Featured

Interviewing Kerry Silva: Creator of Bolded Science

Have you ever gotten tongue-tied trying to explain your research project to your parents? Or heard a scientific talk that was more acronyms than explanations? Well you’re not alone- we all have! Scientists have a way of talking to each other with each field having its own specific jargon, and that’s great because we need that when we’re in scientific spaces, but it’s not very helpful when grandma asks what we do every day. That’s where SciComm comes in. SciComm, which is short for Science Communication is an emerging field that gives spaces for scientists to explain their work in a way that is understandable to everyone, regardless of their prior knowledge on the subject. SciComm is unique and serves a major role in society because it encourages open communication between scientists and the rest of the world so everybody can understand the science that affects our lives and drives our scientific advancements.  

To get an insider perspective, we interviewed Kerry Silva McPherson, a PhD candidate studying molecular biology and biochemistry and an active member of the SciComm community on how she got into SciComm and what she hopes to gain from it. Last year Kerry created Bolded Science, a collaborative blog that gives scientists of all career stages a voice and a chance to practice writing for a non-scientific audience. On Bolded Science grad students, research technicians, or undergrads can write about their research, a scientific topic of interest to them, or even about life as a scientist to get published on the site. What a great way to get your writing out there! Plus, it can help other researchers and non-researchers better understand your topic. SciComm is an all- around win-win! Bolded Science has published several blog posts on topics like what a porosome is, the Covid-19 pandemic, and racism in science.  

SciComm can become its own career by monetizing blogs, vlogs, or working for a company or it can provide skills heavily emphasized in other roles such as in science policy or medical affairs. It can also be a fun hobby that lets people outside of science see into our little world. SciComm can take any form of communication: from podcasts and video to blogging and art. Anything that turns science from heavy with jargon to light and enjoyable is SciComm. The SciComm mission is simply to make science more accessible to all and show that science isn’t scary. So if you’re currently a scientist, ditch the alphabet soup sometime and try your hand at writing for a general audience. If you’re not a scientist- check out some science blogs and who knows what you may find. Just remember, behind every brilliant scientific discovery there’s the dumb questions we had to ask to reach it. There’s no shame in not knowing and we all have to start somewhere.

So here’s an idea- start with checking out Bolded Science! If you’re interested in writing for Bolded Science or just super into science, head to www.BoldedScience.com and check it out! 

Watch the full interview on our ‘Recorded events and interviews’ page.

Written by Christina R Miles Graduate Assistant

Biomedical Sciences PhD Program| UConn Health 

Featured

45th Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering meeting

Recently, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE) held their 45th annual meeting online. CASE is a non-profit institution that is patterned after the National Academy of Sciences. The institution identifies and studies issues and technological advancements that are of concern to the state of Connecticut. Since the founding of CASE in 1976, the academy has fostered an environment that promotes collegial collaboration and support through the   encouragement of scientific and technological creativity. The theme of meeting was innovation. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed a lot of scientific research, CASE has been involved with the state providing vital research and guidance to promoting Connecticut’s success through the pandemic.

Nick Donofrio , the former vice president of innovation and technology for IBM, and David Ferruci of Elemental Cognition co-presented the keynote address. Nick Donofrio gave great insight on what is needed to be an innovator. Many scientists and engineers seek the answer and find the problem that the answer can be used for, however, Donofrio advised against this. Instead, he suggested that the individual or team must be intimate with the problem; to be a successful innovator, you must know the problem. It is better to start with a problem, rather than an answer for the problem. Ask questions, engage, and most importantly, listen. His words on innovation are not only applicable to the Covid-19 pandemic, but in Donofrio’s words, “the second pandemic of racism in this country”. To truly be collaborative, the team must be inclusive and diverse. No one person will have the answers to everything, and the more perspective you have the better understanding you will gain of the problem and how best to solve the problem. David Ferruci, followed with a presentation about his journey as an innovator. David Ferruci has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for over 25 years. He was the lead on IBM’s Watson project and now, he has his own company Elemental Cognition. David first got interested in AI during a computer programming class where he learned the power of programming and executing commands. He envisioned that this computational control would benefit the world. Starting with a simple command, could he program a computer to answer open-domain questions (i.e. Jeoprady). To create AI that could succeed in open-domain questions had a massive impact potential. Yet, accomplishing this goal could also have substantial risk. Ferruci felt that even though this monumental task had risk, stagnation would feel far worse. Long story short, his AI became the best question-answering AI in history. IBM’s Watson defeated all human contestants on the show Jeopardy. Ferruci said that the Watson project led to 1000s of additional research projects and papers came out of this AI milestone, hundreds of invited talks, billions of impressions, and it led to large scale commercialization efforts at IBM and elsewhere. More importantly, this AI project helped reimagine the art of the possible in AI. Thirty plus years later, David is still inspired from his original work on Watson, and has created a company that is trying to solve the problem in making robots understand things ( I need a better word). Dave was additionally one of the 36 newly inducted members into the academy that evening. 

