Meet Marijo Roiko, Microbiology Program Director at Altru Health System

MarijoRoikoDescribe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

I provide leadership and technical expertise for the clinical microbiology laboratory. In the clinical microbiology laboratory, our mission is to identify etiological agents of infectious diseases and test for antibiotic resistance, as necessary. As a clinical microbiologist, I routinely interact with clinical lab scientists, clinicians, pharmacists, infection control practitioners, public health, quality assurance and administrative personnel, and industry representatives. On a given day, I might perform microscopic examinations, write a test protocol, provide guidance on culture work-up, investigate a new diagnostic test, analyze data on test performance, or provide education on diagnostic testing.

How did you get your first job out of academia?

Clinical microbiology is a pathology subspecialty and requires specific training, which is provided either “on the job” or through a post-doctoral fellowship program. I became interested in the field of clinical microbiology while in graduate school. I was fortunate to spend some time in the nearby hospital laboratory. I also attended career sessions at conferences and met with people working in the field. One of these meetings eventually led to a post-doctoral fellowship, which provided the necessary training in clinical and public health microbiology. During my last year of fellowship training, I found job openings through coworkers, professional organizations, and through professional organizations’ websites.

Tell us about your academic background (describe your science at an undergraduate level)

My undergraduate major was general biology, with an emphasis on microbiology and molecular biology. I gained laboratory experience from classes with labs and from working as a lab tech in a research lab. I also obtained a master’s degree prior to my Ph.D., which increased my interest in molecular biology.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

It helps to have a definitive career goal. When I reached out to people working in the position that interested me, I learned so much about the field and the steps required to obtain a related position.

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Meet Teja Reddi, Associate Consultant at Decision Resources Group

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Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis: As a consultant in the life sciences, I advise pharmaceutical clients on different stages of drug development including R&D portfolio management in pre-clinical stages, identification of key clinical end-points to differentiate from competitors for later phases of clinical trials and developing strategy for product launches. Most project work is performed in teams of 3-4 people, where I conduct primary research, such as interviewing physicians and developing physician surveys, secondary research, developing models and synthesis of the collected information into useful insights for a “deliverable,” which is usually a Powerpoint report, occasionally supported by an Excel document. Additionally, I manage projects to ensure work streams are run in a timely manner and contribute to proposal development by writing short documents that lay out the suggested project work the firm will do for the client with steps that will lead us to developing the final insights. The end results of this work enable pharmaceutical companies to decide on or validate key milestones, such as whether they should develop a product further or how they can leverage what they currently have to develop the most impactful drug.

 

How did you get your first job out of academia? I talked to alumni (and anyone else who would talk to me) who had transitioned out of academia, including consultants. I realized that consulting would teach me the business acumen and the background I wanted on the pharmaceutical industry. Getting a job in consulting is a clear process: to complement my background in the life sciences, my application had to demonstrate a clear interest in consulting. Therefore, I participated in case competitions, took HBx CORe (an online course from Harvard Business School that teaches the basics of business) and did some pro bono consulting as a member of the Harvard Graduate Volunteer Consulting Group for a start-up. I also practiced “cases” with friends in the Harvard Graduate Consulting Club. The case interview, where an interviewer acts as a “client” asking for your recommendation for a specific project, is an opportunity for the interviewee to lay out structured thinking, prioritize key issues and self-manage time in developing a suggested recommendation for the client.

 

Tell us about your academic background. I received my Ph.D. in immunology, with dissertation work focused on host-virus interactions, specifically mechanisms of inhibition of DNA viruses including the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) with Dr. Norman Letvin and Dr. David Knipe at Harvard University. The most important skills I learned from them were developing clear hypotheses and critical interpretation of data; which are both crucial consulting craft skills.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now? Commit to your career and be aware that this can take up as much time as those experiments that run for 16 hours straight. Use every “resource” available to you, from the career center to friends, friends of friends and even head honchos in industry. It never hurts to ask people for advice- at the very least they say no; at the most, they can provide insights that help you decide on your career path and actionable next steps in getting there.

 

Find Teja on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tejaswini-reddi-ph-d-202b2934

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Meet Becky Simon, Staff Writer at BioCentury Publications

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Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

I’m a reporter for a daily news publication that covers the pharma and biotech industry. I follow clinical development, business practices, FDA regulation, patent law, and anything else that might be of interest to our audience, which is largely comprised of industry professionals and investors.

It’s a very news-driven job, so every day is different depending on what’s going on in the space. Every morning starts with an editorial meeting where writers will vet and pitch stories, and editors decide what will get covered that day. I’ll typically be assigned 3-4 stories a day to report on and write before our evening publication deadline.

