iJOBS Simulation: Consulting Case Study

By Juliana Corrêa-Velloso

Among the career paths for STEM PhDs, Life Science Consulting is an attractive possibility for many students and postdocs. However, even amongst the most enthusiasts about this career, the question “what exactly does a consultant do?” can be challenging to answer. On July 7th, iJOBS hosted a workshop led by Sidnee Pinho, Chief Operation Officer of Clearview. Attendees learned about the core skills of a consultant and were guided through a case study. If you are interested in knowing more about this career path, the good news is that as PhD students and postdocs we already have most of the skills needed for Life Science Consulting.

Currently, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a consultant is a person who facilitates change and provides subject matter expertise; who offers advice, an expert1. In the pharmaceutical and biotechnology fields, consultants are hired to provide companies with a recommendation about business decisions and market landscape analysis. To get to the solution, consultants usually work in a team, in which they coordinate the strategy, the approach and the communication with the client. This versatility of tasks assignments is one of the main peculiarities of professionals in consulting. Indeed, as Sidnee Pinho explained, in either big management consulting firms or small boutique companies, consultants wear many heats over the life of a project.

Screenshot of Sidnee Pinho’s presentation.

As a project leader or a collaborator in a team, some key responsibilities will always be present throughout a career in consulting. Sidnee Pinho explained how each one of the following duties is important in the daily routine of a consultant:

  1. Problem definer: What is the question the client needs answered? What is the scope of the analysis? At the beginning of the process, it is crucial to understand the client’s needs and define the approach for the solution.
  2. Project manager: Once the project scope is defined, the next step is to develop a work plan. Establishing deadlines, assigning tasks and keeping track of the progress is the backbone of the project.
  3. Data searcher: PhDs are well familiar with the importance of good quality data for a project. Learning how to search for respectable scientific literature and interpret results from the bench is one of the many lessons of a PhD. Similarly, consultants need to collect all the information relevant to the project on which they are assigned. However, rather than a deep and specific analysis typical in academia, the industry requires a different approach. Instead, by doing quick strategic research, consultants become experts in several fields (financial, clinical, basic science, market) necessary to finish the project.
  4. Thought process organizer: Well-designed frameworks are essential to guide the team towards the answer. By being in line with the client’s needs, a good framework helps define the metrics and criteria used in the analysis. 
  5. Quality controller: When working with data, accuracy is critical for credibility. All research should rely on reputable sources and be in a time frame relevant to the project. As expected, validating the results is necessary before taking the next step on the project.
  6. Storyteller: Knowing how to convey a message is a gold-standard skill for any communicator. Depending on the audience, two strategies can be used. Business educated audience with limited time availability requires a “Top-Down” method. A straightforward presentation focused on the conclusion will deliver the expected message. On the other hand, an audience naïve to the subject or with controversial opinions will benefit from a “Bottom-Up” method. By focusing on the key underlying assumption that drove the conclusion, consultants increase their chance of communicating their message.  
  7. Relationship manager: As in any commercial arrangement, client satisfaction requires close attention. Learning how to manage the client is key to most careers in industry.

As a PhD student or postdoc, it is impossible to read all these assignments and not feel that this description is similar to our daily life in the laboratory. Defining a question, establishing a methodology, planning your project, collecting and communicating your results to different audiences (lab meetings presentations, scientific meeting talks, writing papers) and most importantly, managing the relationship with the client, or in this case, colleagues, collaborators and the PI. Through years of gathered experience, STEM PhDs already have most of the transferable skills necessary to pursue a consulting career. Understanding the varied roles required to succeed in this field, STEM PhDs can plan the transition by improving their technical abilities and soft interpersonal skills. With more than 25 years of experience in the Life Sciences industry, Sidnee Pinho shared some advice for future consultants that will help not only in the project execution but also in ensuring that the client expectations are exceeded:

  • To get to the root cause of issues, constantly question everything with the simple question, “But why?”. Be comfortable in asking and answering this question.
  • Ultimately, clients will rely on the consultant for the expert opinion. To feel comfortable in this position, you need to understand the project’s specificities, such as the scientific background, market analysis, competition, business models, financial valuation, etc. In other words, be the “expert.”
  • Do not be afraid of failure.  Every experience is a learning opportunity.

After this helpful and informative overview, attendees were invited to work in teams on a project simulation. The project assignment was as follows:

 “Company X has the opportunity to pursue a long-acting version of prednisone, which is a steroid used to treat morning stiffness associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  Company X has absolutely no experience in the RA market and has no assets in rheumatology generally”.

One complication framed the situation:

“The company has many potential development opportunities and is not sure if they should pursue this long-acting steroid or something else.  They will only pursue this opportunity if they believe they can make $200 million in topline US peak year revenue“.

Groups should provide a recommendation to the following questions:

“Should company X pursue this development opportunity of a long-acting steroid? Calculate the $ opportunity and summarize why or why not in 3 bullet points.”