To learn more about the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, visit their website at www.ctcase.org. To learn more about IBM’s Watson project, view the full story here https://www.aaai.org/Magazine/Watson/watson.php

Featured

Smart Tribe: A New Way to Network

This July, I interviewed Beatrice Zatorska, the co-founder and CEO of Smart Tribe. Beatrice is based in London, but Smart Tribe is a global platform that has users from multiple countries.  Smart Tribe is a new online platform that helps connect individuals in academia and industry professionals. The goal of Smart Tribe is to unleash science by matching talent and technology. By making connections between different individuals, Smart Tribe can help with networking, problem solving, job hunting, academic and industry partnerships, launching new technologies, and more. 

Can you tell me about yourself and why you started Smart Tribe? 

Beatrice co-founded Smart Tribe with Kris Jack. Although they have different backgrounds, they represent both the academics and industry professionals that are using their new platform. Beatrice has 20 years in industry working as a management consultant. She specialized in working with emerging technologies which often came from scientific research. Kris represents the academic side and holds a PhD in computer science. He previously worked as the chief data scientist for Mendeley and Elsevier. 

Beatrice and Kris started Smart Tribe to bring together people from different backgrounds and ultimately offer a way to find unique solutions to new problems. Original and outside perspectives from either academia or industry can be extremely beneficial when launching a new project, networking, or developing novel tech. Smart Tribe connects users from across the globe using a specifically designed AI that matches people based on their goals and interests. 

Together, Beatrice and Kris developed Smart Tribe to foster communication and collaboration between those in academia and people working in different industry sectors. Their goal is to unleash science, solve problems, and better the world by making meaningful connections.

What is Smart Tribe and how does Smart Tribe work?

Smart Tribe is an online platform which makes smart introductions between academics and industry personnel. People from either sector can join and create a free profile at https://smarttribe.io/. As a user, you can create a bio and share your goals and needs. Each month you can elect to be connected with another user, and Smart Tribe uses an innovative AI to match you with a new connection. Smart Tribe allows you to connect with other users based off your interests. It can be used for networking, learning about different industries, problem solving, consulting, and more. 

What can Smart Tribe offer users? 

One of the benefits of Smart Tribe is that is has global reach. Currently, many academics and industry professionals work in silos, and their network is usually limited to others in their field. Additionally, their network is often geographically limited to those in their workplace or surrounding area. With Smart Tribe, people from across countries and continents can connect with each other and find a way to tap into the exciting science coming out of different sectors. 

One thing Smart Tribe can be used for is networking and job hunting. Currently, there are not enough academic jobs for the amount of PhDs academia produces. Smart Tribe is a useful tool for those PhDs looking to transition into industry. Most people find jobs through their network, so Smart Tribe can help academics increase their professional network. It is also a great tool for academics who want to learn more about different industry positions and roles. 

Smart Tribe can be useful for industry professionals looking for expert consultants or academic scientists. Industry personnel can find academic experts in specific topics, hire them as consultants, and build partnerships. Expert consultants can provide valuable skills and assist with different projects. With this platform, consultants can come from all over the globe from different fields. Academics can offer unique insight and guidance to different problems. Additionally, using Smart Tribe is a great way to tap into the exciting and novel science coming out of academia. People are no longer bound to their local networks, and can discover new science coming out of different parts of the world. 

On the other hand, academics may be able to find industry partners. This can help academics looking to find outside funding, commercialize tech, or launch new products. Scientists within the university setting may not have access to proper resources or have their own business or become entrepreneurs. They can use Smart Tribe to find industry professionals to assist them with things such as finding investors, launching new technology, management, and more. 

What are the goals of the company going forward?