The stories I write tend to cover things like clinical trial results, drug licensing deals, M&A, finance and earnings, FDA drug decisions, and even political campaigns and drug pricing controversies. I interview primary sources to get details on pipeline development, VC funding, competitive landscapes, pending lawsuits or any other relevant information that can be included in my articles. The learning curve to get started on the job was incredibly steep, as I knew nothing about the business or regulatory side of how companies operate- or even how to write in a succinct news format. Conveniently, the job still uses all the “soft skills” that PhDs excel at- being able how to quickly digest new information without too much handholding and parsing out the most important info.

One a side note, we’re currently hiring for one of our weekly publications that focuses exclusively on preclinical, typically academic research. If your dream job is to ask scientists lots of questions at the end of seminars and then write about it, this is the job for you!

How did you get your first job out of academia?

          I got my job through reverse-networking; a friend was at a seminar across the country, where one of my current editors was recruiting for new writers. She took meticulous notes for me, so when I applied for the job I knew all the correct buzzwords to use. It was very much a lucky break- while I was in grad school, I was not aware that pharma journalism was a field that existed. Before getting this job, I was working as a postdoc and had focused my job search on grant writing positions at universities, but was finding that I kept getting beat out by local candidates. It wasn’t until I started looking in the private sector that I found people willing to invest in interviewing out-of-state job candidates.

Tell us about your academic background (describe your science at an undergraduate level)

I have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Michigan State, and a PhD in cell biology from the University of Michigan. By about halfway through my PhD, I knew academia wasn’t for me, but I never found the time during graduate school to explore other opportunities. I did a year-long postdoc at UM, which I also used as an exercise in getting more science writing and editing experience, and figuring out how to write a resume. My PhD research focused on the effects of taste receptors and artificial sweeteners on the differentiation and metabolism of fat cells, and my postdoc work examined inflammation and stem cell models in colorectal cancer.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

Like everyone else ever, I have to say that networking is key. Also, don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that you’re not sure you’re qualified for! I met remarkably few of the requirements listed on my own job posting, but still weaseled my way in by having good rapport with my interviewers, showing confidence, and emphasizing all the soft skills acquired during my PhD that showed I could solve problems, figure things out, and loved to learn new things.

 

Find Becky on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-simon-42441515

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Meet Christina Carlson, Research Biologist (Mendenhall Research Fellow) at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center

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Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis. I conduct research focused on environmental transmission cycles for chronic wasting disease, a prion disease of cervids, and investigate methods to interrupt these cycles. Our laboratory’s organization, operation and the day-to-day research aren’t entirely unlike that found in academic settings, but there are some differences between the government and academic sectors. For me, a primary advantage of a science career in the government is that my work directly serves the public interest. As a result, science carried out in government agencies is often of an applied nature—we are primarily interested in and tasked with addressing the most critical questions and problems impacting society, the environment, and our natural resources. The flip side of this coin is that, as public servants, we have less control over the direction our science takes than our academic counterparts since public and congressional priorities change year to year. In my experience, government science puts a stronger emphasis on teamwork and flexibility than the autonomy that is expected in academia.

 

How did you get your first job out of academia? I thought long and hard about exactly why a Ph.D. was essential to me and exactly what kind of work best fit my personality and motivations before committing to it. That led me to spearheading an agreement with my graduate institution (University of Wisconsin – Madison) in which I was able to complete my doctoral thesis research in a government agency (USGS National Wildlife Health Center). The experience I gained and network I developed within the federal system as a graduate student were invaluable to me in ultimately transitioning into my current position as a government scientist. Of course, not everyone thinks that far ahead about their first job out of graduate school, but I think the important message here is that “thinking outside of the box” can be applied at any stage of one’s career search or transition (I’ve expanded on this a bit more in my response to the final question below).

 

Tell us about your academic background. I completed a B.S. degree in biology and chemistry at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point (UWSP) and then M.S. and M.P.H. degrees at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I earned my Ph.D. at UW – Madison through a cooperative agreement with the USGS National Wildlife Health Center. After completion of my Ph.D., I was awarded a USGS Mendenhall Research Fellowship in 2014.

 

As mentioned above, our research is focused on environmental prion transmission and contamination. One question we are particularly interested in right now is whether chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion disease of deer, elk, and moose species, is able to jump the species barrier and infect other wildlife. In experimental challenge studies, we’ve found that four native North American scavenging rodent species are highly susceptible to CWD, implicating a possible role for these animals as reservoir, vector or bridge species for CWD on the landscape. We are also currently investigating prion uptake in plants and working to characterize a prion-degrading serine protease we discovered in lichens as a novel anti-prion agent.

