Alumni of the PhD Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) choose diverse careers working across the globe. Their proven success in their chosen paths makes them an excellent source of career information and inspiration for current doctoral and postdoctoral trainees.

To celebrate our diverse alumni and to leverage their combined experiences, the Career and Professional Development (CPD) Team in the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies launched a new series titled From PhD to Professional. In the inaugural year in 2019, a month-long, four-part series featured eight PIBS alumni in science policy, medical affairs, industry research & development, and business development career categories. Two alumni were invited in each of these four career categories. Current students and postdocs engaged with visiting alumni via joint seminars and small group discussions. With a robust attendance of over 100 for each career category, current trainees learned tremendously from the visiting alumni. It is impressive to note that 48% of attendees, across all events, explored two or more careers in this series. 

The series kicked off with Drs. Remy Brim (Pharmacology) and Ishita Das (Cellular and Molecular Biology), who shared their experiences in the science policy and advocacy career paths from two very different perspectives. Dr. Brim talked about her time serving as a scientific advisor to US Congressional Representatives in comparison to her current role consulting in the private sector. Dr. Das, who graduated in 2015, spoke to how she prepared for her career by enhancing her knowledge and expertise in science policy and communication during her PhD years. Dr. Das’ leadership roles in two student organizations namely, Leading Informed Policy and Science (LIPS) and Research Expanding Lay-Audience Teaching and Engagement (RELATE) she said as being more helpful. 

In response to trainee interests, as gauged during career exploration events and advising appointments, the CPD team invited alumni in Medical Science Liaison (MSL) roles. Drs. Travis Dickendesher (Neuroscience) and Katherine Ryland (Pharmacology) spoke about communicating science and building relationships in their roles as MSLs. They both are rapidly moving into larger roles in Medical Affairs. In their discussions, they emphasized the importance of interpersonal communication skills and long-term relationship building in their roles. A key take-home from this section was that although not at the bench, MSLs still engage heavily with the scientific community and stay current reading literature and attending scientific conferences. 

The second half of the From PhD to Professional focused on two different areas within the biotech/industry sector, namely Research & Development and Business Development. 

After completing their PhDs at UM, Drs. Gabriel Martinez-Santibanez (Cellular and Molecular Biology) and Tushar Menon (Biological Chemistry) both pursued traditional postdocs to expand their technical expertise and knowledge before moving into industry R&D positions. Dr. Martinez-Santibanez described the importance of networking in career exploration. Based on his methodical approaches to career exploration, he co-authored a multi-part guide to help PhDs and postdocs do the same. Dr. Menon emphasized the importance of being a team player in his career. Both of these visiting alumni underscored the significance of extensive communication and collaboration in their career success. 

The series closed out with Drs. Ryan O’Connell (Molecular and Integrative Physiology) and Natalie Whitfield (Cellular and Molecular Biology) who represented the Business Development side of the industry sector. Dr. O’Connell moved directly into a sales position after graduate school and echoed many of the same sentiments about relationship-building and communication in his career. Dr. Whitfield shared many excellent resources for exploring and preparing for careers in clinical research management and business development, including certifications and non-traditional postdoc experiences. 

Overall, the series was a great success. The prominent theme from all of the discussions was the importance of diverse experiences during doctoral and postdoctoral training. Complementing technical skills in PhD training with professional skill-building results not only in career success but also enhances academic success in PhD training. We are at a time in history, where scientists need to champion their work and embrace their role as scientific ambassadors to communicate the importance and far-reaching impact of discovery and innovation. As showcased by our stellar alumni in this series, making early connections and building these broad skills benefit biomedical trainees regardless of career trajectory.