Since Smart Tribe is a relatively new platform, it is still expanding. Each month, the platform grows by thousands of users from the Unites States, United Kingdom, Europe, and more. There will also be new features coming out in the near future. Going forward, the company wants to understand more about the interactions and connections taking place on Smart Tribe and what users are getting out of these. Additionally, Smart Tribe is putting out some free webinars on different topics such as the importance of social skills in industry and entrepreneurship. 

Smart Tribe is already a great resource for keeping on top of the latest research and can allow you to meet experts in different fields. The global reach of the platform also enables you to expand your network and meet people from across the globe. Despite being relatively new, people are already making connections and transforming the way we talk about science with Smart Tribe. By using an innovative approach to connect individuals, Smart Tribe is not just an algorithm, but instead a passionate and innovative community.

Featured

Finding a job during COVID-19

Written by Yuezhe (Li)

On June 30, the midpoint of 2020, I interviewed Dr. Spencer Keilich, a UConn Health alumni, about his transition from academia into industry during COVID-19 and any advice he may have for those going through a similar transition. 

Spencer studied immunology at the UConn Health Center. His research focused on influenza-induced muscle atrophy. Spencer graduated from UConn Health in 2020, and now he is a research scientist at QCDx. His company develops a liquid biopsy system that helps to provide personalized medicine for breast cancer patients. QCDx is a biotech startup located in Farmington, CT and is part of the UConn Technology Incubator Program (TIP). Spencer says he applied for this job because he wants to work on an interesting project in the biotech industry.

Spencer says he was lucky that he started to search for jobs before the COVID shutdown reached Connecticut. He found his current position through a UConn job forum that shares job postings from BioCT, a bioscience industry voice for the state of Connecticut. He cold-mailed QCDx’s CEO for his current job and was interviewed immediately: he emailed the CEO on Friday and was interviewed on the next Monday. He was hired immediately and was able to finish all the paperwork before the COVID shutdown. He mentioned that had he looked for jobs later, finding a job could be much more difficult. 

Spencer thinks the training he received during his Ph.D. is helpful for him to transition into his new job. He was able to use his bench skills developed during his Ph.D. training, such as running different assays and literature searching, in his new role. Unlike academic research, there is more regulatory compliance in the industry. This means more paperwork. The lab is also more organized: there is more experimental documentation, notes, and annotation, as well as a better reagent tracking system. 

When I asked Spencer what advice he could offer for graduate students, for example, how to talk to their PIs about graduation, he laughed. He says the key is managing expectations and to know where to cut [your dissertation research] off. He says students should pitch their complete story to their PIs to essentially argue that their PhD training is complete and that it’s time for them to move on. Spencer also mentioned that he thinks that training successors to take over the current [unfinished] projects could help with this transition out of the lab. In this way, the projects do not die when students graduate. I recall hearing similar advice on the Harvard Business Review podcast. If people want their supervisors to help them to move to their next career position, they should train their successors. 

From Bench to Boardroom

AIOG recently held their first virtual career seminar with special guest Andrew Levitt, an associate patent counsel at Cantor Colburn LLP. He summarized the key aspects of patent law and provided some background as to the transition from academia to law. Britt Knight, the post-doc liaison for AIOG, has written prior articles regarding these topics; for more information on patent law, please check those out (search “patent”)! A key piece of information that Levitt had to offer was that regarding the Hatch-Waxman Amendments. This is more formally known as the “Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984” and established the approval pathway for generic drug products. Applicants are able to submit an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, contained within these Amendments. Other provisions in these Amendments include patents related to new drug applications and 180-day exclusivity for certain AANDA applicants. Levitt expressed that patent lawyers who are well versed in this area are in high demand in the field.

Yet there are other channels for generic drugs being produced. For example, the current coronavirus pandemic is pushing governments to issue compulsory licenses to boost the production of generic drugs that treat COVID-19. A compulsory license is a license issued by a government to a public agency or generic drug marker allowing it to copy a patented medicine without the consent of the patent holder. In the past, countries had granted compulsory licenses to boost the production of drugs that treat HIV. 

Levitt also mentioned some helpful tips to individuals interested in transitioning from academia into patent law. What he cited as helping him make the jump were the services offered by the PLI, or Practicing Law Institute. This is a nonprofit organization that aids in enhancing legal knowledge and expertise. PLI offers educational programs and a patent office exam course, among other opportunities. Additionally, what Levitt found to be helpful was networking with other legal professionals.

