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Jul 13 / Kristine Peterson

WSU Students Attend AAAS-CASE Workshop in March for Training on How to Apply Their Scientific Skills to Policy

Left to right: Leena Abbas, Heather Mooney, Rachel Bruinsma, Niko Moses

Every year the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) holds a workshop in Washington, D.C., for young scientists. They travel from all across the country to learn about the inner workings of Congress and how to communicate the importance of their research to politicians. This year, Wayne State’s Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program sponsored four students for the March 18-21, 2018, workshop: undergraduate ReBUILDetroit scholars Leena Abbas (nutrition and food science) and Rachel Bruinsma (psychology), and doctoral candidates Heather Mooney (sociology) and yours truly, Niko Moses (cancer biology). The workshop, “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE),” featured two days of lectures by AAAS staff members who have been working on Capitol Hill anywhere from a year to decades. Topics included an introduction to the federal budget process and the Office of Science, Technology, and Policy; a rundown of the structure and function of Congress; and an in-depth description of how a bill gets passed, which the presenter, AAAS legend Judy Schneider, called “Schoolhouse Rock cranked up to 12.”

After this initial overview of when budget appropriations should be completed versus when they actually reach the floor, the roles of subcommittees and the current heads of each in the House and Senate, and the hierarchy of the Office of Science, Technology, and Policy, we were revisited by Tobin (Toby) Smith, the vice president of AAAS. I first met Toby at BEST’s Careers in Government half-day workshop at Wayne State, where he shared his experience as a businessman transitioning to a career as a liaison between scientists and politicians. Toby emphasized the importance of explaining why your research matters, rather than offering the minutiae of mechanisms and bogging down key conclusions with details. He took the same approach in the final session of the CASE workshop.

The next day we would be traveling to the Hill to lobby our congressional representatives, and most of us were only familiar with specifying the research value of our work to colleagues. Other scientists speak our language; politicians and staffers do not. Toby taught us key aspects of the language that Congress does speak: they are greatly influenced by media coverage and the direction in which the media takes particular dialogues; they respond well to personal convictions on particular issues (especially narratives—they love a good story); and they are generally the most responsive to the needs of constituents in their districts. We tailored our approach accordingly, sitting down with other students from Michigan (U of Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech) also attending the workshop to decide which issues we wanted to bring before our representatives, and then who among us had narratives we could use to introduce our chosen issues.

We decided to focus on two pretty broad topics: scientific funding and education. The majority of our labs in Michigan are funded by National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense grants, so this topic was relatable to all of us and simple enough to draw up talking points for. I took the education side along with another woman named Nico (the first other female Nico I’ve ever met!). We had both been supported by scholarships and grants throughout our undergraduate careers and were now supported by a stipend at the graduate level at our public institutions. Enabling future biochemists to follow in our footsteps certainly depends on federal investment in our nation’s public institutions. However, the ability of students to pursue a STEM career also depends on the availability of federal loans to students who cannot afford the upfront cost of college. The other reason I chose to advocate for education was because I am against HR 4508, a bill before the House that will cut the amount of money students can borrow for their undergraduate education, allow for-profit institutions to compete for federal funding, and eliminate the 10-year public sector student loan forgiveness program signed into law in 2007 by President George Bush. These drastic measures alarmed me, and I wanted to express to my representatives how important it is to either amend the bill or vote against it.

Unfortunately, this story has an anti-climactic ending. The morning of our visit to the Hill, Washington was hit with a whopping two inches of snow, sufficient enough to shut down the federal government. We were able to meet with one staffer, but that meeting served more as a Q&A about how she went from a biochemistry Ph.D. to a congressional staffer. Still, that meeting broadened my understanding of the opportunities in policy available post-Ph.D., and I returned to Michigan ready to advocate for science at the state level.  I am currently engaging in advocacy work in partnership with the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, but I never would have sought out this opportunity without the knowledge, skills, and confidence I gained from the AAAS-CASE workshop.

by Niko Moses, Ph.D. candidate

Niko Moses is a 5th-year Ph.D. student in WSU’s cancer biology program and is a BEST Phase III internship awardee for 2017-18. She is currently conducting a career exploration in WSU’s Office of Technology Commercialization. Niko’s dissertation research focuses on studying the interplay between HDAC6 and Chk1 in response to ionizing radiation in lung cancer, but once her Ph.D. is completed she will be transitioning into the legal realm to apply her scientific knowledge to either technology commercialization or science policy. 

