Q&A with Zheni Shen, Ph.D.
Zheni Shen, Ph.D.
Bachelor of Medicine in Basic Medical Sciences, West China Medical Center, Sichuan University
M.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, West China Medical Center, Sichuan University
Ph.D. in Biology, Wayne State University, 2015
Dr. Shen participated in the BEST program during 2014-15 in order to learn about options outside of academia. While she did not conduct an internship, she believes that the information she learned from attending the various panels and workshops helped her to realize she wanted to work in industry. Upon completion of her doctorate, Dr. Shen was hired by Total Toxicology in Southfield, Michigan. Today, she works there as a supervisor and scientist.
Interviewed by Lauren Tanabe on May 16, 2017.
Q. When did you decide that you didn’t want to pursue the academic track and how did BEST help you in your decision?
With academia, there are uncontrollable research results and an uncertain career path. This wasn’t for me.
Through BEST, I attended different panels and got exposed to different fields. I found that science Ph.D.s were not only in demand in academia, but also in industry, law, business, and other fields.
I attended both the Phase II industry/business and law workshops. The specialists discussed the inner workings of these fields to us. I got interested in the work that a Ph.D can do in life science and healthcare industry as opposed to pursuing the academic track. BEST played a major role in helping me to make this decision.
Q. What did you learn about the skills you had (and those you needed to work on) during your BEST experience?
The most useful skill I’ve learned through BEST was how to network over social media.
I learned Web-searching skills. For example, how to connect with alumni on LinkedIn, how to check out the companies that have employed lots of Wayne State alumni with similar backgrounds to my own, how to follow companies on LinkedIn, how to learn about the networking hosted by my connections, and so on.
Also, I practiced my spoken English and prepared my introduction ahead of time. It was surprising to me to discover that I already had the necessary networking skills. But at the same time, I realized that I needed to hone my interviewing skills.
Q. Why didn’t you participate in an internship?
Because there were more BEST participants than actual available internships. I applied to several internships, got interviewed by several companies, but was not offered an internship in the end.
Q. How did you go about finding your current position?
Through my connections. I registered for a LinkedIn account, sent out my CV to my connections/friends in the life sciences field, and let them know that I would appreciate if they could inform me of any openings in their companies/institutions.
I also applied to job postings I found on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and the websites of the companies that I was interested in.
Q. Can you talk about your day-to-day activities in your new career?
I am currently a general supervisor and scientist in a clinical laboratory, Total Toxicology. My work is to research, develop, and validate novel methods to analyze drugs, chemical compounds, toxicants, bio-metabolites, hormones, and elements and alloys for medical, pharmaceutical, and toxicological evaluation.
I also generate and interpret final reports for the analyzed samples, daily, and consult with the clients on chemical, pharmaceutical, pharmacokinetic and toxicological interpretation of the reports.
Besides a whole set of clinical standard operating procedures, I’ve learned how to interact with clients (physicians) and how to coordinate with coworkers, which sharpens my teamwork skills.
I’m not doing bench work, currently. Mostly, I analyze data and do consulting and reporting work. There is nothing that I don’t like about my current position.
Q. It seems like you interact with a lot of clients. How do you use your networking and communication skills?
Most of our clients are clinical physicians. As a scientist, my responsibility is to provide toxicology knowledge support to them. However, performing high quality work in order to gain the trust of clients is a way of “networking,” because if they are satisfied with the services you provide, they will introduce other doctors who also need the same service. I talk with the physicians with a very supportive and patient attitude, trying to answer professional questions in a way that they can understand.
I also use everyday language. Most of the time, the physicians don’t expect to dig into scientific details, they just want to know generally about what could possibly influence the test results.
Q. Where do you see yourself in the future?
I see myself as a certified director or some kind of authorized specialist in the clinical laboratory field. My short-term goal is to be fulfilled with further practice, training, and certification in the clinical chemistry and clinical genetics field. My long-term goal is to use my knowledge to contribute to the clinical field as a biochemistry and genetic specialist.
Q. What advice do you have for graduate students who are struggling with what direction to take with their careers?
Just participate in the BEST program. It will help you make the decision of what direction to take.