looking and applying before you graduate, in order to secure your next position and make a smooth transition.

The career fair broadened my perspective on what life/work will be like after the Ph.D. It was nice to see firsthand, all of the different tracks that Ph.D.’s are recruited for, and to interact with potential employers. Here’s to the goal that, one day, it will be me on the other side of the booth!

 

This post was edited by fellow blogger, Sangeena Salam.

Regulatory Writing Workshop: More About Teamwork than Meets the Eye

The following is a re-cap of an iJOBS event—Regulatory Writing Workshop—held on January 30th, 2018 on Busch Campus. Doreen Lechner, director of the Biopharma Educational Initiative and Clinical Trial Sciences Program at Rutgers, moderated the event and provided information on relevant courses offered at the university. Artur Gertel, Principal at MedSciCom, LLC; Diane Petrovich, Head of Medical Writing Infectious Diseases and Vaccines at Merck; and Ketra Volcy, Medical Writer Consultant, formed the panel of experts that answered questions about working in regulatory writing. Rupal Patel, Senior Manager of Regulatory Affairs at Chugai Pharm, introduced the concept of an investigational brochure and led the workshop activity. Qing Zhou, President of American Medical Writers Association of the Metro New York chapter, also spoke about the wonderful networking opportunities in this field.

 

Before attending this workshop, myWordles Regulatory Writing assumption was that any job description with the term “writer” in it, involved someone working in isolation, pouring over documents and barely speaking a word throughout the day. Surprisingly, my perception completely changed after listening to a panel of experts at the Regulatory Writing Workshop. Each of them stressed how their roles are really part of a team effort.

One of the main responsibilities of a regulatory writer is to compile all the information about a drug in development, including results from non-clinical (mechanistic, interaction studies, etc), pre-clinical (animal studies) and clinical (Phases 1 through 4) studies. This encompasses a wide variety of clinical documents. With such a broad responsibility, they must interact with all of the separate departments and individuals who perform these various activities during a drug’s development. In fact, the panelists agreed that a big portion of their days are spent in meetings, because they are extracting useful information from all of the people performing these different roles. Clearly, my perception of writers working in isolation was incorrect!

Other insider-information that was offered up by the panelists was that occasionally, there can be long work-hours, especially when there are tight deadlines. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens, as writers’ tasks fall near the end of the timeline, as they await information from upstream sources, to compile and incorporate within documents. The panelists agreed that the silver lining to working on a deadline is that it enhances a sense of teamwork. Other information that was shared from the panel was that, regulatory writers can oftentimes work-from-home, which can provide some flexibility and improve work/life balance. In the end, what makes it all worthwhile is that the work of regulatory writers is highly meaningful and impactful to patients.

As the workshop continued, attendees were given the opportunity to play the role of regulatory writers through a hands-on activity. In groups, we were given thick packets that contained information about a certain drug. From that, we were to extract details that were relevant to include in an investigator’s brochure (IB). An IB is a document (~150 pages) that contains all clinical and non-clinical data of a product relevant for use in humans. It is a living document, meaning it is constantly being updated, even after a product is on the market, to include key information about its safety and efficacy in humans. It is provided to all investigators involved in clinical trials with the drug. Some information that is included in the document is in regards to drug indications, reported side effects, mechanism of action, pharmacokinetics and more.

What struck me the most about the hands-on IB activity was the high level of detail that is recorded for each drug. In industry, it is important for this information to be readily accessible, as the goal is for the product to be approved for use in humans. The more that is known about a drug, the safer its administration and use can be. After the activity, each group offered their opinions about the experience. There was a general consensus that regulatory writers must be very detail-oriented, possess a high level of scientific understanding (perfect for PhDs and post-docs!), and be able to summarize information in a clear and succinct manner.

For those interested in learning more about Regulatory Affairs, Rutgers offers certificate (15 credits) and masters (36 credits) programs as part of the BioPharma Educational Initiative. There are also four other tracks: Medical Affairs, Clinical Trials Informatics, Drug Safety and Pharmacovigilance, and Clinical Trials Management and Recruitment Sciences. Courses are entirely online, and are attended by many industry employees, who provide a relevant, real-world industry perspective in the discussion to complement the coursework! If you think you would like to participate in these courses, consider taking them as part of Phase 2 of iJOBS!  Another valuable resource for those interested in this career path is joining the American Medical Writers Association. There is a local, New York chapter that offers networking events and workshops to help you build connections and skills to be successful in this field! Make sure to take advantage of opportunities like these – such as extra courses or membership in a professional society – that provide you with unique experiences, and also help you stick out on your resume as you apply to Regulatory Writer positions!

 

Edits and suggestions that contributed to the development of this post were made by fellow bloggers, Jennifer Casiano and Maryam Alapa.

iJOBS Site Visit Recap: Bayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Adapt and be flexible

                  2) Don’t set boundaries

                  3) Everything is connected

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

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

——————————————————————————————————————————————

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

My Week at TARGET (The Academy at Rutgers for Girls in Engineering and Technology)

pk_targetAnyone who has ever spent a summer on campus knows that come July, it is swarming with running, smiling, and laughing youngsters. It is nearly impossible to walk into the Busch Campus Center without seeing someone under the age of 18. This is because of the numerous summer camps that are held each year at Rutgers University.