Attendees were divided into three groups and had one hour to work on the case. The first challenge was to select the necessary information from the extensive supporting material. Groups had access to the RA clinical background, RA prevalence in the US from the past ten years, RA clinical diagnoses criteria, pharmacological alternatives and criteria for steroids treatment, opinions from experts in the field and past and future projections of the RA market. As a PhD, it is difficult to “ignore” data. We tend to look at every piece of information before moving forward on the process. Keeping in mind the advice provided by Sidnee Pinho, the group quickly learned how to select only the relevant information to the case and started debating the possible recommendation.

Surprisingly, after one hour of debating, each group came up with a different revenue number and opposite opinions about the drug launching. Sidnee Pinho explained that rather than the “correct solution,” the structure of the process was more important than the outcome. How did the groups interpret the data? What was the rationale behind the approach? For example, the information about treatment duration and drug dosage per day was missing in the supporting material. Depending on how the groups filled this gap, the outcome was different. As we learned, instead of rushing to get to an answer, it is important to ask critical questions and provide structured and strengthened solutions. In fact, in real life, consultants constantly need to make decisions with limited data and time. In these cases, aiming to understand the problem and getting to the root of it by asking “But why?” helps to provide a structured solution to the client.

This workshop was an excellent opportunity to learn how to tackle a case in Consulting and learn valuable advice from an experienced consultant. As we can see, the parallel between Life Sciences Consulting and a STEM PhD is clear. Students and postdocs will find several opportunities to sharpen their transferable skills during the academic journey and shorten the gap between industry and academia. I invite you to look at your PhD from a new perspective and answer the question: how many of these hats are you wearing already?

References:

  1. “consultant.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2021. https://www.merriam-webster.com (18 May 2021).

This article was edited by Senior Editor Brianna Alexander.

The Logic Model and your project

By Natalie Losada

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”

Charles Kettering

Our speaker at this iJOBS event on May 10th was not only a down-to-earth, insightful leader, but he is also a founder of the STEM Advocacy Institute (SAi), a place where you can perfect your Logic Model for your project.  By the end of this article, you’ll understand the Logic Model, how to apply the Model, and where you can practice the Model. 

  • The Logic Model is defined as a theory of change visually linking the connections between the problem, solution, activities, outputs, outcomes, and the intended impact desired by a given program.  It is something that can help you properly plan and understand your projects and life goals.  A schematic outline to help you develop your logic model is shown below.
The Logic Model schematic.  You can use these instructions to help plan your projects in your professional and personal life.

Dr. Fanuel Muindi told the attendees to take screenshot of this model outline and save it, because it should be used time and time again.  When filling out this model template, you need to spend just as much time, if not more time, on shaping and defining the “Problem Space” as you will eventually spend on the “Solution Space.”  Most people don’t spend nearly enough time on this step, and then the solution becomes more difficult to manage or does not address the problem in its entirety.  For example, if you want to be a in Medical Communications in a big pharmaceutical company, is that the “Problem”?  Dr. Muindi answered that the real problem is that you want to communicate science to the public.  Problems and goals should address deeper values and need to be thought out carefully.  You should anticipate framing the problem, reframing it, pitching it to someone, and reframing it.  If your search for the problem looks like the picture below, that’s totally normal.  Dr. Muindi’s path was not a straight and narrow path, but it’s a path he chose that gave him opportunities for the most learning.  Ultimately, his learning experiences helped him understand the problem space.

Screenshot of the Zoom event where Dr. Muindi shows graphically the explorative path of defining the problem that leads to a successful project plan.

The next step is to develop the “Solution Space” or the “how” stage.  If you’ve written a grant or research proposal for your thesis, this is where you explain any instruments, collaborators, or materials you’ll need.  The Logic Model goes one step further and includes the activities you’ll need to complete to accomplish your goal.  Dr. Muindi mentioned that if he enjoys the activities listed in his Logic Model, he knows that the goal is a great fit for him and he’ll stay motivated every step of the way.  Similar to grants proposals, you’ll also need to also explain the “so what?”, which in the Logic Model involves two categories.  The “Outputs” measure productivity and “Outcomes” are changes taking place as a result of your actions.  For example, your output can be a published book and the outcome can be that people read it and are impacted by it!  This could be extended to a paper published during your PhD where your outcome could be that the paper is heavily cited and positively influences your field.  One step that might get overlooked without using the Logic Model is gaging your “Major Assumptions.”  These are things that could put you at a disadvantage if you’re not careful. Any unrealistic assumptions about your abilities, limitations, motivation, or the industry in which you are working need to be carefully considered.  For example, if your goal requires you to be super organized, but you are not, that could cause your dream to fail.  Dr. Muindi suggested using the SWOT analysis to find your “Major Assumptions.”  List out the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats that pertain to you and your plan.  For an example of a complete Logic Model, Dr Muindi shared his below.

Screenshot of Dr. Fanuel Muindi’s professional logic model, filled out as an example for the JOBS event attendees to understand how to structure their projects and life goals.