Jun 20 / Kristine Peterson

Find Your Resilience and Success Will Follow

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

Academia is often associated with the archetypal disgruntled graduate student, the beaten down postdoc, and the disheveled, overextended assistant professor. And for good reason—research is hard and oftentimes, thankless. But it is also the perfect paradigm for developing resilience. Sometimes described as “grit” or “moxie,” resilience is a quality that refers to how we can bounce back after disappointment. Think of it as a kind of elasticity; you get knocked down, but instead of shattering, your sense of self remains intact, or transforms into something stronger and more knowledgeable than before.

Why does resilience matter? Why shouldn’t you go home and wallow after a failed experiment, a rejected grant, or an unpleasant encounter with a difficult advisor? Because wallowing won’t help you in the long run. Ruminating on the little failures will only drain your resolve. Someone who is resilient, instead, will focus on what she can learn from the failure, tweak her technique, and with a renewed optimism, move forward.

Easier said than done, I know.

If you’re thinking right now that you’re not very resilient, know that you’re not alone. In fact, a 2011 study found that disadvantaged students in the U.S. were less resilient than those from other countries. This is a problem since resilience is often touted as one of the most important traits required for a successful life. But self-awareness is a first step you can take toward shedding the victim mentality and embracing a resilient outlook.

A recent TED article outlined the steps you can take to become more resilient. Perhaps the most resonant was to stop waiting for the situation to change itself. This is the difference between the active wondering what you can do to rectify your problem versus the passive hoping that the problem will just disappear. In other words, be proactive about finding a solution instead of just waiting for some outside force to change your situation. Chances are if you choose the latter approach, you’ll be waiting for an awfully long time.

In general, experts agree that resilience requires a shift in perspective from an overarching negative view to a positive one. Dr. Loretta Breuning, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, professor of management at California State University and author of The Science of Positivity and Habits of a Happy Brain writes that our brains did not evolve to create happiness as much as to wish it so. Part of this may be that in order to survive, our brains constantly scan for obstacles that could impede our progress. As a result, we gloss over the good as we try to preempt the bad. Breuning advises training our brains to build a positivity circuit by spending one minute three times a day looking for good things in our lives. She also suggests that when your efforts produce disappointing results, adjust your expectations and take another step while reminding yourself that most great achievements take effort that does not bring immediate results. That latter bit sounds a lot like resilience.

Academia can be extraordinarily stressful, especially these days. But know that what may seem like an unwelcome grind that consistently toys with your feelings of inadequacy, can be a wonderful opportunity to practice exercising that resiliency muscle. Doing so will help propel you forward to your goals faster and with greater purpose. Daydreaming and hoping are not necessarily bad qualities, but they are far less likely to produce results. So the next time you’re faced with an obstacle, whether tiny or gargantuan, try your best to assess what you can learn from the situation, and what steps you can begin to take to overcome it. Remember, even minuscule steps count; just keep moving forward. In the end, it will make your success all the more delightful.

Mar 19 / Sarah Sheesley

Q&A with Cassandra Ward, Ph.D.

Cassandra Ward, Ph.D.

Cassandra Ward, Ph.D.

B.S., Chemistry, University of Nebraska Omaha, 2008

Ph.D., Physical Chemistry, University of Kansas, 2014

Dr. Cassandra Ward is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemistry at Wayne State University. She held a postdoc at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2014 – 2016. She participated in the BEST program starting in 2016, exploring the government and industry tracks, and won a Phase III internship for 2017. This past summer Dr. Ward interned at Wayne State University’s Lumigen Instrument Center, a comprehensive core facility that aids and trains researchers in mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, x-ray crystallography, and electron microscopy. She continues to split her time between working at the facility and as a postdoc, and says she enjoys mentoring and collaborating with other students and researchers, especially those outside of her discipline. Dr. Ward hopes to transition to a full-time staff scientist position at Lumigen when one becomes available.

Q. Why did you decide to pursue the BEST program and what was your impression?

A. I moved here in 2014 with my husband, who is an assistant professor of chemistry, and I’ve been trying to find a job in the area doing research. I’ve been open to all possibilities, including academia and industry.

This is my second postdoc, so I’ve already participated in several career programs. Therefore I was expecting the same kinds of talks. But it was nice that BEST brought in people from the area who are actually in industry so that you could hear their stories about how they got their positions. You find out that most of them are like you and had to work hard to find a position as well, which is reassuring. Sometimes it seems like it’s easier for everyone else. Through the Phase II workshops and meeting the speakers, I realized how much networking you really need to do.

Q. You did an internship here at Wayne State at the Lumigen Instrument Center (LIC). How did you end up securing that position?