Cowritten by Rachel Gilmore and Yuezhe Li

Sources:

https://www.fda.gov/drugs/abbreviated-new-drug-application-anda/hatch-waxman-letters

https://www.pli.edu/

https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7273016

Yale provides career advice

Amidst the current uncertainty of the job market, you may be wondering how you can utilize your skillset to broaden your career landscape.  

On April 8th I “attended” the 37th career panel hosted by Yale University. The goal of the career panel series is to provide a candid view of the various careers that Yale alumni have pursued following completion of their doctoral degrees. 

The Panelists:

  1. Linshu Li, Associate, McKinsey (Yale Ph.D. – Applied Physics)
  2. Jorge Pedraza, Operating Partner, Melody Infrastructure Advisors (Yale Ph.D. Comparative Literature)
  3. Levi M. Smith, Pharm.D., PhD, Senior Research Scientist, Halda Therapeutics (Yale Ph.D. Cell Biology)

Moderator and Organizer: Peter Young, CEO and President, Young & Partners (Yale College, 1974)

———————————————————————————-

Below I have compiled some of the key points that arose from the discussion as well as some advice provided by the panelists. 

What possible careers may students consider after completing their PhD’s?

Some careers are more similar to the academic life such as reviewing grant proposals, journalism, editing peer-reviewed scientific articles or writing scientific articles etc. With regards to training within the Life Sciences, some of you may be inclined to pursue translational research and therapeutic approaches for healthcare management. This may include becoming a medical science liaison (see our previous article “Medical Science Liaison”) or working for a start-up company. Start-ups are great spaces to exercise your rigorous technical and experimental skills as well as to learn new skills in a fast paced and exciting environment. Levi Smith obtained his PhD from the Department of Cell Biology at Yale and is now a Senior Research Scientist at Halda Therapeutics in New Haven, CT. As a PhD at a start-up you may be tasked with leadership opportunities, such as planning experiments, which can ultimately direct the course of the program. 

Another option is to pursue the law sector. For instance, you could help scientists explain their scientific inventions (biological drugs, diagnostic assays, medical devices etc.) by drafting patent applications. Check out our previous article “what-is-intellectual-property” for more information about patents in the life sciences. 

Depending on your toolkit you may be qualified for positions that are a little more dissociated from the pillars of academia. To name a few, public policy, investment banking, sales and marketing, consulting, business development, regulatory affairs, or investment advising. I recommend getting a copy of the book “Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower” edited by Cynthia Robbins-Roth. The book costs less than $30 on Amazon.com and includes 23 chapters of alternative careers.

Although some of these positions may seem unfamiliar compared to what you are used to reading, they are worth considering. For example, Linshu Li received his doctoral degree in applied physics with a focus on quantum computing. After graduation he joined McKinsey & Co, an American management consulting firm. In comparison, Jorge Pedraza received his doctoral degree in Comparative Literature. After obtaining his degree he taught several courses at Williams College but eventually left to pursue business development and later, sales within the start-up realm. He also co-wrote The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan published by Wiley This book is for anyone taking on a new leadership position and how to be effective at managing your new team and career as a whole. 

Skills you’ve spent years learning and fine-tuning are transferable if you can understand the root of their value and how they can be applied to different industries. 

Wait! Before you get overwhelmed by this task let’s take a step back. Or rather, a step in. 

Reflect, Recognize, Redirect – the homework

After you have spent years conducting a thorough examination of your field, how are you planning to use your expertise? One of the biggest things you should consider when planning your future is you. 

Why did you choose to attend to graduate school in the first place? Majority of students probably mention that they have a love or fascination for a particular sect of science and although college provided a foundation of knowledge about this subject, they wanted to pursue deeper understanding of the material and contribute to the field. Or, maybe you had a mentor or professor that fostered your love to learn and supported your decision to pursue additional education. 

Over the past several years, what strengths have you learned about yourself?  What are your weaknesses? Or instead, because weaknesses sound negative, what areas you are actively trying to improve? As difficult as it may be, it’s important to identify the boundaries to which you work the most effectively and with the most satisfaction. 

What do you love about your job currently? What do you not love about it? Identify these traits and write them down.

By doing this exercise you will be able to reflect on what you have to offer. Your brand, if you will. By identifying your brand, you will be able to find the niche where you can best excel. The effort will also better prepare for interviews and for your job search as a whole.

