I’m really excited to be part of the Bio Careers blogosphere and am looking forward to interacting with you all. I’m a molecular immunologist by training and came up through the well-worn academic path– Biochemistry/Physiology undergrad program (McGill University) followed by PhD program in immunology at University of Connecticut that led to a post-doc at the NIH in the Laboratory of Immunology, NIAID. My career path sort of happened to me rather than me guiding it. Through some good networking and a little bit of good science, luck and publications, I was offered a PI position in the National Cancer Institute where my focus was on cell mediated immunity and vaccine development. My lab did pretty well, work was well received by peers and I had a reasonable publication record.
From there, my career kind of took a left turn when I realized that the job opportunities in academia were not as prevalent as they once were, and I was not at all confident in the tenure likelihood at the NCI. So I took the plunge and went to the dark side– industry. Once again, it was networking that gave me my opportunity. While still at the NCI, part of my work relied on molecular modeling software, and I wound up beta-testing a product for a small company in Palo Alto, California. As luck would have it, an investor sought my opinion of the company, and, when that investor became part owner of the company and found out I was interested in leaving academia, she got me an interview with the CEO. That opened the door and got me my first industry job. I quickly discovered that my scientific/technical skills were only part of being able to make it in this space. I had to learn good communications skills, some project management, business knowledge, and even some financial skills. In a small company like that, you tend to wear lots of hats, and so it wasn’t long before I was being asked to review business plans, help on sales calls, and advise on specific features that should be prioritized in upcoming software product releases.
Some of the technology from that company got acquired by Celera Genomics in 1999, giving me the opportunity to go along for the ride. And boy was it a ride. Moving from a little biotech with about 30 people, to a company that expanded to over 700 employees and a multi-billion dollar market cap in no time was a real education. Traveling around the world with Craig Venter and other senior executives from Celera to explain the virtues of our human, mouse and rat genomes and associated annotations was quite the experience. It was also a real front lines education on how important those non-science skills really are. Communications– listening more than talking, understanding value propositions, meeting deadlines, working with budgets– operating in cross-matrixed teams with individuals with all sorts of personalities, and being able to productively interact with them was all part of the mix.
I stayed there for about five years. One of the lessons that kept coming home to me was that no matter what the situation I was in– no matter what problem I was being asked to solve, in the end, the most effective approach the led to a successful outcome required understanding the problem from the end-user’s perspective. Who was the customer? What are their needs? And what is the context with which those needs have to be addressed? What this all spoke to was the concept of the “human workflow.” I’m convinced that if you do a good job of understanding the human workflow, really objectively, that will help guide you to make good decisions in your job, in your career planning, and in your life in general. After talking about this philosophy with a colleague at Celera we decided that there was such a need for addressing these human workflows in the biotechnology pharmaceutical world, that we would give a shot at starting a consulting company to do just that. Five years later, Human Workflows, LLC is still thriving. We interact with lots of businesses, see how they work, and try and get a good window into their needs. That has led to Human Workflows’ most recent effort, which is imparting some of this knowledge to post-docs who want to effectively make the transition from academia to industry where this concept is so important. That’s their human workflow. Maybe it’s yours. We call it the SciPhD Online Training Program. Check it out at www.sciphd.com. That’s what I hope to write about in this blog. I hope you find it useful as I find it fun!