A. I had a few ups and downs with companies trying to find an internship, and things kept falling through. You would think companies would really want free labor, but it’s a lot more difficult than that, apparently. It just so happened that Dr. Judy Westrick, who runs the LIC, popped into the office and mentioned that they had a potential position available that would be well-suited for a physical chemist. She suggested that I start interning for her now and then when the position opened up, I’d be able to apply and already have work experience.

I’m still working at the LIC. I spend two days a week there and three days a week in the lab.

Q. Can you tell me about your internship and your collaboration with scientists in other disciplines?

A. The LIC is a core facility. I was doing a lot of spectroscopy like x-ray diffraction and crystallography. Anyone can come into the LIC, even those from outside of Wayne State, and have us run a sample and interpret it for them. But we also do a lot of training of students who will be using the equipment.

I am still a postdoc, and so I’m still on the research side of things. I have things I need to get done at the LIC, like maintaining the instruments and SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures], but I also have a research project. I also do the training for new students and collaborators.

Dr. Westrick brings a lot of traffic through the facility because she is trying to get more people, especially at Wayne State, to use it. One day she brought an anthropology class through a room where I happened to be working, and she mentioned to them that I’m a postdoc and that I have time to work on any projects they may have. One of the students ended up emailing me and asked if I could work on some samples. He came over with a few objects that previous students had dug up at a site down by the river. The samples had come from a factory that no longer exists, and this student wanted to understand what they were and from that, learn about what went on at the factory.

So we did an elemental analysis of the objects with the X-Ray Diffractometer (XRD) and used a program to do the identification. The XRD can identify both elements and phases. Elements can be rearranged depending on temperature. One thing the student wanted to know was the phase of some quartz that was found, to help figure out where it might be functioning in the factory.

The student’s team in anthropology is currently writing up their findings for publication.

I had never crossed disciplines to that extreme. It was neat to work with an anthropology student and be able to teach him about chemistry. I’ve always wanted to be more of a mentor, which is why I like being at LIC because you’re working with all kinds of people and helping them to fulfill their research goals. Plus the more collaborations you do, the more people you meet, and you never know how those relationships will develop.

Q. Do you have any advice for students or postdocs who are considering their career paths?

A. The best time to figure out what you want to do in the future is during your graduate training.  There are so many opportunities out there for grad students to do internships, and you should take advantage of them. Make sure you discuss potential career paths with your advisor.  They are there to help you reach your career goals, and will do whatever they can to help you succeed. Also, attend job fairs or career development sessions at your university and at conferences. You’ll meet a lot of people with different backgrounds who have advice that they are more than happy to share. Ask them how they like their position and how they got to where they are now.

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

Feb 8 / Sarah Sheesley

A New Year and a Smarter, Easier Way of Reaching Your Goals

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

The new year is a good time of year to check in with yourself and see if you’re on track with your job search and career goals.

And by goals, I don’t mean resolutions. Research shows that those fail 80% of the time, often by mid February, leaving you feeling guilty and remorseful. Part of the problem is that instead of making small, easily attainable goals that could lead to advancement down a new path, we often get swept up in the contagious zeal for potential change the holiday season promises. As such, we end up making lofty declarations that are unlikely to reach fruition.

The desire for self-improvement and change, especially if we’re not particularly happy with our current situation, is a wonderful and admirable thing to want for ourselves. And with a few tweaks in the way we think about enacting this change, we can surely make it happen. The key is simple: set small, quantifiable, daily goals that you are sure to accomplish. And perhaps most importantly, these goals cannot be vague.

Examples of vague goals are:

“I want to publish more.”

“I want to graduate.”

“I want a job outside of academia.”

Wanting to publish more is important, but it lacks specifics. A goal with a clearer vision requires some true soul-searching and objective assessment. This will help us to create a clearer vision of the steps necessary to get there. Those steps then become your specific, quantifiable goals. For example, what particular findings do you want to publish? Do more experiments need to be done, first? Where do you want to submit for publication? Who will you ask to help you write and edit the manuscript?

Depending on your answers to these questions, you can begin to design a plan. A more specific (and more likely, attainable) goal will look like this:

I will finish the two experiments required to complete this project in three months.

Do you see how we’re breaking down the lofty, “I want to publish more”? And if finishing those experiments feels overwhelming, break that down, too. Ask yourself: What materials do I need? Do I need help to do these experiments? Who will help me? Do I need to do more research? There is absolutely nothing wrong with breaking down a project, no matter how small, into simpler components. Doing this will help you to better understand your research, yourself, and what really needs to be accomplished. Doing this will help you to move forward, instead of simply languishing at the bench and daydreaming about better days to come.