The Logic Model is implemented and cherished at the SAi (STEM Advocacy Institute) founded by Dr. Muindi .  This institute is “an incubator that provides access to research, infrastructure, mentorship, community, training, and funding to accelerate” projects of those who are lacking resources.  These projects can be initiatives, tools, or programs built using the Logic Model.  SAi aims to support underrepresented women and men that have great ideas and great work ethic, but are missing the connection to get their projects into development.  They offer a 10-week SAi Fellows Program to get people started on their project, of which 3 weeks involve framing the question in the best possible way.  Residents of the program attend lectures and spend time beefing up their projects so that by the end, they can pitch their ideas to the public and execute their plans independently.  The demand for their incubator is accelerating so be ready to apply to the next cohort in June (program starts in September)!

To wrap up a perfectly informative event, we had a rapid Q&A session.  There so many insightful questions, but here are just three great highlights from the attendees.

How do you know if your outcome is worth pursuing?

There’s no way to know for certain.  Dr. Muindi stressed that you should be comfortable and willing to go back and change directions.  As everything is a learning experience, your path towards your goal will be very blurry.  Be comfortable with the unknown.

Should logic models be resilient to things like COVID-19?

It’s good to think about what potential threats could detail your plan, because every model has its strengths and weaknesses.  You can think about this is the “Major Assumptions” section as well.  For Dr. Muindi, the pandemic further energized him to follow and abide by his logic model instead of derailing him.  The chaos around the world helped him see that his logic model was the right approach for the goal.  If it wasn’t, he would’ve been further motivated to reframe and replan!

  How do you make the end goal desirable to partners when they are needed long term?

Share your logic as early as possible and make sure your interests are aligned in early stages.  As with any partnership, you need to know each other’s priorities.  Communication is key for any collaboration!

One of Dr. Muindi’s final words of advice should be something that stays in your head every day and ally day.  Ask yourself the hard question – is everything you’re doing making sense for your goal?

Ask yourself the hard question – is everything you’re doing making sense for your goal?

Dr. Fanuel Muindi 

This article was edited by Senior Editor, Samantha Avina.

Leadership Skills and How to Be an Inclusive Leader

By Juliana Corrêa-Velloso

Graduate students and postdocs operate on both sides of leadership. As students they are mentees, but for newer and junior level lab members they serve as mentors. Although these key interactions are as important as the technical skills acquired during the PhD, they are often neglected. Looking back at your PhD training do you remember being prepared to be a leader? More importantly, do you recognize yourself as a potential inclusive leader? On February 11, iJOBS hosted the How to be an Inclusive Leader seminar led by Dr. Srikant Iyer, director of the Science Alliance program at The New York Academy of Sciences. Dr. Iyer shared his knowledge on the leadership skills for scientists and offered some directions of how to be a mindful and inclusive leader.

Most PhD students learn interpersonal skill management based predominantly on personal experiences and environment around them. I am sure many of us, at some point of our career have doubted our leadership capacity. Negative feelings toward leadership positions such as “I am the wrong person for this” or “I can’t do that” can unfortunately be common recurring thoughts. To change perspective of these thoughts, Dr. Iyer encouraged the participants to reflect on what motivated them to apply for a graduate program as his introduction to the seminar. “What were the skills that made you a good candidate to the program? And why did you select that specific program?”, Dr. Iyer pressed. Possessing traits like curiosity, enthusiasm, and strong communications skills, set PhD students on a strong leadership development pathway, he explained. And if you believe that your record with leadership experiences is not ideal, no worries. According to Dr. Iyer leadership traits can be developed and trained. But how?

During the seminar, attendees were asked to describe what being a leader meant to them. The audience generated a word cloud that showed words describing leadership characteristics such as “mentor, inspirational, support, role model, motivator and communicator”. Indeed, these characteristics matched with the classic figure of a mentor, a crucial player in the academic formation. PIs and senior postdocs do provide some guidance to PhDs students and junior postdocs on leadership development based on their own experiences.  However, this important task should not rely solely on personal experiences or common-sense knowledge about a specific matter. Without structured science-based orientation about their leadership approach, mentors can be misled by implicit bias. To build up a new generation of inclusive leaders we need to look back at how current leaders were shaped.

Figure 1: Screenshot from Dr. Iyer seminar. Attendees were asked to define what does a leader means to them. The image represents the word cloud formed by the answers.

Based on a study from American Psychologist Journal1, Dr. Iyer described the status of the leadership culture in the United States in the early nineties. This study showed that rather than being chosen based on leadership skills, first line supervisors were chosen based on job-related technical skills with a correlated 60%-75% rating of poor managerial competence. The study also highlighted the importance of the feedback from subordinates, peers, and superiors to the evaluation of the leader. Considering the importance of a leader for the functionality of an organization, the consequences of working with unfitted and untrained leaders can go beyond the dysfunctional interaction in a group to affect the whole system. Ultimately, investment in all parties involved in that alliance, at both the individual and organizational level is critical to achieve a constructive and beneficial work environment.

