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.