Academic Events

Finding the Right Fit and How to Get There

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A busy year adjusting to a new career is evident when a blog post is more than a year overdue. This tardy post is appropriate, though, as it includes identifying an optimal career path and networking to set yourself on that path.

In November of 2015, I gave a talk at the University of Washington as part of the Bioscience Careers Seminar Series entitled, “Finding the Right Fit, and How to Get There.” The PowerPoint-free presentation focused on the three steps that in my experience, and from the experiences that have been shared with me, are essential to networking and finding a good career fit. The guidance focused on academics looking to leave academia but the principles are universal. The three general steps are:

  • Step 1: Know your community
  • Step 2: Know yourself
  • Step 3: Know the “stuff”

Step 1 includes going outside your comfort zone to broaden your contacts and advice on meeting with people for professional networking. Step 2 built on this with specific exercises to help guide your search and also a gentle suggestion to do some honest self-reflection. Step 3 refers to knowing the language and technologies or products of the field you want to enter. Some of the more specific ideas I included came from an earlier blog post: Five Networking Tips. There is also a downloading video of my entire talk available See the talk.

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The meat of the talk was followed up with discussions of small vs. large companies, startups, and consulting based on my experience, my observations, and the advice I have accumulated.

However, during the question and answer session, I realized the following gaps in my knowledge: 1) potentially out of date specific information on the career track at large consulting firms (such as McKinsey) for entry-level PhDs, 2) limited information on PhD-level scientists leaving academia for banking, and 3) I have no idea if STEM PhDs that then continue on for a JD enter law firms through a different career path.

Coming back to this after a year away, it’s time to update all my information. I am reaching out to my network, but if a reader of this post has anything they would like to share, please comment below.

Additionally, I’m continuing to collect personal experiences of academic journeys out of academia, as well as tidbits of useful advice. Contributions are very welcome.

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The right people in the room for World Malaria Day

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UC Berkeley hosted Zagaya’s third Bay Area World Malaria Day Symposium on April 25th.  All the west coast powerhouses of malaria research were in attendance along with key contributors from across the US. Attendees and presentations spanned discovery research, industrial therapeutics production, public health, and more. The efficiency and effectiveness of the meeting was unbelievable and it was absolutely a day of putting the right people in the room.

The three talk sessions, broken down into research, technology, and implementation, consisted of a brief keynote and a few five-minute talks followed by a panel Q&A with the speakers. A Nerf dart gun enforced the five-minute limit for everyone: Joe DeRisiAdam Renslo, postdocs, and students. This egalitarian approach created a casual atmosphere of approachability. Plus, watching the poor student moderators grapple with the possibility of career suicide at enforcing the rules added a little human drama to the day.

In the area of drug development, Andrew Horitz’s talk on Amyris’s ability to produce artemisinin in yeast, an important advance for more affordable drug production, was met with high interest from the audience. In a related talk, Agnes Nabasirye spoke on JLM, International’s work with PATH to manage the overuse of artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) and, “Improve malaria delivery systems,” through rapid diagnostic tests in high transmission areas.

In a novel twist on diagnostics, the malaria world is turning to mobile apps and gaming to crowdsource sample screening. Aydogan Ozcan’s group at UCLA have developed both an Android app and a web-based game in which users screen images of blood smears to determine if they are positive or negative for malaria. He offered a prize to any attendee who could beat the top score by the end of the conference; if anyone succeeded is unclear but many were trying. A word of caution, it can be addictive!

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                    Gaming diagnostics: identify malaria infected cells

Another tech-focused presentation came from Johnny Gannon on M@RS, the Mosquito Awareness Reckoning System, and the winner of the first Diagnostics by Design: a Hack Day for Global Health. The core of M@RS is its mPod, which attracts and kills mosquitos. Gannon, a Berkeley MBA student, sought advice on improving the research utility of M@RS as well as on commercialization possibilities. He showed impressive composure and humor when inundated with questions and comments from a room full of scientists, all excited by this new tool. 

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                              The mPod for M@RS

A research symposium is never complete without someone sharing their story of self-experimentation. The favorite of the day came from Genevieve Tauxe of UC Riverside who collected and analyzed her own “trail funk” to refine the methods necessary to research controlling mosquito behavior with odorants.

The day ended with a sobering reminder of what brought everyone together: the goal to alleviate suffering across the globe for the benefit of all. We were reminded of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals, include malaria eradication, and the international movement to achieve these goals. Perhaps before the end of the millennium there will no longer be a need for a World Malaria Day Symposium.

(Visit the new Malaria.com for more on research and trends in diagnostics.)