 

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now? Know yourself and blaze your own trail if that’s what needs to happen to get where you want to be. When I decided to return to school to pursue my Ph.D., I knew which scientists I wanted to work with to carry out my thesis research. The only problem was that they were government scientists, and government agencies don’t hand out graduate degrees. After taking it upon myself to present my “alternate Ph.D. path” to graduate programs at the nearest research university, identify a resident professor with similar research interests who agreed to serve as my academic thesis advisor, and serve as the point of contact for logistical and information flow between my academic and government institutions, I was on my way to earning my Ph.D. in a non-academic setting, which set me up ideally to transition into the government scientist position I hold now.

 

Learn more about Christina on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christina-carlson-5921ab9

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Meet Caitlin Mac Nair, Patent Scientist at Michael Best & Friedrich LLP

 

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Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

As a patent scientist (also called patent engineer, or patent agent for those that have passed the Patent Bar exam), I work as a liaison between inventors and the United States Patent Trademark Office (USPTO). Inventors come to us with an invention in biotechnology (such as a drug, an assay, etc.), and we help them draft a patent application and submit it to the USPTO. In response, the USPTO issues a correspondence called an office action, often listing rejections that need to be addressed before a patent can be issued. We then work with the client to develop strategies to address, and hopefully overcome, the rejections. This correspondence can continue for many years. Inventors can also choose to file the same patent application in a foreign country; since we are not licensed to practice patent law in foreign jurisdictions, we then work with patent agents in each country to file the application and respond to office actions that comply with the laws in that jurisdiction.

As a new patent scientist, drafting patent applications and strategizing responses to the USPTO is challenging. Therefore my daily tasks vary from those with more experience. Since months often pass between correspondences, when a new office action comes in my first job is to review the case in its entirety. I review the patent application, the references that have been cited against the application, and the prosecution history (previous correspondence with the USPTO). I then meet with a patent attorney, and help answer their questions so that they can develop a strategy to respond to the office action. Once we have a strategy, I write up the response. Experienced patent agents often work directly with clients, and develop their own strategy for responses.

How did you get your first job out of academia?

Even before graduate school, I knew that a long-term career in research would not be my best fit, so I was always on the lookout for alternative careers. A graduate classmate of mine casually mentioned that “patent agents” work in patent law without a law degree; it sounded pretty awesome! I asked Google if there were any patent agents with bioscience degrees in Madison, and over the course of about 6 months I contacted 6 patent agents and 2 patent attorneys, all of who agreed to speak with me. The more people I met with, the more I realized that a patent agent required all the same skills that I thought I exceled at (scientific writing, communication, organization), and I realized this was my new dream job. I kept in touch, and as my Ph.D. graduation approached, I reached out to my contacts and asked for feedback on my resume so that I could apply to jobs. This ended up leading to an interview for an unlisted job, and I was offered a position as a patent scientist almost a year prior to my graduation date.

Tell us about your academic background

I came to the University of Wisconsin – Madison to study biochemistry and criminal justice, with the intention of becoming a forensic scientist. I struggled with the courses and never really found my niche, and to make a long story short, I decided to postpone a big decision like graduate school until I really knew what I wanted. I got a job and spent 2 years working at an AIDS vaccine research lab. Taking time off was perfect for me. My job reaffirmed my love for science, and I realized that my passion was actually in molecular biology (more specifically viral immunology). I decided to pursue my doctorate, and earned my Ph.D. in cellular and molecular pathology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

Start early. I started conducting informational interviews almost 2 years prior to my graduation date. I think part of the reason so many people agreed to speak with me was because I wasn’t asking for a job; I just wanted information. Even by requesting feedback on my resume, I was still just asking for information. A connection should see you as a person that is passionate about a career, not as a person who just wants a job.

Learn more about Caitlin:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/caitlin-mac-nair-0bab778

 

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Meet Ashley Sloat, Senior Patent Strategy Specialist at Hudak Consulting Group, LLC

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Ashley Sloat, PhD, Senior Patent Specialist

 

Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

I help early stage biomedical companies develop and strategize around their patent portfolios and technology. My days mostly consist of client work, including determining patent filings and/or business strategy, writing patent applications, meeting with clients, analyzing and responding to office actions (communcations from the United States Patent and Trademark Office), and performing and analyzing technology searches. Since we are a start-up, I also have some administrative responsibilities and assist with business development (seeking new clients).