A tiny step is still progress

I was just beginning to think about how to transition out of academia to a writing career when a fellow-member of my writing group introduced me to the philosophy of Kaizen. Kaizen is Japanese for continuous improvement. What this means is when we don’t know how to get started with a new goal, instead of being paralyzed, we take tiny incremental steps in that direction.

Let’s say you want to start doing yoga but feel very out of shape or unmotivated. Make a goal that is easily attainable, even if it feels ridiculous. You could say to yourself, “I am going to do one yoga pose tonight for 20 seconds.” The point is that every little step (no matter how small) counts.

I’ve written about the importance of taking small steps towards larger goals before here. And perhaps that’s a good place to start: Choose one item on the list and take one small step towards completing that task. The only thing you must do is complete that teeny tiny miniscule task today.

There are days when I have an article to write or a deadline looming and my brain is just not cooperative. These are the unmotivated moments when I truly cling to the Kaizen philosophy. Remembering that every little step is still progress, I open a new file up and give it a title (even if it’s not a very good title). It may not be much, but it’s an acknowledgement of the task at hand. It is movement towards the goal. Sometimes I take it a step further and do stream of conscious writing on my new document. Any idea I have that is even marginally related to the overarching theme of my work is quickly written down. Again it is progress. Sometimes one of those tangential ideas turns into something fascinating in its own right, something that I can get excited about. That’s when progress becomes exponentially faster and I am back on track.

That is what will happen to you. Tiny steps that seem inconsequential at the time will suddenly amount to something far grander and you will gain the momentum needed to propel you forward. By being consistent, you can turn 2018 into the most meaningful and accomplished year, yet.


Jan 24 / Sarah Sheesley

Q&A with Uday Krishnamurthy, Ph.D.

Uday Krishnamurthy, Ph.D.

Uday Krishnamurthy, Ph.D.

B.E., Biomedical Engineering, Osmania University, India, 2010
Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering, Wayne State University, 2017

Uday Krishnamurthy is a senior magnetic resonance imaging R&D scientist at Siemens Healthineers. He was a participant in the 2015-2016 BEST Program when he discovered that he wanted to pursue a career in industry. During his time at Wayne State, he developed MRI techniques to image the developing fetus in utero.

Q. When did you participate in the BEST program and what tracks did you follow?

A. I participated in BEST at Wayne State in 2015 when I was a graduate student. I was interested in looking at all career paths, including the traditional Postdoc.I followed industry, teaching, and science communication tracks.

Q. Why did you decide to apply to the BEST program?

A. I was about two years away from my graduation and honestly, I was not even thinking about my professional career. It was more out of curiosity that I went to the first session. Things changed after a couple of sessions and workshops—they got me thinking about life and career after graduation.

Q.  What role did BEST play in helping you to decide that you didn’t want to go into academia?

A. At the time, I enjoyed the academic environment and had not made my decision either way.
Most positions in academia and industry have great flexibility in the actual day-to-day role and job titles can be misleading. For example, you could be a professor at a university but heading up a section in the technology transfer office and dealing with other companies and aspects such as patenting and licensing. Similarly, with the same title, you could be a facility head dealing with budgeting, marketing, human resources, management, and not especially focused on research. Oftentimes you have the flexibility to mould your position to your interests.

When deliberating about what path to take, I was considering things such as whether I would enjoy the role, have career growth, the location, and any potential visa issues.

The BEST program introduced me to career paths I had not considered or was even aware existed. The workshops helped me to identify my transferable skills, personality traits, and positions that were a natural fit with my personality. Thankfully, the decision was not too hard. I felt that industry was the best fit for me.

Q.  Through BEST, were there any skills that you realized you had that were surprising to you or that you realized you needed to work on?

A. I realized that simple things like public speaking and science writing, tasks that we already do during our Ph.Ds. are very valuable and sought-after. I wanted to diversify these skills to areas beyond the topics of my thesis. I started to take note of the major industry trends and what things most new startups were focusing on.

Q. How did you get your current position at Siemens?

A. I applied to a job posting. The interview process was long with multiple phone/ Skype rounds followed by two on-site in-person interviews.

I had worked on Siemens’ MRI scanner and technology through my Ph.D. and interacted with people from industry R&D on numerous occasions. When at a conference, I always tried to meet with the people I had previously emailed with. Following key industry trends and being aware of promising new technologies all helped me in during the interview process.