The serially interesting postdocs of BAPS 2014

               

The Postdoctoral Scholars Association at UCSF did an amazing job organizing and executing the first Bay Area Postdoc Research Symposium on March 14, 2014. The symposium filled within days of registration opening and I was one of the lucky waitlist-ers to make it into the event. Nobel laureate Dr Randy Schekman opened the event with a brief history of cell biology, but the excellent talk was overshadowed by my brief personal encounter with him at the following coffee break when we discovered there was no decaf coffee and no caffeinated tea leading me to wonder what stereotypes the organizers were implying about coffee vs. tea drinkers? Such an interaction with a Nobel laureate is typical for me as my interactions with Dr Andrew Fire, whose lab is down the hall from mine, have been limited to apologies when I let the door to the stairwell fall into his face.

During the same coffee break I met David Zhang from the Greenleaf lab at Stanford who is the founder of Goggles Optional, a weekly podcast on significant scientific news mixed with plenty of humor. We met as several other postdocs in the group shared their “Bay Area Rotation” history. One of the many pluses of living in this area is that once you get here and decide not to leave it’s very easy to do your undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc work all within a 50 mile radius between Stanford, UCSF, and Berkeley. This creates an interesting network among academics that change projects and institutions but never apartments. 

For those of us who land in the bay area and also don’t want to leave, but do want to leave academia, there are options as well. Dr Richard McKenney’s talk on dynein motility got laughs when he prefaced part of his talk with, “when I was thinking of leaving science.” However the laughter was somewhat nervous, as the audience knew that the majority of us would eventually leave science, or at least academic science. Dr Ira Mellman addressed this in the final talk as he discussed industry goals and approaches compared to academic ones. His astute and challenging advice to all of us at the close of the first BAPS is universal: “Be serially interesting.”

I believe the postdocs of the bay area have already put this into practice with wearable piezoelectric watches to generate electricity, discovering the longevity secretes of memories, cultured cardiomyocytes beating on their own, and organs growing on collagen; and BAPS 2015 will prove it.    

Microbiology & Immunology Fun in Santa Cruz

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What happens when the microbiologists and immunologists of the Stanford University School of Medicine come together for three days at Chaminade in Santa Cruz?- A whole lot of cutting-edge science, as expected, but also a nine event Olympic-themed competition including mouth pipetting races, and plenty of sharing. That was the case at last week’s Microbiology and Immunology (M&I) Departmental Retreat. 

The data talks were great and filled the house for all three days. The one-talk-per-lab policy highlighted the diversity of the department; a diversity that fosters open discussion of unpublished data and an eagerness to collaborate. However, the real value added of the M&I retreat was in the opportunity to interact with the other members of the department and form those networks that lead to the collaborations that produce the impressive science. John Boothroyd, an M&I professor, identified this in his opening address when he encouraged everyone to step outside their comfort zones, separate from the known, and embrace the unknown at lunch, during coffee breaks, and in the hallways. 

Any tension that may have remained in the air was shattered at dinner the first night when an interview of another M&I professor, David Relman, included stories of treating bad trips, bioterrorism consultations, and being asked to define the line between “good” and “bad” experiments. During a series of breakout sessions we were encouraged to follow David’s example and share our passions outside of science and, in the spirit of developing networks, share our scientific problems and ask for helped. Based on the assistance requested, bioinformaticians must be outrageously popular. Everyone needs help handling and mining their data. Hopefully in the next decade, after campaigns like “Hour of Code”, science will not stall as scientist queue at programmers’ doors. 

The last night addressed the dark cloud over the retreat, the shrinking academic job prospects for scientists. A career panel of Jonathan Jones, a management consultant at Genentech; Elizabeth Joyce, full time teaching assistant professor at UC San Francisco; Elizabeth Ponder, representing non-profits and a university research manager at UC Berkeley; and Gus Zeiner, a researcher at Agilent, answered questions on transitioning out of academia. They were open and honest and brought a ray of sunshine through that dark cloud. The academic scientist has opportunities off the tenure track!

Dr. Relman said it best, “Be thankful we are in a wonderful profession,” and that profession can offer the world if we step outside our comfort zone.  

Protein Gels and Microscopy

Over the past year in the Bogyo lab at Stanford I have greatly expanded my repertoire of organic chemistry and biochemistry techniques. This was absolutely my goal in joining the lab. Unfortunately, all the assays are visualized with some form of protein gel. These patterns of black bands can be crazy exciting, but to a cell biology, they fall short of that visual pizzaz that comes from looking at an actual organism. The gel below represents a huge triumph in my research, but it certainly lacks that “ohhh/awww” factor outside of a very specific audience such as the one I presented to at the Pacific Coast Protease Meeting

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(As a side note, some people would consider this intriguing and potentially art, but they are the rare visionaries.) 

Recently, I have begun to include some more cell biology and microscopy into my project; but so far only fluorescent Toxoplasma as I search for abnormalities in development or structure. 

Not yet drool-worthy eye candy, but soon it will be back in the realm of my thesis work as published in Cellular Microbiology and International Review of Cell and Molecular Biology.

Though as scientist we are constantly broadening our horizons and always learning, it’s nice to go back to something we love every now and then.