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From Academia to Industry: Lessons from a Johns Hopkins Graduate

The majority of postdoctoral appointments are at educational institutions. This includes my postdoctoral fellow position at  Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Approximately 75 percent of doctoral scientists and engineers who have postdoctoral appointments are employed at an educational institute, compared  to only 14 percent in the business/industrial sector, according to data collected from a National Science Foundation Survey of Doctoral Recipients (2013). Until recently, I was not aware of industry postdoctoral positions, so I was interested to hear about Elaine To’s postdoctoral experience and her career trajectory since then.

Image Courtesy of Ni Pío Etsy (Isabel Romero Calvo)

Elaine earned her Ph.D. from the pharmacology and molecular sciences program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2014. She then completed postdoctoral training at InCube Labs, a medical device company that works on novel drug delivery devices. I asked how her previous training prepared her for work as an industrial postdoc, where she worked on pharmacokinetics and device engineering, which was completely new to her.

“I think one really valuable skill is the willingness to dive into a new subject and learn what you need to, whether you have experience or not,” To says. She shares more of her perspectives in a blog post called “Is an Industrial Postdoc Right for You?

She currently works as a research and development scientist at Verseon, which uses computational methods to improve drug discovery. She says she’s lucky that her current role involves examining the drug metabolism of candidate molecules, the same topic of her graduate work. This is an interesting perspective, given that sometimes it is difficult to see the potential applications of our training in our academic and/or clinical training environments. To says she has long had an interest in drugs and their mechanisms of action. “It was in graduate school at Hopkins that I began to appreciate the work necessary for drug development, and that determined my niche,” she says.

Working as a scientist will be different depending on the type of organization. She compares her experience at The Johns Hopkins University, where she primarily interacted with other biomedical scientists, to Verseon, as a small company consisting of experts from a variety of backgrounds. “It is interesting seeing where everyone fits in and contributes to the company’s overall goal, like watching all the gears and cogs turning in a well-oiled machine,” she says.

What advice does she give to current Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine trainees about a career in her field? She suggests keeping an open mind when looking at data while keeping the ultimate goal of the company in mind. “An interesting question from your results may not be worth pursing if it doesn’t lead to a better drug candidate,” she says.

There are many resources if you are looking for more information about science careers outside of academia. Consider following the LinkedIn pages of companies or postings on sites such as BioSpace and SciPhd. Johns Hopkins has a subscription that allows trainees to sign up for free on Versatile PhD, a site focused on nonacademic careers for Ph.D. students. The Biomedical Careers Initiative (BCI) also provides information and resources for Johns Hopkins trainees about a broad range of science careers.

For more information regarding BCI internships, check out this previous blog post.

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