One of the main characteristics of a compassionate leader is equity.  In terms of a group, equity means equal opportunities while equality means equal resources. Diversity comes from the inclusion of underrepresented groups. Diversity equity, therefore, is equal opportunity for these groups. It is impossible to talk about equity without thinking about inclusion. As Dr. Iyer explained, considering team gender, ethnicity, disabilities, LGBTQIQA+, and different cultural backgrounds is essential to a healthy leadership culture. He also highlighted the importance of understanding some relevant theoretical concepts to have fruitful discussion about inclusion and representation in the workplace. Dr. Iyer showed a practical example formulated by Dr. Robert Seller, Chief Diversity Officer at University of Michigan to emphasize his point. “Imagine that a dance party is being organized. In that context, diversity happens when everyone is invited to the party. Equity will happen if everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. Inclusion is allowing everyone the opportunity to dance”, he said. This good example shows that the assimilation of these key concepts is essential not only for a throwing a good party, but also for nurturing a prosperous workplace environment (please, wait for the pandemic to be over to put that example in practice!).

Awareness about others is key to inclusive leadership. A longitudinal university-wide study2 showed that STEM classes taught by “fixed mindset” faculty have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation compared to classes taught by faculty with a “growth mindset”. According to the study, faculty mindset beliefs predicted student achievement and motivation above and beyond any other faculty characteristic, including their gender, race/ethnicity, age, teaching experience, or tenure status. In fact, implicit biases related to gender, race, and culture, are deeply rooted in society and substantial barriers faced by underrepresented groups. Another important aspect is the quality of the communication of a leader. According to a Harvard Business Review3, men are more often positively described in their performance reviews compared to their female counterparts. The impact of these canonical leadership shortcomings can affect all steps in career development. To overcome these problems, educational initiatives and implementation of inclusive policies are necessary to start and guarantee needed leadership inclusivity changes. From this perspective, it is clear that key representatives within an organization, and the organization itself, need to be responsible for identifying and creating policies in preventing these biases.

An inspirational initiative cited by Dr. Iyer, is The Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE). By hosting equity workshops and conducting demographic assessments, OXIDE contributes to the reducing of inequitable policies and practices that have historically led to disproportionate representation on academic faculties with respect to gender, race-ethnicity, disabilities, and sexual orientation. As a result of this kind of initiative, additional inclusive practices are being discussed across universities. For example, the traditional “wall of fame” from most university departments are not representative and diverse, reinforcing a single type of stereotype. With the promotion of inspirational examples from all demographic groups, universities can find a balance between celebrating the past without jeopardizing the future. By encouraging personal growth and advocating for inclusive policies, best practices of leadership will evolve. Individuals need to be allowed to be themselves to achieve their full potential and bring to the table their unique contribution. As Dr. Iyer explained, by covering their personal identity to fit into a professional identity, the potential for innovation, creativity, and success is downplayed.

By encouraging personal growth and advocating for inclusive policies, best practices of leadership will evolve. Individuals need to be allowed to be themselves to achieve their full potential and bring to the table their unique contribution.

– Dr. Srikant Iyer

Now that we have an idea about how a nurturing workplace environment should be, how can you prepare yourself to be an inclusive leader? Here are some final takeaways from Dr. Iyer’s seminar:

  1. List your strengths and values and keep the list close to you. As a STEM PhD, you certainly already have several leadership skills.
  2. Remember, as any other skill, leadership skills are acquired. Be intentional about your goals and training.
  3. Have an open-minded approach and educate yourself about equity, diversity, and inclusion. In the process, be gentle with yourself and with others. Be mindful that each one has a diverse cultural background and different levels of literacy on these subjects. That is why engaging in educational initiatives are important.
  4. As a woman, if you struggle with Impostor Syndrome, remember that you are in an environment that suffers from a lack of inequity. Good materials to read are the paper Impostor Syndrome: Treat the Cause, not the Symptom by Mullangi and Jagsi4 and the study report: Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine5.
  5. During the seminar, Dr. Iyer and the attendees discussed 2 case-studies related to equity, diversity, and inclusion in the academic set-up. I strongly recommend readers view the recording of the event at the iJOBS events page and enjoy the constructive discussion about the cases.

I hope this article helps you to envision yourself as an inclusive leader and inspires you to nourish your colleague’s growth along the pathway.

References:

  1. Robert Hogan, Gordon Curphy, Joyce Hogan. “What We Know About Leadership Effectiveness and Personality”, American Psychologist, 1994.
  2. Elizabeth Canning, Katherine Muenks, Dorainne Green, Mary C. Murphy. “STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes”, Science Advances, 2019.
  3. David Smith, Judith Rosenstein, Margaret Nikolov. “The Different Words We Use to Describe Male and Female Leaders”, Harvard Business Reviews, 2018.
  4. Samyukta Mullangi, Reshma Jagsi. “Imposter Syndrome, Treat the Cause, Not the Symptom”. JAMA, 2019.
  5. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Policy and Global Affairs; Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine; Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia; Paula A. Johnson, Sheila E. Widnall, and Frazier F. Benya, Editors. “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine”, 2018.

