On August 9th, 2023, Biotech Connection Los Angeles (BCLA) kicked off their August Virtual Career Series to showcase how graduate students can leverage their degrees to land a career that fits their skill set. During the first week of programming, BCLA featured Van Do, Air Pollution Specialist- Clean Hydrogen Program at the California Energy Commission, Hadi Nayebi, Co-Founder and CTO of Dandelion Therapeutics, Michelle Muzzio, Senior Scientific Editor at Cell Press, and Kayli Martinez, Consultant at Boston Consulting Group as well as Rudra Persaud, Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Southern California, who moderated the discussions. Though each panelist shares distinct career paths, their journey is unified by pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry.
The panel discussions began following a brief introduction about BCLA and programming details provided by Oskar Sundberg, President of BCLA. During these discussions, the speakers opened up about their graduate school experience and talked about how they assessed their skill sets in choosing their current career.
Deciding to do a Ph.D. in chemistry for each of the panelists bubbled down to the sentiment of wanting to explore nature on a submicroscopic scale and having the ability to learn how systems work in a biological or industrial context—because fundamentally, chemical interaction dictates how the world works.
Although a Ph.D. in chemistry is challenging due to the technical skills involved in working with harsh materials, the problem-solving skill set that one develops is unique, allowing you to consider how small-scale changes affect larger-scale processes. With this in mind, the panelist encouraged graduate students to pursue opportunities that help to develop soft skills to better their ability to communicate and give them the ability to do translational science. Whether you choose to go to industry or academia, having a delicate balance between technical skills and people skills will elevate your career because networking is a great way to get your foot in the door to showcase your expertise.
One of the biggest takeaways from this panel discussion was that graduate students should use their time in the Ph.D. to not only do research that interests them but also to use their flexibility to explore other interests outside of the lab. This is because many intersectional careers slip under the radar that would benefit from a chemical background to work in interdisciplinary fields i.e., consulting, publishing, grant writing/reviewing, or within the government.
Having shared their experience navigating their Ph.D., the panelists appreciated their time spent in graduate school because it set them up for successful post-graduate careers. Hadi, for instance, can visualize complex biological systems through computational design at the molecular level because of his training in Chemistry; Michelle can leverage her passion for reading and breadth in chemistry to ensure iScience of Cell Press getting great science out to the public; Kayli can extrapolate her scientific thinking to help companies problem solve and explore the landscape around their intellectual property to make the best financial decisions; and Van can assess scientific merit by overseeing the grant reviewing process to receive government funding as California State moves towards a greener future.
BCLA wants to thank the panelists and the moderator for taking the time to be with us. Additionally, they would like to thank all the attendees for supporting our series and engaging in the discussion with their questions.