However, taking an objective lens to our qualities and skills as a member of the workforce can be challenging. For most of us, we are analytical when it comes to science but not necessarily when it comes to ourselves. I encourage you to ask your friends and family to comment on your strengths (and areas of improvement if you are bold enough to ask for constructive criticism). 

In choosing to embark on a career path outside of academia, how should I prepare?

Use your network and talk to as many people as you can. Use these “informational interviews”  to obtain information about their journey as whole in order to understand the daily grind, particular qualities of the position, as well as other insights you cannot gain without first-hand experience. 

Consider the lifestyle you have as a graduate student. PhDs are very independent thinkers and like to work at their own pace to accomplish their goals. However, most positions in the real-world are not as flexible. For instance, you most likely will need to juggle multiple projects and facilitate collaborative efforts in order to complete important tasks. Amidst the chaos of answering emails and phone calls, make sure you include protected time within your schedule to allow you to work independently without interruptions.

Internships are a great way to test the waters of a new work environment. There are formal internships, but internships can also be what you make of them. You can initiate your own program by writing a project proposal or offering a service to a company. By being willing to volunteer your time and putting yourself out there you’ve shown great initiative. 

Not just for you, but your next employer may be interested to know what activities you’ve undertaken during your thesis. By taking a leadership position in a student-led organization, teaching basketball, or whatever you enjoy doing outside of lab demonstrates your ability to multi-task and provides evidence that you can make the transition from graduate life to corporate life. 

To get you started: 

For one, obtaining a PhD requires effective communication skills that are valued by most anyone. Publications may not seem useful outside of academia, but they do demonstrate your ability to execute a project and bring it to fruition. Other important skills are analytical and critical thinking. You have been trained to identify unknowns within your field and to design experiments to determine solutions to a problem. You might take these “soft” skills for granted but they are not easily acquired through other training programs. As a result of your perseverance, you have become an independent thinker and acquired a level of adaptability that enables you to accomplish your goals regardless of possible set-backs. 

Identifying your abilities apart from the technique-driven lab work may take some time but they are there. By obtaining doctoral training you’ve been equipped with several transferable skills that are highly valued by many professions. This is how PhDs have infiltrated a variety of fields including finance, business, and law. It’s not a mistake. The reality is that times have changed and you should use it to your advantage. 

Oh and, do your homework.

A Grad Student’s Guide to the CARES Act

By, Rachel Gilmore

It is an inescapable fact that our lives are being run by COVID-19. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, experiencing urgency unlike we have ever experienced before. As a result, individuals are making decisions for their businesses that would normally take months over the course of a few hours. To help US citizens cope with this difficult time, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Marcum LLP, a public accounting and advisory services firm recently conducted a series of online webinars regarding the tax implications of the CARES Act for individuals as well as for businesses. With all of the news the general public has to currently digest regarding COVID-19, it can be easy to miss how the CARES Act can impact us on an individual level. Below you will find an abridged version of how the CARES Act and the stimulus checks that the internet is buzzing about impacts graduate students.

The rules are as follows:

1.) Checks will be received in payments of $1,200 per person and $2,400 per married couple. Additionally, $500 will be given for every “qualifying” child, meaning children under the age of 17. This is a sliding scale based on income. Lucky for grad students, we don’t exceed the $75,000 annual gross income. In case you were wondering, the threshold doubles for married couples. If you do by chance break the income threshold, the payment you receive will have a $5 deduction for every $100 earned over the income threshold. To do some of the math for you, an individual making $99,000+ or a couple making $198,000+ will not receive a check. 

2.) Unfortunately, if you are a nonresident alien or a dependent, you are not eligible to receive a check. 

3.) If you have already filed taxes for the 2019 year, the IRS will base your stimulus check on the most current numbers. However, if you haven’t, don’t worry; the IRS will base the decision on the 2018 tax return. 

4.) You don’t have to do anything to receive the check. If you received your tax return with direct deposit, the IRS will use the same bank account for your stimulus check. If you don’t have direct deposit set-up, they will write out a check (disclaimer: receiving the check via the mail may take time). 