This article was edited by Senior Editor Samantha Avina.

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

By Juliana Corrêa-Velloso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rutgers iJOBS Networking Event: BioPharma Networking Group with Current Trainees

By: Samantha Avina

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, professionals in academia and pharmaceutical industries have adapted traditionally social events, like networking, by hosting virtually. The iJOBS program kick-started the fall 2020 semester by co-hosting a virtual networking event with the Bio-Pharmaceutical Networking Group(BPNG) on September 22nd, 2020. The Rutgers iJOBS program, led by Dr. Janet Adler, and the BPNG organization, led by Anil Vaidya, Stan Radomski, and Dr. Stephen Parent, joined in a collaborative effort to discuss how networking serves as a critical component in identifying new job opportunities. 

To start the event, Dr. Janet Adler highlighted the components of our iJOBS program which facilitate optimal networking opportunities to promote student exposure to non-academic based careers. In 2015, Rutgers University was 1 of 17 schools in the United States to receive an NIH Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) grant in the effort to help prepare and promote student entrance into non-academic careers. As a recipient of the NIH BEST grant award, Rutgers founded the iJOBS program. The iJOBS program is comprised of 4 phases in which students learn about the various non-academic careers at their fingertips and are exposed to resources which aid in their workforce entrance. In phase 1, students attend events to observe and inquire about different non-academic career options and identify fields that spark their interest. During phase 2, students apply for official entry into the iJOBS program to shadow professionals in their field of interest via an externship facilitated by the iJOBS program outreach. Further, in phase 3 students are assisted with the job application process for positions of interest. And finally, phase 4 includes the requirement of Rutgers Alumni to give back to iJOBS as a mentor, or more importantly, contribute to a network connection for future iJOBS program members. Many of the participants at this networking event, including leaders of the BPNG program, were Rutgers alumni or previously affiliated with the university.

Visual representation of iJOBS program aimed to assist Rutgers graduate students and post-docs in non-academic career pursuits. Photo courtesy of Rutgers University iJOBS program.

Next, BPNG founder, Anil Vaidya, discussed the benefits of becoming a member of the BPNG network with virtual network attendees. The BPNG program was established in 2012 by founders Anil Vaidya, Stan Radomski, and Dr. Stephen Parent. Anil highlighted how chapters of the BPNG organization have expanded in recent years to provide a large network for scientists throughout the eastern United states. BPNG is comprised of approximately 18,000 LinkedIn members across 8 regions including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, and most recently Toronto, Canada. Excitingly, their mission is to facilitate crosstalk and networking opportunities among professionals of diverse backgrounds within the health science community.

Whether virtual or live networking, the whole idea is to build strength within yourself and refine your ability to become a people person and interact with people in regard to your career track

Anil discussed how the art of networking includes becoming involved and enhancing your credibility through attending events. “Whether virtual or live networking, the whole idea is to build strength within yourself and refine your ability to become a people person and interact with people in regard to your career track and how to navigate through it,” Anil stated. Mr. Vaidya also emphasized the importance of creating a self-brand so that in the networking process, people can identify you and your associations in the field. 

Presentation slide from iJOBS and BPNG networking event highlighting components of successful networking. Photo courtesy of iJOBS and BPNG.

An important takeaway from the event was how critical it is to  utilize your personal brand to talk effectively  about your career interests in a concise and efficient manner. “As you speak to people you learn interview skills because you get a lot of interview as you network with people face to face or in person,” Anil emphasized. During virtual breakout sessions, students and industry professionals discussed their career goals, network, and even practiced their elevator pitches to focus on creating their personal brands.

As you speak to people you learn interview skills because you get a lot of interview as you network with people face to face or in person

In fact, I myself enjoyed having 3 attempts to perfect my elevator pitch with completely different sets of people as participants were mixed around into different virtual breakout rooms. With every new introduction, I became more concise in how I wanted to describe myself, my research, and my long-term career goals. Even more exciting, I met a lot of people from a mix of academic and pharmaceutical institutions located all throughout the New Jersey and New York area. At the end of the event, attendees were abuzz with excitement about the new connections and networking experiences they gained virtually from all around the tri-state area. In the true spirit of networking, all virtual attendants were able to add their LinkedIn contact information and email to a google doc set up by Dr. Adler to be shared with the group in light of the new virtual adaptation. 

The iJOBS and BPNG co-hosted networking event was a fun, exciting, and engaging virtual event that offered attendees a lot more than just talks about how to network, but also facilitated the environment to practice and make real connections with other professionals in the scientific community. Those who are interested in learning more about BPNG can visit their website and become a member of their LinkedIn page!

This article was edited by Junior Editor Rukia Henry and Senior Editor Brianna Alexander. 