One of those programs is called The Academy at Rutgers for Girls in Engineering and Technology (TARGET). It is a 6-week long program that caters to girls in 6th through 11th grades. For one week at a time, Rutgers hosts girls from each grade and takes them through various science and engineering activities. The girls who are rising high school seniors and part of TARGET VI have the unique opportunity to conduct university-level research under the guidance of a female graduate student. That’s where I stepped in.

This year was my 3rd year being a TARGET VI mentor. Every year, I look forward to the opportunity to spend time with these aspiring female scientists. They bring me back to my teenage years, and I have so much fun teaching and learning with them. In preparation for the TARGET week, I planned out a relatively simple and fundamental experiment for the students to carry out with me. I kept it basic enough so that they could grasp it (because believe me, they are already learning A LOT in the course of five days), however I also designed an experiment that would provide useful knowledge for my research project. Not knowing what the results would be and forming hypotheses together as a group is an important part of the scientific process that I intentionally exposed the students to, because, that is what experimentation is all about! They truly experienced real-world research during this week.

Witnessing the students’ immense growth over the course of just one quick week is always astounding to me. On the first day, they learned the definitions of terms that are used daily in the world of biomedical research. When one of my students went home that day and told her parents what she had learned, her father jokingly said, “English, please?!” Thankfully they had the week to practice how to effectively communicate the project to their parents in preparation for their final presentations that Friday.

The rest of the week was extremely bTARGET microscopeusy, yet fun. The students learned several important lab techniques such as taking images of cells using a florescent microscope, processing the images and analyzing the results. They had to learn and understand this information quickly and package it all into a final presentation. This is a lot of work in one week!

On Friday, their final group presentation was impressive, not only to me, but also toTARGET final presentatino their parents and program organizers as well. The students explained the science in a way that was understandable to the audience. I was proud that I had led such an intelligent group of girls and had the opportunity to expose them to research and make an impact on their lives.

If you are a female graduate student studying science or engineering at Rutgers, I highly encourage you to be a TARGET VI mentor! Not only is it an enjoyable and inspiring experience, but there are financial incentives and free lunches. My favorite part of the TARGET VI program is that I am able to accomplish work that I need to get done, while simultaneously serving as a mentor to others, which makes it that much sweeter. Moreover, as we have previously discussed on the blog, outreach signifies to future employers, academic and otherwise, that you are willing to be a positive force within the group. This kind of work may also show you just how much you like working with this age group and lead you to consider K-12 science education as a future career.

So, think back to the mentors who first exposed you to research and how different your life would be if you hadn’t met them. Now, you have the opportunity to be this person for someone else!

Those who are interested in learning more about the TARGET program should contact Candiece White at cawhite@soe.rutgers.edu.

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!

WHILS 2017: Learning, Networking, and Advocating for Change with the Businesswomen of Healthcare

On June 14th, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway was the site of the 3rd biennial Women’s Healthcare Innovation and Leadership Showcase (WHILS) hosted by the New York/New Jersey branch of Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA). HBA is a global non-profit organization whose core purpose is to further the advancement and impact of women in the business of healthcare. Having an interest in the topic, I decided to attend this iJOBS-sponsored event, and at the end of the day, I was glad I did! I had a wonderful time volunteering, attending the sessions, and meeting students and industry leaders alike.

The afternoon began withWHILS intro 1 introductions by the event organizers as well as key leaders in healthcare. Susan Nicholson, the Vice President for safety surveillance and risk management at Johnson & Johnson, encouraged us to attend the day’s sessions with an eye forWHILS intro 2 collaboration. She urged us to think, “How can I work with other people here and people in other disciplines to get things done?” This theme was directly in line with one of the day’s sessions, called Provider, Academia and Industry Collaboration. Christine Grant, the former New Jersey Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, challenged us to do three things throughout the day:

  1. To play a game, that boiled down to ignoring the need to constantly check our phones and to instead, learn from the people present at the event,
  2. To acquire, accept, adopt information and adapt (AAAA) accordingly based on lessons learned from the day’s sessions, and to
  3. To recognize threats unique to today’s society, such as “fake news” and the occasional overuse or misuse of technology.

Additional introductory remarks were made by Gloria Bachmann, MD, the director of the Women’s Health Institute at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; Connie Newman, an endocrinologist at New York University School of Medicine and 2017-2018 president-elect of the American Medical Women’s Association; Annegret Dettwiler-Danspeckgruber, MS, ED, a neuroscientist at Princeton University; and Saralyn Mark, MD, a physician and owner-founder of SolaMed Solutions, LLC and iGIANT. Overall, this introductory session evoked the mindset that women can make change happen.

The introductory panel was followed by two breakout sessions (full program here). Each breakout had three options that attendees could participate in.