Q. What do you do at Siemens?

As a senior scientist in MRI R&D, my role is very diverse. Primarily, I manage joint collaborative research with premier academic partners and also develop novel MRI and PET-MRI imaging methods.

In addition, I also work on scientific publications, invention disclosures, provide proof of principle for novel methodologies, train academic researchers, and perform pre-product development. Understanding the product cycle (invention-to-product) and knowing what drives the adoption of technology in a clinical setting helps me greatly.

Q. What do you like most about this company?

A. The culture of the organization, particularly within my team, is very supportive and collaborative. Almost all of the senior management are Ph.D.s, come from a technical background, and therefore, value research and technical development. You have the freedom to follow your passion and design projects around those topics.

Q. Any advice for grad students or postdocs who may want to pursue this path?

A. Keep your options open. It’s never too early to start considering your career after graduation. It’s also important to have a solid elevator pitch ready (who you are, what your research entails, etc.) ready for any opportunity you might have to introduce yourself to others. Network actively and passively, develop a well-rounded personality—getting involved in the university community can help here—organize meetings, write scientific blogs, volunteer, make use of graduate seminars. And it goes without saying that you have to be good at your science.

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.


Dec 1 / Sarah Sheesley

Q & A with Philip Cunningham, Ph.D., Associate Vice President of Research Integrity, Wayne State University

Philip Cunningham, Ph.D.

Interviewed November 2017 by Lauren Tanabe.

Philip Cunningham has been at Wayne State since 1991, when he took a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology as a microbiologist. His lab used genetic techniques to identify new antibiotic drug targets and isolate new antibiotics resulting in 10 patents. In 2011, he accepted an administrative position as Assistant Vice President of Research Compliance in the Office of the Vice President for Research. He was subsequently promoted to Associate Vice President of Research Integrity in 2015.

Cunningham received his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University in 1987 and was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology from 1987-1991. He is the recipient of Wayne’s Career Development Chair Award and the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. He was a National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences in 2004 and was appointed an American Society for Microbiology Branch Lecturer from 2008-2010.

Q. What does the Associate Vice President of Research Integrity do?

As research has gotten more complex and as technology has proceeded, we have more risks. Because of risks that have turned into accidents, there have been a series of regulations put in place by different governments.

The idea of oversight bodies is to protect the people doing the research and the people around the people doing the research. For Wayne State to be able to do research with money from the federal government, we have to abide by a set of rules, and my job is to make sure we do.

I oversee biosafety, radiation safety, controlled substances, IRB (human subjects), IACUC (animals), conflict of interest, animal control, EHS (environmental health and safety), and research misconduct.

From the government’s standpoint, my job is to make sure Wayne State is following the rules, but from my perspective, I’m trying to help ease the burden of all those regulations on our researchers. In other words, what can I do to boil this down for them so they don’t each have to have become an expert in compliance? What can we do to make it so that people can do what they were trained to do which is generate data and move science forward?

Q. You started out as a scientist. How did you become the Associate Vice President of Research Integrity?

I was an active researcher for many years and then I was asked to consider this position, which was a huge change. I really had to think about it because my whole life has been research.

But there comes a time when it gets harder to get grants, especially in today’s environment. You have to look out for the young people because these are people who are just getting started and you can’t just dress them all up and then not give them the tools they need to succeed. My wife said, “At some point you’re going to lose your funding and I just can’t see you sitting in an office talking about the good old days. You need to be doing something to make a difference. [This job] will give you something to focus on and make changes.” I was so impressed with my wife!

Q. What is your day-to-day like?

When I took this job, I didn’t take it to put out fires. There’s a component of it that’s putting out fires, but really my job is more like putting down fire retardant. I want to spot the problems before they happen and I want to put things in place to keep them from happening, and we are really doing that.

We have a huge group of people in all these different areas and I meet with them on a regular basis. If there is some incident that occurs, we do a kind of a postmortem where we sit down and say, OK why did this happen? What could have prevented it? And what can we do now to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

That’s being reactive. My goal is to keep from having those postmortems.

A lot of my day is spent in meetings, back-to-back, attending these different groups, meeting with the people who are over all those areas I mentioned, and meeting with my boss, Dr. Stephen Lanier, the Vice President for Research at Wayne State.

So far it’s very gratifying. It’s sort of like research in that sense that you identify a problem, map out a plan to address it, and think it through to the end. If you don’t then you won’t put all the necessary controls in your experiments. In this field, I look at what we’re doing, I look at the situation as it exists now and I ask myself, But what if this were to happen? And I’m like, Oh, that would be a disaster! So what can we put in place to make sure that doesn’t happen. What are the liabilities here? What are the risks?