“Informational Interviews – What? How? Why?” A recap of NIH OITE’s webinar

By Helena Mello

Regardless of the career path stage, networking is an essential aspect of any professional life. As scientists, we have opportunities to connect in conferences, seminars and career events. We can strengthen these connections and expand our network with informational interviews; however, not everyone is familiar with this resource. With that in mind, the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) held the webinar “Informational Interviews – What? How? Why?” by Amanda (Dumsch) Langer. This article covers the webinar’s main points.

Why?

Strong networking leads to shorter job searches. Informational interviews help you expand your network and are an opportunity to show your professional abilities and interests. Regardless of the job East Jump you are searching for, in many cases, referrals can help land an interview more quickly than online applications. Those that will refer you must be familiar with your professional background, goals, personality and work values. Therefore, your referrer needs to get to know you. The goal is to let them know your career objectives while maintaining a friendly, professional relationship.

While most senior graduate students and post-doctoral researchers understand the benefits of networking, young researchers can also take advantage of it to explore careers. Performing informational interviews with professionals from diverse fields can help you narrow down the potential career paths after graduate school. Besides, starting early enables you to broaden your network, which is undoubtedly a great advantage when the actual job search begins.

What?

The primary purpose of an informational interview is to ask for information about a particular job or career path. When preparing for it, the first step is to reflect on your career values and think of questions that address them. Think about why you chose to have a conversation with that person. Is it because of their background? Company? Position? What is it about them that you are interested in learning? Make sure to ask a few questions about their career progression, so you can understand how it relates to yours. After getting familiar with their background, you can ask about their field. The meeting is a great opportunity to ask about the field’s work environment and culture. An honest answer can help you identify a particular company you’d be interested in joining. In addition, questions about their job search experience and future moves can give insights into your job hunting or career exploration plans. Finally, ask if there are other companies or people in the field that you should learn about. Good informational interviews create a domino effect helping you secure more interviews!

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How?

There are three groups of people you can consider for informational interviews: your inner circle, acquaintances and professionals you don’t know. Starting with peers and friends (the inner circle) can make for a less stressful conversation and help you gain confidence. Acquaintances are people you briefly met at an event, or your partner’s coworkers, for example. They already have a connection with you, but you don’t quite know them yet. Finally, you can branch out to professionals on LinkedIn or at your school’s alumni database to start a connection. There is a chance that some of your requests will go unanswered, but don’t get discouraged. Send a short, direct message stating who you are, how you found them, and your goals for the meeting.

Informational interviews are professional conversations; therefore, make sure you respect the other person’s availability. Be clear about your expectations with the meeting, and be ready to talk about your background and career interests. Prepare in advance, write down questions and main topics, and have your elevator pitch ready to go. Finally, following up is key! This is the most neglected part of networking. Send an e-mail within 48 hours with a thank you note, check-in with them periodically, and show that you are available to keep the conversation going.

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I hope this post helped you understand the purpose of an informational interview and how to set it up. Thanks to NIH OITE’s webinar and thank you for reading. Good luck and happy networking!

This article was edited by Janaina Pereira and Tomas Kasza.




BioNJ Talent Network: searching for life sciences jobs in New Jersey

By Helena Mello

New Jersey’s life sciences ecosystem is one of the biggest in the United States. It is home to many of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies including Johnson and Johnson, Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb. With that in mind, BioNJ was founded 25 years ago with the mission to “enhance the climate for life sciences in the state”. BioNJ is an association with more than 400 member companies and is committed to “stimulate and support innovation, improve and save lives, and lower the hurdles of healthcare advancements for society”.

BioNJ supports its member companies by helping them recruit the best talent in STEM via a state-of-the-art platform specifically designed for New Jersey’s life sciences industry.

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There, you can search for jobs in specific regions within New Jersey. If you’d like to refine your search, you can add a number of filters such as salary range, experience, and education level. These can improve your chances of finding a job post that matches your expectations. Even though the search engine was specifically designed for the life sciences, there will still be job postings that will not match what you are looking for. Therefore, in order to take advantage of everything the platform has to offer, I highly recommend that you create a user profile. You can register for free and have access to several benefits such as job alerts and resume critiques.

The user profile gives you the option to upload several resumes (it is important to tailor your resume to each job description), cover letters, and references for future applications. Moreover, you can set up job alerts (and set up their frequency, too!) and have access to resources on topics such as salary negotiation and interviewing tips.

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It goes without saying that the more complete and up-to-date your profile is, the greater the chances are that you will be matched with a job post that is aligned with your expectations. Happy job searching!

This article was edited by Erika Davidoff and Tomas Kasza.




