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Fellows Participate in Biotech Career Workshop

By Eddy Ball
March 2010

IFP Fellow Joann O'Connor, Ph.D.
IFP Fellow Joann O'Connor, Ph.D., above, moderated the session on "R&D Roles in Industry." She works at the clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company Targacept in Winston-Salem. (Photo courtesy of
Steve McCaw)

Ted Murphy
Panelist Ted Murphy said of his own transition, "The most difficult step is that first step." He urged the audience to "be bold in trying to seek out new experiences." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS Postdoctoral Fellow Jeff Stumpf, Ph.D., sitting in a row of people
NIEHS Postdoctoral Fellow Jeff Stumpf, Ph.D., center left, has worked to develop communication and leadership skills with his involvement in the NIEHS Trainees Assembly( and the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics Trainee Action Committee. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A smiling NIEHS Postdoctoral Fellow Zack Zalinger, Ph.D.
NIEHS Postdoctoral Fellow Zack Zalinger, Ph.D., above, enjoyed a few laughs during the coffee break networking time as he mingled with attendees and speakers in the crowded lobby at NCBC. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS fellows joined their counterparts Feb. 9 for the first session of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center's (NCBC)( Exit NIEHS three-part Ph.D. Workshop Series. Held at the organization's Research Triangle Park headquarters, the first session focused on "Life Science Industry Careers: Bench to Boardroom."

The estimated 175 participants hailed from region universities and scientific organizations, with students and fellows traveling from as far east as Greenville's East Carolina University and as far west as Winston-Salem's Wake Forest University.

The capacity audience filled the NCBC auditorium to hear panel presentations that ranged from career alternatives for science Ph.D.s in the biotech industry to developing interviewing, negotiating, networking, and resume-building skills appropriate in the industrial setting. Panelists talked informally as they responded to prompts from session moderators and questions from the audience - speaking candidly about their own transition from the academic sphere to the world of biotech and offering advice for young scientists interested in pursuing alternative careers (see text box).

During their free time at breakfast, on coffee breaks, and at lunch, young scientists mingled and networked with panelists and other industry representatives. The final session of the day was devoted to meeting with people from the biotech companies exhibiting at the workshop.

One of the NIEHS postdoctoral fellows at the event was Dana Hancock, Ph.D., who has served as a panel moderator at the NIEHS Biomedical Career Fair, scheduled this year on April 30 at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Asked about her experience at the NCBC workshop, Hancock said she appreciated the opportunity to attend. "It was very informative and valuable," she explained. "We can use every opportunity we can get to hear this kind of inside information about scientific careers away from the bench."

Workshop organizer Shobha Parthasarathi, Ph.D.,( Exit NIEHS is the technology development director of the Center's Business and Technology Development Program and head of the Center's Industrial Fellowship Program (IFP). IFP fellows served as moderators for two of the four panel discussions and shared their experiences in industry with students and trainees.

The second session of the workshop series, "Agencies and Research Institutes," will take place on March 24 at NCBC and feature panel discussions by representatives from non-profit organizations, such as RTI, and government agencies, including NIEHS and EPA.

The final session on April 29 at NCBC, "Discovery to Product Development," will focus on scientific careers in discovery, pre-clinical, and clinical phases of product development in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and biotechnology in agriculture, known in biotech circles as "agbio."

Comments from Workshop Panelists

  • "Leadership, presentation, writing, tackling the unfamiliar, communication" - Biogen Idec Principal Scientist Vijay Jethwa, listing the non-scientific skills trainees should make an effort to develop
  • "In the end, everything is about money." - Armindo Gaspar, Research and Development (R&D) scientist at Novozymes, summing up the important difference between science in academia and science in industry
  • "You have to move beyond the resumes and cover letters... Never underestimate the importance of communicating and networking." - Doreen Grech, director of Business Development at UCB Pharmaceuticals, talking about landing that first job
  • "We see cover letters that are all over the map. Write it well." - Ted Murphy, vice president of R&D for BioMarck Pharmaceuticals, pointing out the importance of developing writing skills and paying attention to details
  • "It's important to be able to talk science at all different levels." - Inspire Pharmaceuticals Opthalmic Medical Scientist Zina Johnson
  • "I've never worked for a company that didn't value creativity." - Lee Trevino, director of Drug Discovery at Cirrus Pharmaceuticals
  • "Never limit yourself to bench science. Show an interest in things beyond the lab." - Anil Goyal, vice president of Business Development at Optherion, who also recommended that postdocs develop skills in "managing people who don't report to you"
  • "I was so afraid of leaving the bench... [but] I soon came to love doing science vicariously."  - Lakshmi Goyal, editor of the Elsevier journal Cell Host and Microbe

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