[This position] gives you a chance to do thought experiments, to think ahead, to be creative, and to make a real impact. Without burdening researchers, we’re trying to achieve an enhanced safety culture at Wayne State.

Q. Do you think doing a postdoc is valuable if a student is interested in an administrative position such as yours?

It depends on the type of administrative position. For instance, generally the associate vice president over sponsored programs, the person who does the pre-awarding, post-award, and oversees all the grants that come through Wayne State University or other institutions, that person generally does not have to be a scientist or have a Ph.D. or held a postdoc. Most of them have at least a master’s degree and they usually have a business degree of some sort because there’s a lot of accounting.

But if you think about what my job is, my job involves a lot of safety committees. You have to have some reasonable understanding of the science. The people I interact with are mostly scientists and I think they would be frustrated if they couldn’t talk to me in their own language. Plus for me to evaluate and help develop measures that would assist researchers in doing work that’s compliant with both the safety and regulatory federal regulations, I have to be able to understand them. So I think a postdoc is big plus, certainly at a major research institution.

But I’ve also had Ph.D. students through the BEST program who wanted to do compliance and asked if they could do an internship. We had someone come through and do an internship with the IRB office and learn how that works—what the regulations are, how you oversee that. That person went on and got a permanent position as an IRB officer at another university.

But I think to oversee all of the committees, like I do, probably being a bona fide researcher who has had an active lab is important.

Q. How can students find these types of positions and prepare for them?

Once they finish their degree, they should look for some kind of an internship to start getting experience and see how they like it. They can then use that as a launchpad to go someplace else or, if there are positions available, they can step into a permanent position at that institution.

I would also say business classes are useful because it helps to know the terminology. Communications classes, and some kind of management classes would also be helpful.

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

Oct 10 / Sarah Sheesley

Q&A with Joanna Sutton, Doctoral Candidate in Pharmacology

Joanna Sutton, Doctoral Candidate in Biomedical Engineering

Joanna Sutton, Doctoral Candidate in Biomedical Engineering

Joanna Sutton, Doctoral Candidate in Pharmacology

BS, Biology, Aquinas College, 2009

Joanna is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Pharmacology at Wayne State who participated in the BEST Program during 2016-17. She entered the business track and completed an internship at Proteos, a contract research organization, during the summer of 2017. She says that the BEST program helped her to make the decision to pursue a career in industry after her anticipated graduation in spring 2018.

Q. Why did you decide to apply to the BEST program?

I was having a lot of thoughts about transitioning into a career in industry, but I didn’t want to make a decision without knowing what I was getting into. BEST seemed like a good way to test the waters.

Q. When did you decide that you didn’t want to pursue the academic track, and how did BEST help you in your decision?

Participating in the BEST career exploration solidified my decision to pursue a career in industry, rather than academia.

I love research and benchwork, but I have my reservations about the academic research timeline. In academia, you can spend years working on the same disease, protein, pathway, and so on. There have been times during my Ph.D. where this “neverending” timeline made me feel like I was drowning in experiments and data that didn’t seem to have much of a purpose. Working at Proteos was great because the project timelines were much shorter, sometimes even just a matter of days or weeks. Upon completing a project, you could actually see the physical protein your work yielded for the client. You feel very productive when you can look back on all you’ve accomplished in such a short time. This business approach to research really appealed to me, and it is something I hope to continue with after graduation.

Q. Can you describe what you did during your internship?

I participated in an internship at Proteos, which is a contract research company primarily serving the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. They provide protein expression, purification, and analytical services to their clients. My daily responsibilities included producing recombinant protein in bacteria, purifying protein through affinity or size exclusion chromatography, and analyzing protein yield through SDS-PAGE, HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography), and other biochemical techniques. Upon completion of a project, I was responsible for writing a technical report that detailed the results for the client.

I found that this work was a good fit for me.

I also learned a lot about working together as a team. I worked with the Protein Purification team, which was a very close-knit group. We all had a combination of solo and shared projects. For the shared projects, this often meant one person would begin the project and carry it out to a certain point, and then the next person would take over until project completion. Communication, organization, and trust were all required to carry this out effectively. Each week we had company-wide staff meetings to review all of the projects that were currently in the pipeline. Although I personally did not present at every meeting, listening was still a great way to learn how to effectively communicate the status of a project to the rest of the team. At the end of the summer, I presented my work to the company via an oral presentation.