FDA’s role in expediting the development of novel medical products

By Huri Mücahit

 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as the name suggests, is the primary regulatory organization for food and drug safety, including biologics and medical devices. However, surprisingly, the FDA regulates much more in the name of protecting public health, such as cosmetics, veterinary products, and tobacco products. The range in regulatory jurisdiction speaks to the long history of food and drug regulation that came about in response to the highly unregulated nature of medicine production in the early 1900’s, resulting in the death of 22 children due to contaminated vaccines. Since then, several laws have been passed requiring the licensing and inspection of food and drug manufacturers, as well as mandating the demonstration of not only safety, but also efficacy of a drug. Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., Director for Biologics and Research Evaluation, discussed the FDA’s history and approval process in this iJOBS seminar.

 

Of particular interest to Ph.D. students in the health sciences, is the FDA’s role in promoting the development of products that address the public’s unmet medical needs. The agency addresses these needs through several factors, such as extracting user fees for each application examined, so that performance metrics can be placed on the FDA to ensure timely review. In addition, to further facilitate drug and biologics development, sponsors of the applications, which are typically pharmaceutical companies, can ask for OrphanDesignation, apply for Priority Review vouchers, or apply through any of the expedited development programs. As the first category suggests, the Orphan Designation covers treatments for rare diseases affecting less than 200,000 people, and it features tax credits, 7 years of market exclusivity, and user fee exemption. Priority Review vouchers can be applied for neglected diseases of the tropics, rare pediatric diseases, and for medical countermeasures. This option ensures the review process will be completed within 6 months rather than the standard 10, however, the sponsors must demonstrate significant improvement in safety or effectiveness. Additional programs targeting treatments for serious conditions, like Fast Track, Accelerated Approval, or Breakthrough Therapy, may offer advantages such asrolling reviews in which the committee will review components of the application as they are prepared, approval based on surrogate endpoints, or extensive guidance from the review committee. Finally, sponsors can also be granted the Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy Designation (RMAT), if they provide cell therapies, tissue engineering products, or human cell and tissue products.

 

While the FDA has many paths to approval for new treatment applications, the agency naturally follows a standard process to ensure safety and efficacy of the treatment. This might include an initial information meeting between the FDA and the sponsor to go over the application procedure and provide guidance on the types of studies required prior to clinical trials. If the results look promising once the necessary pre-clinical trials are conducted, a manufacturing process will be developed, keeping with Good Manufacturing Practices. A second meeting might then be scheduled to propose Phase I trials and protocols, which, if approved, will be used to generate data for further review. Upon proving that the treatment has the potential to address an unmet need, the FDA will assign a specific designation, such as RMAT or Fast Track, and review the additional data produced from Phase II and III trials, as well, as manufacturing protocols. Finally, after a series of informal, mid-cycle, and late-cycle meetings, an advisory committee consisting of experts within the field will meet to grant or deny approval. This committee may also require post-marketing studies to be conducted to further test the safety of the treatment. If the sponsor fails to complete these studies, the FDA has the authority to rescind approval.

 

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For Ph.D. students interested in working with the FDA, those within epidemiology or biostatistics fields have the highest chance for employment immediately following their defense. However, to be a hired as a regulatory reviewer or research reviewer, post-doctoral research associates are preferred. Additionally, since the laboratories and the majority of offices are housed in the main facility in Silver Spring, Maryland, these positions are only available at this site. If the applicant wishes to remain local, there are inspector positions available throughout the country. The FDA also provides internship opportunities for interested students from a variety of backgrounds, including undergraduates and post-docs.

 

Overall, the FDA is a crucial agency in aiding the development of drugs and biologics and ensuring safety and efficacy of these treatments. Given the sheer number of drug applications received, Ph.Ds. have a wealth of opportunities for employment in reviewing these applications or conducting lab work within the FDA. Ultimately, these opportunities provide a medium to enact significant change and guide the path for new treatments.

 

Edited by: Jennifer Casiano-Matos and Monal Mehta

This blog post was written after attending the iJOBS Career Seminar: Jobs at the FDA on June 13th, 2019.

 




Where Are They Now: Ina Nikolaeva

– Deepshikha Mishra

 Ina Nikolaeva graduated from Rutgers University with a PhD in Cell Bio and Neuroscience, where she studied role of mtor pathway in brain injury and diseases for her thesis. Currently, she enjoys her role as an Associate Scientific Director at Healthcare Consultancy Group. She was a senior editor and lead blogger for the iJOBS blog and actively participated multiple programs organized by iJOBS. She shares her professional journey with us through this interview. 

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  • What have you been up to since graduating? Can you tell us about your job?

Following graduation, I started out as a medical writer at a medical communications company three years ago. Since then, I’ve changed companies once and am now an Associate Scientific Director at Healthcare Consultancy Group. I still love the medical communication field and plan to stay in it for the foreseeable future.

  • What got you interested in this field?

I have always enjoyed and have been reasonably skilled at writing and communicating. Even though at the time of graduation, while I did not want to pursue bench work any further, I also wanted to stay close to cutting edge science. Once I discovered the medical communications career path, I looked no further ?