The options for the first session were:

  • The Female Lifecycle
  • Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Wearables
  • Harnessing Women’s Voices

The options for the second session were:

  • Wellness vs. Disease Care,
  • Provider, Academia and Industry Collaboration and
  • New Science for High-Impact Change.

I attended The Female Lifecycle, followed by Wellness vs. Disease Care.

At The Female Lifecycle, there were panelists from HealthyWomen, Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Monmouth Medical Center and the US Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau. The topics and panelist expertise ranged from fertility to women’s career advancement. A common theme during the session was how each of these topics relates to different points in women’s lives. For example, the panel discussed how to incorporate fertility into high school sexual education classes and how companies can support women in their careers while caring for a newborn child, a spouse, or an elderly relative. At this session, I also learned that the menstrual cycle is considered as a “5th vital sign”–in other words, it is an important indicator of female health. During the audience Q&A, I gained interesting insight on the topics of female body image and medical tourism, specifically why some individuals seek medical services outside of the United States.

For the second breakout session, I attended the panel discussion on Wellness vs. Disease Care, with representatives from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Visiting Nursing Association of Central Jersey, Project ECHO Nevada and Medicines360. The panelists stressed how access to care and health outcomes can vary dramatically based on geographical location. This disparity is seen even across a few dozen miles as depicted in the life-expectancy graphic of New York City and Central New Jersey (pictured). In addition, some patients must WHILS lifespan NYCtravel hundreds of miles for routine doctor’s appointments. Even within the same healthcare system, patients may be treated differently based on race, gender, and/or socioeconomic status. The goal of many of the companies that the panelists represented is to overcome these barriers in ways that promote a sense of community, shared learning, and overall wellness. We also discussed WHILS lifespan Princetonwhat barriers exist in today’s healthcare system regarding the development of new, effective technologies and how we can bring them to market and help them thrive. The topics that were discussed demonstrated the true passion and drive that the panelists and members of the audience have for improving the lives of women and men in United States. The moderator, Jessica Grossman, MD and CEO of Medicines360, summarized the message of the session best when she said, “We’re not out there to get money. We’re out there to provide access”.

Although I was only able to attend two out of a total of six breakout sessions (2 groups of 3 concurrent sessions), I was able to learn about what was discussed in the other sessions through the summary breakout sessions at the end of the event. In addition to the content at the sessions, the WHILS conference included 19 educational posters and 12 exhibits from organizations that are impacting women’s healthcare in one way or another. Posters were presented by students and professionals alike and covered a broad range of topics. Exhibitors included: American Medical Women’s Association; American Lung Association; American Cancer Society; Cancer Care; NJ Department of Health; NJ Department of Labor; PharmaVOICE, various schools and programs within Rutgers; Sharecare; U.S. Department of Labor; and Well Spouse, an organization that facilitates peer support from individuals with spouses who are seriously ill; and, of course, HBA.

There was so much to see and experience that it was hard to cover everything, but overall, I was impressed by the scope of women’s health-related topics that were discussed and represented throughout the day. I was also inspired by the efforts and potential solutions that were brought to the table by many key leaders in the healthcare industry.

Also noteworthy, the event was catered with delicious food and drinks from start to finish. A light lunch and refreshments between the sessions provided a perfect opportunity to network and peruse the exhibits and poster presentations. After the closing remarks, hot food was served, complete with butcher and stir fry stations. There was also a wine and smoothie bar, completing the “happy hour” theme.

At the end of the event, we were able to network with fellow program attendees, which was my favorite part of the day. It was interesting to meet and speak with a wide variety of women working in healthcare, including fellow graduate students, medical students, physicians, regulatory affairs representatives, medical communications experts, bench scientists, and vice presidents of both biotechnology start-ups and large pharmaceutical companies. I was able to ask questions about the day-to-day schedules of these various professionals and learn about potential internship and employment opportunities at their companies. One thing that I realized was that the WHILS conference truly encompassed all the possible places where we as graduate students and post-docs can go upon completion of our iJOBs training.

WHILS Networking 1As a female graduate student in science, it was truly inspiring to be surrounded by successful women and men who work to push healthcare, science, and technologies in a direction that helps people all over the world. The event gave me a frWHILS Networking 2esh perspective and reminded me that the work that I do as a scientist can truly have an impact on the quality of peoples’ lives down the road. Thank you, HBA, for immersing me in this unique environment at the WHILS conference and inspiring me to evoke this message in the day-to-dWHILS Networking 3ay work that I do in the lab! I look forward to attending the next WHILS conference in 2019!

 

 

Thank you, as well, to all of the event sponsors and other contributors who made the WHILS conference possible, and who enriched the program content. I want to list the major in-kind and corporate sponsors, in particular, including in-kind founding sponsor Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Johnson & Johnson Innovation; in-kind supporters, American Medical Women’s Association and PharmaVOICE; platinum sponsors Regeneron and Sharecare; gold sponsors iJOBS and Quest Diagnostics; silver sponsors Boehringer Ingelheim and Medicines360, and bronze sponsor, Pfizer.