5.) There is a “true up” on the 2020 tax return, as this is technically supposed to be based on 2020 information. This means that once the 2020 tax information is available, if you were underpaid with the original check, you are entitled to the rest of the payment. If the reverse occurs and you are overpaid, no one really knows what’s going to happen yet. The House version of the Act said that you are not obligated to repay the overpayment, but that it could be considered as taxable income. The Senate bill (which is the version that was eventually passed) is silent on what happens if you’ve been overpaid. Stay tuned for updates.

For more information on how the CARES Act influences retirement plans, businesses, or sick pay, feel free to visit http://www.marcumllp.com/coronavirus. Here you can find more guidance & insights on the impact of COVID-19, including helpful links to webinars.

Edited by Brittany Knight

Interviewing a Clinical Geneticist

On March 4th AIOG hosted Dr. Hui Zhang at UConn Health to share her career experiences as a Clinical Geneticist. Dr. Zhang is an Assistant Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics as well as the Co-Director of the DNA Diagnostic Lab at Yale University. After earning her MD at Shanghai Medical University, Dr. Zhang went on to pursue her PhD at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Once she became board certified in clinical genetics Dr. Zhang was hired at her current position at Yale University. During the presentation Dr. Zhang shared her journey to becoming a Clinical Geneticist and some of the insights she gained while pursuing this career path after completing her PhD. 

How do I become a Clinical Geneticist?

If you are interested in becoming a Clinical Geneticist you will need to obtain either an MD or PhD from an accredited American or Canadian program as well as become certified by the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ABMGG). After that, you will need to apply to one of about 50 accredited training programs. These training programs offer two- to three-year fellowships in order to prepare you for a career as a Clinical Geneticist. More information can be found at the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics Website, http://www.abmgg.org/.

How hard is it to become a Clinical Geneticist?

Getting into an accredited training program can be difficult, since spots are limited and the program is intensive. Yale University is the only certified training program in Connecticut and offers about 1 spot per year. Successful applicants should have educational and/or research training in genetics and data analysis. In addition, candidates with post-doctoral experiences and/or a strong understanding of bioinformatics and next-generation sequencing will be more competitive. Overall, applicants with expertise in molecular genetics and mechanisms of genetic contributions of disease will certainly improve the odds of being accepted into one of the training programs.

What is the training program like? 

Specifically, at Yale University, the program focuses on the fundamentals of molecular and laboratory genetics, diagnostics, bioinformatics, genetic testing, and case studies. Students are asked to keep a log of their case work. There is a requirement for the total number of hours you need to log before sitting for the boards.  

To find out more information about Yale’s program: https://medicine.yale.edu/genetics/genetics/about/

What are your daily roles and what kind of patients do you work with?

Dr. Zhang works with a diverse group of patients of all ages and backgrounds. Most of whom are in the Yale hospital system and are referred to her when there is a suspected genetic mutation or disease. She oversees the clinical testing lab that runs genetic assays, analyzes the data, and determines diagnoses. Dr. Zhang follows cases from start to finish and signs off on the final diagnosis. Although Dr. Zhang no longer works in the lab, she stays up to date with the stream of new technologies and tools for analyzing sequencing results. 

Are there other things to know about the job?

Dr. Zhang had some final comments about being a Clinical Geneticist. 

  1. It is important to always have a positive attitude. Being a Clinical Geneticist can be a stressful and demanding job. Keeping a good work ethic and positive attitude will help you stay focused and motivated.
  2. Boredom is not part of the job description. This career motivates you to continue studying in order to keep up with the rapidly evolving Genetics field. Dr. Zhang said she is constantly reading new reports and scientific literature. 
  3. You may not have all the answers. Sometimes a Clinical Geneticist might be dealing with mutations or variants of unknow significance. Genetic testing does not always reveal the complete story and there will be times when you cannot make a firm diagnosis. However, even if this occurs, more often than not, patients tend to be happy to receive more information about their underlying condition. 
  4. One of the most important lessons of the job is to be responsible for the decisions you make. As a clinical geneticist you are responsible for determining the final call on genetic diagnoses and to do so, you may be tasked with leading a team. Although uncertainty definitely exists in the field, it is important to know how to make a decision with the information you have at the time. 

Are there other similar careers you can do with a PhD? 

Dr. Zhang said that she works closely with many PhD scientists and genetic counselors. There are many roles active in the diagnostic lab, individuals with expertise in genetics can conduct experiments that support Clinical Geneticists or counsel patients on their diagnostic findings. The field of genetic testing and studying gene disorders will most likely expand in the future as technology improves. Therefore, new career opportunities will emerge as scientists continue to discover and treat genetic conditions.