Q. What did you learn about the skills you had (and those you needed to work on) during your BEST experience?

I gained proficiency in biochemical techniques including size exclusion chromatography, analytical HPLC, thermal shift analysis, and autoinduction of recombinant protein expression. I learned about the relationship and communication between Proteos and its clients through the technical reports and the customer relations software that they use.

I felt that my lab experiences and participation in BEST activities prepared me for the internship.

Q. What advice do you have for graduate students who are struggling with what direction to take with their careers?

If your gut is telling you to explore options outside of academia, don’t be afraid to pursue those experiences. It’s never too soon to start looking. You should confirm that track is indeed what you want before you close any doors. BEST can help!

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

Sep 21 / Sarah Sheesley

Q&A with Brijesh Yadav, Doctoral Candidate in Biomedical Engineering

Brijesh Yadav, Doctoral Candidate in Biomedical Engineering

Brijesh Yadav

Brijesh Yadav, Doctoral Candidate in Biomedical Engineering

BS, Biomedical Engineering, National Institute of Technology Rourkela, India

MS, Biomedical Engineering, Wayne State University

Brijesh Yadav was a participant in the 2016-17 BEST program. He completed a Phase III career exploration at Biogen, a biotech company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Brijesh is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. He always had an interest doing research in industry. He says the BEST program provided him with the hands-on experience he was searching for.

Interviewed by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

Q. Why did you decide to apply to the BEST program?

BEST is a great initiative from the NIH, and it’s great to see Wayne State University’s active involvement with it. I’m currently pursuing my doctoral degree, which involves extensive learning and research. I’ve become familiar with the way academia works but was curious about industry. While working on some projects with our lab’s industrial partners, I realized that I was interested in experiencing industry employment and research culture. After attending the BEST orientation in Fall 2016, I finally decided to take the summer semester off and explore industry.

Q. When did you decide that you didn’t want to pursue the academic track, and how did BEST help you in your decision?

Right now, I’m in the completion phase of my doctoral program. When I started my program, I was quite open to a career in either academia or industry. But as I interacted and worked with more scientists from industry, my desire to get into the field became stronger. I was looking for an internship that would help me get that industry experience so that I could decide ahead of my graduation whether or not I wanted to go in that direction. Then BEST came into the picture. I had reached out to industry scientists and human resources departments by myself but being a BESTer allowed me to get the internship of my choice and negotiate benefits.

Q. Can you describe what you did during your internship?

I had an amazing time during my internship. I worked on a new and challenging project exploring cerebrospinal fluid volume measurements and optimization of drug dosing in newborns. I was able to use my expertise in medical imaging and, at the same time, learn about how ideas get distilled at a fast pace in industrial research. It was a collaborative project, so I got a chance to interact with lots of different scientists. Importantly, I was encouraged to lead the project and to take initiative. After the completion of my project, I was given the chance to present my work in a research talk. I was applauded for my hypothesis, results, and for my ability to drive this project to completion with a team.

Apart from research, my manager encouraged me to make connections through networking. I reached out to people and asked for their opinion about the important skills needed for a career in industry.

Q. What are the skills needed for a career in industry?

Initially, I thought that technical skills would be the most important for industrial positions. I was surprised to learn that a candidate’s confidence and personality mean much more than technical knowledge. I observed this during the interview processes.

Another important thing I learned is that one should be open to new ideas and have good translational ability. For example, if you have expertise in cell biology don’t stop yourself from trying something different like imaging. Industry loves those people who can add value beyond their expertise.

Connections are also very important and can help you to get interviews. Maintaining regular contact without annoying the person is an art. People move from one industry to another so quickly. Even a single connection can help you get your foot in the door.

Q. What did you learn about the skills you had (and those you needed to work on) during your BEST experience?

I had never led a scientific project before, therefore when I was asked to lead the project during my internship, I had some doubts. But it came to me naturally. I planned the study, prepared a roadmap to achieve goals, and made sure that everybody was on the same page. I now realize how important it is to have quality leadership, especially in industry, and consider myself fortunate to be able to have experienced being in that role.

I think communication is one skill that I needed to hone. Being a technical person, sometimes I overlooked my audience. Now I realize how important it is to convey your rationale and findings in a very basic way to clients, collaborators, and general audiences.

Q. What advice do you have for graduate students who are struggling with what direction to take with their careers?

I believe BEST is an excellent opportunity for doctoral students to experience something different from academic lab work while also helping to prepare them for the competitive industrial world. I would suggest using this program to explore any interest that might be a potential option after graduation. We should remember how challenging it can be to get a good research position in industry right after graduation.

Take advantage of BEST. It is for us. You have nothing to lose.