  • Can you tell us what your job search experience? What were some obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

Some of my main challenges involved transitioning from running around in the lab to sitting at a desk. However, I always enjoyed the writing part of lab research and so I did not have much difficulty transitioning to doing that fulltime. The other key difference – though I did not necessarily perceive it as a challenge – is that medical communications is inherently a client-based service. Although I gained many communication skills while working towards my PhD, learning to provide a service for a client was a completely new experience.

  • How is your path going so far? What are some of the differences and similarities between your current position versus your research life at Rutgers?

The first difference is that my research at Rutgers was in neuroscience, using a mouse as a model organism. My current position now involves transitioning to oncology and working with data from human clinical trials. It is a whole different beast, but there is plenty of opportunity to catch up and get comfortable with the new scientific areas before taking on projects independently. I continue to enjoy my work every day!

  • What was your involvement with iJOBS, and is there anything specific that you were able to take away from the program events that helped you secure a position?

I was very involved with iJOBS and was one of the founding writers for the iJOBS blog. Eventually, I took over as the main editor as well and kept that task up for several months following my graduation. The iJOBS’s event I found the most useful was the SciPhD program. It was extremely helpful in giving us a glimpse of what life outside of academia entails, as well as providing very useful advice for resume writing, interviewing, and other useful skills. Larry and Randy specifically gave me tips on what companies are looking for at each stage of the interview process, and my resume is STILL in the format found in their manual!

  • 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?

My PI always let me write my own papers and encouraged me to take every opportunity I can to present my research in talk and poster form. She also always emphasized the “story-telling” element of such presentations. When it came time to interview, these skills were extremely important, as this is exactly what interviewers look for in the presentation you give them on-site. Additionally, my work on several blogs during this period was a clear indicator that I participate in writing activities even outside of the lab. I think all of these activities put together demonstrated both my skill and devotion to writing.

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

I think the most important thing is to really think about which day-to-day activities you enjoy the most and least about your current position. You should try to find a career path that fits within those parameters.

Thank you very much Ina for the interview. It was so lovely knowing you and learning about your journey. I am sure the information you shared with us is going to help so many of us. Good luck.

Edited by: Eileen Oni and Tomas Kasza




A perspective on building relationships and networking

By Abla Tannous

While networking may come as second nature to some, many cringe at the thought of it. Yet, it does not have to be that way. Networking is all about building relationships.

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Image source: Pixabay  https://pixabay.com/vectors/social-media-connections-networking-3846597/

While networking may come as second nature to some, many cringe at the thought of it. Yet, it does not have to be that way. Networking is all about building relationships.

Every day presents us with opportunities to make new connections.  I was once on a plane trip and met a nice lady who started a conversation with me. You might have been in a situation like this and all you wanted was to sleep or read a book silently rather that talking to your chatty neighbor. At the time I met that woman, I was looking to learn about project management and she turned out to be one. I learned a lot about her job but unfortunately, I did not follow up with that connection. My lesson from that incident was to not miss on opportunities like this by not following up. Yet, if you don’t succeed at it, the potential of learning something new is well worth it. If you’re not wired to start conversations with random strangers, it may take you a lot of conscious effort to adapt and apply this approach. Yet, having this mindset will make you always ready to create new connections when an opportunity arises. There are simple ways to follow up with someone to show that you value the relationship; for example, you can send an email or a message to congratulate them on new accomplishments or life events and genuinely be happy for them and their success, invite them for coffee, share an article they wrote, ask for career advice or offer how you can help. In our world today, social media has made this easier, and allows us plenty of chances to connect, but try not to rely only on social media.

With that said, it’s important to remember that a relationship is always a two-way street. You can be a great asset to others and to your community, just as a new connection can be a great asset to you. While helping others should not come as an act in which we expect something in return, it allows us to leave a positive imprint where we go, and to foster strong relationships. And again, what is networking other than creating relationships between people?

Most of us probably have heard the quote “We rise by lifting others” (Robert Ingersoll). I strongly believe in this as a way of life. Mentoring and volunteering are some of the ways of helping and creating strong relationships and a better world.  If connecting with others is not in one’s comfort zone, it is important to not be afraid of making mistakes in the process of networking; instead, endeavor to learn from all your networking experiences and move on. And as I have experienced, magic happens when we step out of our comfort zone. I used to find it difficult to initiate a conversation with people I do not know much about. I started going to networking events such as those organized by iJOBS and the New Jersey Biopharma Networking group (NJBPNG). Doing so, I overcame the difficulty of breaking the ice when meeting a new person and made many connections.  You may not share common interests, or may have a very different personality from someone you are trying to connect with, but you can always find some basic common ground, provided that both of the concerned parties are willing to find it.

I have not always realized the importance of networking and I have not always applied the principles I describe here; however, it is never too late to start and to prioritize building and maintaining relationships. It may not be easy, so it requires continuous effort. Our busy lives take us away from thinking about how we are connecting to our immediate and larger communities and we have to constantly remind ourselves of doing it.

This article was edited by Shekerah Primus and Helena Mello.