Recapping the inaugural iCAN Speaker Series: Biotech & Pharma Careers

Submitted by:

Yazmin Rovira Gonzalez

Johns Hopkins Ph.D. Student

On September 26th, 2018, Hopkins Biotech Network (HBN), together with the Biomedical Scholars Association (BSA) JHM Professional Development and Career Office (PDCO), hosted the first investigational Careers and Networking (iCAN) Speaker Series: Biotech & Pharma Careers at the East Baltimore campus. The event was a platform for an open discussion on biotechnology and pharmaceutical careers, where the following five thriving leaders in industry shared their first-hand experience and advice regarding industry jobs:

Srujana Cherukuri, PhD – Noble Life Sciences CEO. Completed her PhD in biology at Cleveland State University and has over twelve years of research experience in the oncology and stem cell biology fields. She served in multiple roles at Noble including Chief Operations Officer, Chief Scientific Officer, Vice President of Product Development and Operations, and Director of Scientific Affairs.

Arthur Edge, MSE – Technology Manager at Glaxo Smith Kline. Mr. Edge is an engineer and experienced consultant focused on generating biotech solutions to overcome systemic problems. He helps facilitate and improve manufacturing processes at GSK and has also contributed to product development across startups, including SolGreen Solutions and Re-Nuble.

Asif Haque, MD – Senior director of Patient Safety at AstraZeneca. Went to Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences for his medical training and has over 10 years global experience in the fields of safety and pharmacovigilance of multiple therapeutic areas, including immunology and stem cell therapy. Dr. Haque is a clinical trial expert (Phase I – Phase IV) and has experience with various successful new drug application (NDA) submissions.

Isaac Kinde, MD/PhD – Chief Scientific Officer at PapGene, a startup based in the FastForward Homewood innovation hub. Dr. Kinde completed his physician-scientist training at Johns Hopkins University and he is recognized nationally as an expert in molecular cancer diagnostics and as the inventor of two core PapGene patents the company licensed from Johns Hopkins University.

Roland Kolbeck, PhD – Vice President of Research and Development in Respiratory, Inflammation and Autoimmunity (RIA) at MedImmune. Dr. Kolbeck obtained his PhD at the Max-Planck Institute for Neurobiology and currently oversees various projects, each emphasizing in clinical biomarkers of drug activity and target discovery in RIA.

After each speaker talked about their background and how they attained their current positions, the moderators Jessica Joseph (HBN president) and Beza Woldemeskel (BSA president elect) asked them to provide insight on the necessity of a post-doc for an entry-level position and upward mobility in industry. The panelists agreed that, although not always a requirement, having the extra scientific experience may help boost your application when applying to highly technical and/or specific positions. In addition, panelists agreed that the necessity of a postdoc also depends on the position the applicant is going for and the culture of the company. For instance, if your interests are to work as a scientist in industry to discover new targets for treating a specific disease, some companies might prefer the scientist applicant to have some years (2-5) of post-doc experience in the disease field, while others might prefer to hire PhDs fresh out of graduate school with enough transferable skills (see transferable skills examples in the next paragraph). Therefore, most panelists recommended asking current employees (via informational interviews) what the company’s culture is like and whether the “postdoc experience required” sentence in the job posting is mandatory for that industry’s job.

The moderators then asked about the different hard and soft skills that students should build towards during their PhD training, and when should students start applying for positions. The list below summarizes some of the transferable skills (hard and soft) mentioned by the speakers. As for the timeline for submitting job applications, most panelists agreed that it varies based on the company’s needs at the time. Four to six months before the thesis defense seems to be a good, general point in time to apply for positions. However, the speakers highly encouraged that students develop relationships (networked) with industry experts before graduation, since establishing good connections within the life sciences sector can support your job application and increase the likelihood that you will be reached for additional roles in the future.

Soft skills Hard skills
Communication, including public speaking as well as listening and engaging in small talks Ability to use software programs
Adaptability and flexibility Machine operation
Teamwork and leadership skills Typing speed
Project and time management skills Subject-matter expertise, as shown by degree or certificate
Problem-solving and decision-making Math

One student from the audience asked about the role of industry recruiters when it comes to the application process. Should you always contact the company’s recruiter, if any, before applying to a position? Panelists concurred that applicants should do whatever gets them “noticed”. In other words, if your company has a highly organized hiring department where talking to a recruiter guarantees moving your application forward to the hiring manager, then it makes sense to put a lot of effort in networking with the recruiters. However, sometimes conducting an informational interview directly with the hiring manager is the best way to put your best foot forward and make yourself noticeable.

Overall, their experiences showed the many different roles students can pursue within industry and how one can best prepare for transitioning to an exciting and fast-paced career. After thanking the panelists for a successful inaugural iCAN Speaker Series, there was much excitement for the next talk, which is on careers in regulatory affairs & patent/IP law.

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