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

Sep 6 / Sarah Sheesley

Five Simple Things You Should Do Right Now

by Lauren Tanabe, Ph.D.

The start of the academic year is a time of excitement, but it can also be overwhelming as you begin to think about the steps you should take in your job search. Fear not, this post is full of easy tasks you can complete in between experiments that will have a big impact on your future. Start with small goals as opposed to larger intimidating ones that can leave you feeling depleted before getting started. As you complete the tasks below, you’ll start to feel better about the future and you may be surprised by the opportunities that arise.


1. Get Some Business Cards

At the SciPhD Bootcamp at Wayne State this past May, the presenters stressed the importance of always carrying business cards. You never know when you’ll need one! This is something that you can and should do, today. There are a number of online printing companies that offer deep discounts. I got 500 cards for $8 during a Vistaprint promotion. Be sure that you include all pertinent contact information and consider using an email address not affiliated with a university such as gmail, so that there’s no chance it will be terminated when you graduate. If you want to do something a little different, include a QR code on your card. When a prospective employer scans it, they’ll be able to read all about your qualifications — far more than you could ever include on a tiny business card.

2. Update Your LinkedIn Profile

What did you do over the summer? Did you participate in a BEST internship? Publish a paper? Join the Postdoc Association? It’s time to update that LinkedIn profile.

Make sure you have a professional-looking headshot, and remember that your profile should reflect who you want to be. It should be immediately clear to anyone reading the profile what your goals are. Are you searching for a job? Put it up there front and center. While you’re at it, make sure to fill in the Summary section or update it appropriately. It doesn’t need to be a thesis. Just make sure it’s professional, well-written, and clearly expresses your goals and achievements. Shoot for a little over 40 words. This will make your profile more likely to show up in someone’s search.

3. Facebook with Purpose

Sure, it’s fun to scroll through memes and see what’s going on in your friends’ lives, but these days, professional organizations and companies use social media platforms beyond LinkedIn. Do a quick search for companies you are interested in working for and follow their Facebook pages. Sometimes you can find job offerings posted here. Also search for groups, since there are organizations for every kind of scientist you can imagine. There are groups for those aspiring to positions in industry, writing, teaching, and business. Here you’ll be able to ask for advice and, in time, mentor others. It’s a wonderful way to make fruitful connections.

Perhaps the best part of being in these groups is that you will continually be reminded of things pertaining to your career interests as you scroll through your newsfeed — important, since keeping career goals at the forefront can be difficult when you’re trying to complete a Ph.D. Keep in mind that if you friend some of your new connections you will want to make sure your profile is on the professional side. If you’re tech savvy, you can use the control settings so that your new connections don’t see anything unsavory. It is critical, however, to keep in mind that your social media footprint should be a professional one across the board. It might be time to switch to Snapchat for more casual interactions with friends and family.

4. Set up One Informational Interview

Informational interviews are about exploring your options. If there’s a field that you suspect may be a good fit for you, or a company you might be interested in, then reach out to someone and set up an informational interview. Some of us introverts may find this task a bit daunting, but start with the goal of completing just one. Use your social media network to help you find someone. If you’re not sure where to start, look for fellow alumni — you both already have something in common. A simple 20-minute phone call or a chat over a cup of coffee could lead to more opportunities. Always end the interview by asking if they know of anyone else you could talk to. The worst thing that happens is you realize that a particular job may not be for you. Better to figure it out sooner than later.

5. Attend the Upcoming BEST Orientation and Activities

If you’re still unsure about what you want to do with your Ph.D., that’s OK. But don’t ignore your uncertainty; make an effort to gather more information so that you can figure out what might be a good fit for your skills and personality. Luckily for you, the Wayne State BEST program is about to kick off for the 2017-18 year. The program Orientation will take place on Wednesday, September 27th from 4:30 – 6:30 pm in Margherio Hall on the School of Medicine campus. Come, have some pizza and a beverage, and hear all about the various options for science Ph.Ds. Panel discussions in five different career tracks (research administration, teaching, business, government, and communication) are scheduled for the first week of October.

Don’t forget your business cards!

Aug 22 / Sarah Sheesley

Report from meeting on career outcomes

BEST members Ambika Mathur (Wayne State University), Abby Stayart (University of Chicago), Roger Chalkley (Vanderbilt University School of Medicine), and Patrick Brandt (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill) along with a members of the AAU, AAMC and some non-BEST institutions attended a recent meeting sponsored by Rescuing Biomedical Research. The BEST representatives’ reflections on this conversation about improving career transparency in biomedical Ph.D. career outcomes appears in an article on the NIH BEST website.