Thank you for reading and check back for more career information

Written by Dominique Martin

Edited by Britt Knight

Follow us on LinkedIn!

Insights Regarding the Path to Scientific Start-Ups

Dr. Levi Smith, a Senior Research Scientist from Halda Therapeutics, recently visited UConn Health to talk with graduate students, post-docs, and others about his path to working at a start-up company. For background, Halda Therapeutics is a research-stage drug discovery company based out of Branford, CT. Their mission is to create precision-based medicine using novel therapeutic mechanisms to treat a number of diseases.

Prior to Dr. Smith’s employment with Halda, he earned a Master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a PharmD from Butler University. He then attended Yale University to earn his PhD in Cell Biology by studying molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease. While completing his dissertation, Smith also completed a fellowship with Canaan Partners, a Venture Capital Firm. During this fellowship Smith learned how to conduct due diligence of emerging investment opportunities within the therapeutic industry. Below are some of the topics that were discussed during the Q/A session. 

How do I choose which company to work for?

Deciding to work at a large or small company (start-up) depends on your personal goals and preferences. For example, at a large company an employee might have more opportunity to re-locate geographically or within departments.  However, at a start-up, there may be more opportunities for growth and chances to diversify your skill set. 

What is the hiring situation?

Dr. Smith found that the start-up biotech industry has a “fluid timeline” for hiring and that most companies know their hiring situation about a year in advance when they determine their yearly budget. This gives you, the job seeker, more than enough time to reach out, meet someone (e.g. informational interviews), and research companies that interest you. 

What if I don’t meet ALL the job requirements? 

He encouraged students to apply for jobs even if you do not meet every requirement on a posting. Companies can be flexible on their desired experience and requirements. So, if you feel like you are coming up short, don’t be alarmed, you might have what they are looking for. Visiting a company, say during the actual interview or for an informational interview, is a great way to gauge a company’s culture and whether you are a good fit. 

What if I’m asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA)?

For background, a NDA, or a confidentiality agreement (CA), is a legal contract between at least two parties. This document outlines specific material, knowledge, or information that confidentially shared between the parties involved but not to third parties not included in the agreement. You may have experienced something similar already, without the formality of signing a document, when you visited the doctor or if you needed consultation by an attorney, priest, or bank. If during an interview, or after you are hired by a company, you are asked to sign an NDA Dr. Smith stressed that you should not be alarmed. There is no reason to hesitate signing the form. Just make sure to read it fully and understand what the expectations are. 

How do you get an industry job? 

First most, students or post-doctoral fellows whom are interested in a career outside academia should have a candid conversation with their supervisor/mentor about setting goals and achieving skillsets that will be pertinent for this transition. While completing these training periods students should devote time to networking and developing translational skills that will help their entry into industry. This could be an internship like Dr. Smith did at a Venture Capital firm. Dr. Smith suggested joining networking organizations and attending events, some of the local organizations he mentioned included BioCT, ABCT, and CT Innovations (check out our previous article about a recent ABCT and CT Innovations event on Intellectual Property). These organizations have newsletters you can sign-up for to learn about upcoming events. These events typically occur in Farmington, CT or in New Haven, CT. Attending these events and getting involved with these organizations can improve your chances of networking with companies and vendors, but also founders, scientists, and recruiters which may improve your chances of making the leap from academia to industry. 

Can you get a job right out of PhD? 

Dr. Smith disclosed some skepticism by those in industry when hiring someone straight out of a PhD program. However, marketing yourself, networking at the right events, and developing translational skill sets will aid in transitioning from academia to industry. 

How is a career in industry different from PhD life?

Compared to graduate school, his current position gives him a better work-life balance. He mentioned that his colleagues expect it to be this way. The biggest difference he noted is increase in work pace and the added value of his time. Also, during your PhD you are expected to master new techniques however in industry you work as a team or hire experts to advise you on topics outside of your area of expertise. Dr. Smith works collaboratively and overall, enjoys his current position. He enjoys sharing his experiences and offering insight to students and early career professionals interested in working for a start-up company.

Check back for information about our networking event in April! Also, stay tuned for more career insights. 

Co-written by Rachel Gilmore and Dominique Martin

Edited by Brittany Knight

%d bloggers like this: