by Helena Mello
When scientists think about Johnson & Johnson, the company is usually viewed as the pharma giant that has been in business for over 130 years. While accurate, PhD students and post-doctorates don’t tend to recall the hundreds of products made through J&J’s Consumer Health Division. On May 4th, the iJOBS program hosted a virtual career panel with employees in this sector of J&J, so we could learn more about this exciting and promising scientific area.
The rapid flow of information in the internet era has caused profound changes in the health care system. Patients have become proactive towards monitoring their health status accessing health and wellness-related information. This change has led the traditional health care industry to convert from a sick care market to a consumer-driven health market. The consumer health sector, although not focused on patients, has adapted to accommodate the evolving needs of consumers by changing marketing habits and developing cutting-edge product formulations. From mouthwash to sunscreen and skincare products, scientific innovation is at the core of new product launches. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why STEM graduates are highly suited to hold jobs within the consumer health market.
Although all six panelists come from STEM backgrounds and received graduate school training, not all of them held post-doctoral positions before moving into industry. In fact, J&J and other pharma companies often offer post-doc programs, which can ultimately lead to full-time job positions. Dr. Daphne Meza, who holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Stony Brook University, became a post-doctoral fellow in skin biology in 2017 and now holds a Sr Scientist position at J&J. In contrast, Dr. Kyle Saitta, who holds a Ph.D. in toxicology from Rutgers, has joined the company this past February as a Sr Scientist at the toxicology group shortly after defending his thesis.
Despite holding similar degrees, the way the panelists got into J&J varied greatly. Dr. Jin Seo, a Principal Scientist, learned about an opening when a friend forwarded her a LinkedIn job posting. She applied through the platform, and after a series of phone and on-site interviews, landed her first job outside of academia. On the other hand, Dr. Julie Bianchini, also a Principal Scientist and a New Jersey native, reached out to her east coast network after getting a Ph.D. degree from Stanford University. Dr. Bianchini connected with hiring managers and was invited for interviews, to which she carried one printed slide summarizing her Ph.D. work and how her expertise could fit into the job description. Similarly, Dr. Kyle Saitta landed his current job through his connection with a J&J employee and Rutgers alumnus that had graduated from the same program as him. Although the pathsto finding their current position differed, all panelists had the same advice in terms of job search: study the company you are interested in, do informational interviews, and nurture your network.
One common question posed to industry professionals is how does it differ from the academic environment. The answers usually come down to three points highlighted in this panel: timeline, independence, and teamwork. In academia, there is a considerable amount of flexibility in project length and deadlines; whereas in industry, timelines are more rigid and enforced. The working day is a typical 9-to-5, and one “must learn how to work within these hours,” said Dr. Bianchini. Deadlines are critical since other groups rely on your data to move the project forward. Likewise, in order to make sure that the project is running smoothly and in a timely fashion, project management is essential. Whereas in academia supervision tends to be more casual and prioritize aspects such as research independence, industry professionals are assigned to a manager that is held responsible for the team’s success both in accomplishing professional growth and project goals. Finally, industry projects are comprised of several groups within the company. From conceptualization to marketing and beyond, there are experts at every step of the way to make sure the products are perfect. This environment promotes the exchange of information at a fast pace and makes sure each individual is contributing their expertise.
Because of the strong team collaboration, panelists highlighted skills that will help you stand out while pursuing a career at J&J Consumer Health. Attention to detail, ability to learn quickly and a genuine interest in learning new tasks are considered strong assets. Ph.D.s are trained to cultivate these skills; therefore, they contribute not only as highly technical individuals but also as team players. Since the technical aspects of consumer health may not exactly match your academic training, you should be able to articulate your technical expertise in order to show how to apply your knowledge to a new scientific field.
A doctoral training provides a base to start a career in the consumer health arena. If you are considering this path, make sure to keep in mind the differences between industry and academia, prepare to get exposed to the field through networking, leverage your connections by letting them know your goals and performing informational interviews. This article covered some of these aspects, and you can find more detailed information about networking, career moves, and interviews through other iJOBS blog posts. I hope you enjoyed this post and feel free to comment below if you have any questions!
This article was edited by Janaina Pereira and Tomas Kasza.