Recently professionals from all over the country who work in various sectors have been invited every month to the Investigating Careers and Networking (iCAN) Speaker Series at Johns Hopkins. Launched earlier this year by the Professional Development and Career Office (PDCO), the speaker series offers an opportunity for panelists and students to interact in an informal setting, helping students gain insights into how they could better prepare for a future postgraduate career.

On Dec. 5, four experts in the fields of consulting, finance and business discussed what a typical day is like for them and how to transition to a career outside of academia. Each panelist described where they work and how they got there.

  1. Jason Constantino — Constantino graduated with a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins in 2013 and now works as a principal for the Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm. He described his busy week, staring with a visit to a client’s site on Mondays. During this visit, he usually prepares a meeting for the client, and deliberates over framework and specific competences (e.g., pricing, operations, strategy) that may help transform the client’s business. He facilitates re-imagination of how people experience products and services to help his clients create new market opportunities or uncover new sources of competitive advantage. Lastly, Constantino holds feedback sessions at the end of the week that help him and his team re-shape the agenda for each client.
  2. Jordi Mata-Fink — Mata-Fink has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he joined Flagship Pioneering in 2013. He leads the venture creation team at Flagship — an institutional platform that systematizes entrepreneurial innovation and builds those innovations into unprecedented companies. Mata-Fink’s job focuses on discovering new ways to understand and therapeutically approach disease to create new drug modalities and product-platform technologies that could transform human health and sustainability. He creates hypotheses based on substantial scientific literature to then organize teams that will test the feasibility of their theories. Other aspects of his day-to-day activities include patent generation for scientific ventures and development of strategies for business development plans.
  3. Ethel Rubin — As both a special adviser to office of the director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and an entrepreneur at BioHealth Innovation, Rubin has a history of accomplishments regarding medical devices, corporate ventures and translational medicine industries. She completed her Ph.D. in biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and holds multiple lead positions that make each of her workdays unique. She builds and leads venture teams for the NIH, consults with venture capitalists, and takes the lead on due diligence for investment as well as merger and acquisitions She also holds strategy meetings with clients every two weeks and uses project management tools to update her team on tasks/accomplishments.
  4. Bethany Warren — Warren obtained her Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and was a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton before joining Dalberg as a senior consultant. At Dalberg, she leads multiple eight- to 12-week projects that vary in content and require Warren to bring herself up to speed on the problem at hand, assess its structure and come up with a strategy, every day.

It is sometimes hard to picture exactly what skills you can learn as a Ph.D. student that are transferable to careers outside of academia. Instead of trying to mimic your mentor’s past (e.g., education, experiences), I would argue that graduate students should focus on obtaining the skills and expertise that will help enable their specific professional goal. In other words, don’t just look at how someone else got to his/her current role and try to copycat those exact steps, because you will quickly notice that a job can be attained many ways. Instead, figure out what are the main skills you need to obtain your dream job and how you can acquire them. Some of the skills the speakers said they see in candidates they hire (or want to hire) are:

  • Leadership — organizing lab meeting and journal club schedules or helping a student group arrange an event show that you can take initiative to plan and execute important milestones.
  • Organization — coordinating experiments every week with different timelines demonstrates your ability to manage resources with limited time while obtaining high-quality results.
  • Communication — this is the competency all speakers agreed is the most important for any job. It is likely that your profession will require you to work with people who have different backgrounds, so learning how to communicate your point clearly and directly is a highly valued skill. Those poster presentations, chalk talks and seminars do foster opportunities to connect with new peers and practice your communication. Some of the iCAN panelists also suggested informational interviews as ways to communicate clearly while expanding your professional network.
  • Teamwork — there is absolutely no way you can know every field entirely and perform each task required to accomplish all of your employer’s objectives. Even if you start your own company, you will likely need to work with small teams to carry out some assignments. Collaborating with other scientists and discussing current literature with them allows you to share ideas and work together toward solving a scientific problem.

Although soft skills are vital in any contractual obligation, the panelists mentioned that they prefer job candidates with substantial problem solving, technical and analytical skills, as demonstrated by the applicant’s publications, strategic planning, impact of work, and participation in consulting case competitions. One of the panelists also suggested listening to business podcasts or taking business classes to become familiar with the lingo. A way to set yourself up for success next spring might be to participate in the seven-week professional development modules that are open to all Johns Hopkins graduate students and postdocs. Course topics include business creation and contracts, management and technology consulting, the entrepreneurial life cycle and many more. The PDCO is also organizing six business and finance interactive workshops led by Ph.D. professionals, and the Johns Hopkins Graduate Consulting Club offers valuable interview resources.


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