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Jul 30 / Kristine Peterson

SciPhD Career Bootcamp at WSU Stresses Importance of Teamwork in Industry

In May 2017, BEST hosted a careers bootcamp conducted by the nationally recognized career and professional development organization SciPhD to assist Wayne State doctoral trainees and postdoctoral scientists learn about negotiating their own career paths to industry. This year, during an equally intensive two-day bootcamp, attendees learned the importance of teamwork in industry and how to excel in such settings. Students and postdocs from area institutions, including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, the University of Toledo, and Oakland University, participated as well.

Now, we had all worked in teams before, but none of us knew exactly what we might learn from this workshop. You have to be collaborative? Communicative?  Cooperative? Sure. We knew how to do that. But as attendees found out over the two days of training, it goes far beyond these “three Cs.” The SciPhD bootcamp facilitators (and co-founders) Randall Ribaudo and Larry Petcovic opened our eyes to what it really means to thrive in an industry work environment. In order to understand how to successfully transition from an academic to a nonacademic career at a pharmaceutical or biotech company, Ribaudo and Petcovic led attendees through a series of exercises and informational sessions. They offered a lot information, but in this blog entry, I will briefly describe three major takeaways:

Ways to enhance team performance that are essential for a company to survive and thrive.

Companies will always focus on continuous improvement for a variety of reasons: They need to understand what the competition is doing and how they can compete; they need to maintain their brand by continuously updating their own portfolio to stand out from the competition; and they need to ensure that their own drug discovery process is a smooth one rather than a fragmented mess.

To accomplish this, they need teams. And teamwork needs to be evaluated in an open and honest manner. By using strategies found in the foundations of Six Sigma, a commonly used managerial toolkit, projects can be examined using “process mapping” with “value added analysis,” which provides concrete data to inform a company about what is happening on a large scale. This will enable the company to understand where things can be consolidated or expanded.

photo taken by Christine Chow*

In order to consolidate or expand, brainstorming can be used to bring all potential solutions to the table. As Ph.D. students, we know exactly what it means to be creative. But do we know how to do it in an organized fashion? In one exercise, attendees learned what it means to create a priority matrix by following a SWOT [Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats] analysis. All ideas were entertained and then narrowed down to address the problem. The group then collectively decided the best way to move the project forward. This inclusive strategy was efficient and enabled our team of diverse people with different backgrounds and roles to have equal input regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the current project and how it could evolve.

Take-home message: I can make contributions to big decisions within a company based on my own experiences that will influence the outcome of the decision in an efficient manner. This will require adaptability and creativity, and is for the betterment of my team, my unit, and the company as a whole.

Team-based organizations use strategic project management on steroids.

As Ph.D. students, we all do this to some degree. You have a project that starts with questions, with anticipated results coupled to assumptions and known risks that will lead us to the next step. However, who is managing each stage of that process? In graduate school, it is us! We wear many hats to facilitate the movement of that project from start to finish. But what about a pharmaceutical company? Are we alone at every single stage, managing the progress, ensuring that milestones are being met, without many other people giving their input? Probably not.

We learned that at a company, project roles are designed to bring together individuals with specific skills and experiences that they can bring to each step of a project. In other words, each one of us is a slice of the pie rather than our own small pies. Thus, there are other individuals relying on you to fulfill your objectives (by a specific deadline and within cost confines) so that they can properly execute their roles. All of this is overseen by a project manager who reports to company stakeholders.

Take-home message: Own your role. Know what it will take based on time, money, and possible obstacles, to deliver your efforts–others are counting on you to do so.

Financial literacy cannot be avoided in any job role.

From undergrad through graduate school, we eat and breathe the scientific process. But do we actually know what it costs to do science on a large scale, from research and development to drug approval? Not really. We’ve all heard the terms revenue, cost-of-goods, gross income, profitability, and so on that ultimately turn into just yada yada yada because we don’t truly comprehend them. But we should! The pharmaceutical industryspeaks in these terms to move projects forward within a company. At the SciPhD bootcamp, Ribaudo and Petcovic referred to financial literacy repeatedly to underscore the magnitude of its importance in drug discovery industry.

Using mock companies and values, bootcamp attendees participated in a role- playing exercise that assigned us to different groups involved in financial decision making in the pharmaceutical industry. Our group was assigned to a lending bank, whereby members had to assess risk and negotiate terms of loan lending to companies with various reputations and financial histories. At the start, we had absolutely no understanding of the terms of a financial report. By the end, we understood their meaning and interplay, using them in conversational dialogue with companies seeking investments.

Take-home message: As a Ph.D. student in the sciences, any experience by which you might be able to acquire understanding of finance vocabulary and application is a win before you enter a job role in the pharmaceutical industry, because any part of the drug discovery process can be much influenced by finance-related decision making.

Note:  The next SciPhD two-day careers bootcamp will be held at the University of Michigan, probably in May 2019.   Doctoral students and postdocs at area institutions, including Wayne State, will be welcome to attend.

by Matthew Fountain

Matt Fountain is a 4th year PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology in the School of Medicine. He holds a BS in Nutritional Science from Michigan State and an MS in Immunology/Microbiology from Wayne State. Matt has been a frequent participant in BEST career and professional development activities and in 2017-18 was selected as a BEST Phase III awardee.

*all other photos courtesy of the author


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