How did you get your first job out of academia?

I decided early on in my Ph.D. that I likely did not want a career in academia, so I decided to diversify my Ph.D. To diversify my Ph.D., I took translational research courses, obtained my teaching certificate, was an associate editor for Faculty of 1000, and was a Technology Transfer fellow. My supervisor in the Technology Transfer Office connected me with and recommended me to Jessica Hudak, my current employer. Jessica was willing to mentor me in patent law while I worked at her company. Needless to say, the rumors are true, networking is essential throughout your career.

Tell us about your academic background (describe your science at an undergraduate level)

I studied microbiology (bacteria) in my undergraduate career and immunology (immune system) in graduate school. I studied the immune-mediated disorders, Multiple Sclerosis (immune cells attacking nervous system) and Graft-versus-Host Disease (immune cells attacking healthy tissue after bone marrow transplantation). We found that inhibiting Notch signaling significantly reduced the severity of both diseases.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

Attend as many networking events as possible and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You would be surprised by how many professionals would love the opportunity to mentor you, discuss career options with you, and connect you with additional people.

 

 

Learn more about Ashley:

http://www.ashleyrsloat.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashley-r-sandy-sloat-ph-d-a61b7830

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Meet Devin Rosenthal, Integrated Product Development Associate, Rho

 

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Devin Rosenthal, Integrated Product Development Associate

Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

I work for a contract research organization (CRO), which is a type of company that provides services to biotech and pharma companies that these companies either don’t have the internal expertise to do or that they just don’t have the bandwidth for. If I want to make this sound sexier, I tell people to think about a CRO like Don Draper’s ad agency in Mad Men–the agency provides ad services to companies like Chevrolet and Vicks similar to how CROs provide services to companies like Novartis and Pfizer. The CRO I work for specializes in clinical development services–basically everything involved in bringing companies from the lab bench to the clinic, getting them through the clinical trial process, and ultimately submitting their marketing application to (hopefully) get their drug approved.

My job is as diverse as the clunky “IPDA” title indicates. I do a little bit of a lot of things: for the biotech/pharma companies I work with, I do everything from helping them navigate the regulatory process, to designing their clinical trials, to writing up their trial results, to advising them on their development options. The perk of working at a CRO is that you work with companies in all different therapeutic areas and at all different stages of development, so you can amass a ton of experience in a short time. The downside is that you typically can’t get too deep into any one project due to your transient involvement. Fortunately this compromise works well for my personality (I’m much more “horizontal” than “vertical”).

For Rho itself, I do a fair amount of business development work; specifically, finding new companies for Rho to do business with, in part by building relationships with various early stage networks (e.g., tech transfer offices, investment/venture capital organizations, economic development organizations, etc.). Some of this I do through conferences, some through local networking, and some through social media.

How did you get your first job out of academia?

My first job out of academia was with a small biotech company, and I got the position doing the opposite of all the usual advice: I didn’t network with anyone at the company, I blindly submitted an application through their website, and I was slow in responding when their HR person initially contacted me. That said, this experience was an anomaly that serves to emphasize the importance of taking lots of shots on goal–you never know which ones will pan out. Chance favors the prepared mind, and serendipity favors the active participant.

Tell us about your academic background (describe your science at an undergraduate level)

My original interest in research science was piqued by a serendipitous (there’s that word again…) summer melanoma research internship at the NIH between my junior and senior years of college. I then majored in biology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (and studied blue crab molting), earned my PhD in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan (studying breast cancer metastasis), and did a brief postdoc at Tufts University (focusing on breast cancer epigenetics).

I loved the discovery and creativity elements of academia, but I found that I wanted more focus on an end goal and teamwork than academia typically affords. And I’ll be honest–I also wanted a career that would pay better than what academia could likely offer. After networking and weighing the various options out there, I decided to move into industry.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

Don’t be afraid to take a chance! Email someone at the company/lab/organization you want to work for asking them if they’ll talk to you over coffee; go to that networking event that scares you; tell the CEO of the company you’re interviewing with that you want a position you’re totally unqualified for. That last one is what catalyzed my transition from research to clinical development, which has shaped my entire trajectory since.

Probably the two most important skills you develop in your PhD training are the ability to learn new things and the ability to be comfortable with uncertainty. Leverage these skills and I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

 

Contact/Follow Devin:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/devinr
Twitter: www.twitter.com/dtrosenthal
Blog: www.devinrosenthal.com

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