Breaking into BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization)
By Brianna Shares, PhD Candidate in Cell Biology of Diseases
Ever since I decided I wanted to get a PhD, I have known I wanted to end up in industry, as academia was not and still is not for me. But as graduate students, most of our interactions and conferences we attend are primarily academic and not industry related. As graduate students, we are mainly immersed within the academic culture and have a small number of chances to really delve into industry. Thankfully, there is hope and an amazing opportunity for students out there: Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO)
In my scanning of “Opportunities to Explore”, there was an opportunity highlighted for a free student registration to a biotechnology conference called the BIO 2019 Convention. The location and date varies every year, but this year it was June 3-6 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania so I went ahead and registered. Soon after I received a confirmation, I started thinking about how the cost and travel might not work out for me. Even with getting the >$300 registration for free with the student discount, I thought I might not go. However, since I am graduating at the end of December, my industry-driven mind made me realize I needed to step out of my comfort zone and take advantage of the BIO opportunity.
While prepping for the conference, I was hoping for the best-case scenario, giving resumes to interested companies and networking with everyone I possibly could (spoiler alert: I did). On the first day of the conference, I was ready to go with my business cards (a huge thing in industry) and my resume (multiple copies). However, I was overwhelmed by the amount of unfamiliar faces. At the end of the first day, I ended up giving away 4 business cards. The second day was more fruitful. I started to go to company exhibits and talked to company representatives about my skills, desire to transition to industry after my PhD, and the skill sets that particular companies were seeking. Some of the companies were those I had seen advertising open positions and investigated on Glassdoor, so I was able to discuss specific positions and talk with them about when to apply and how to highlight my skill set that the job required.
The first company I talked to (IQVIA) did not have any human resource (HR) representatives or scientists to talk to (this is primarily a business-type conference), so I initially was discouraged thinking this was how my day would go. The second company I talked to was Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies- yes, they do more than film production. I had previously seen postings for Fuji that I was interested in, so I was able to walk in, introduce myself and ask if there was anyone that could talk with me about the open position. Two individuals from HR pulled me into a private cubical to talk with me and asked to see my resume! The talk ended up turning into an informal interview, them telling me to apply for the position and that they would take my resume and show around the company. They seemed so impressed, and I was so excited about the positive feedback! After that first experience, I gained a lot more confidence to go up to other companies at the conference and ended up talking to 12 more that I would be interested in potentially joining.
With this newfound confidence, I ended up giving away the entirety of my business cards by the end of the second day. Note to self and others: bring a lot more business cards than you think you need! During the rest of the conference, I met someone from Syracuse, NY (Upstate Medical University) and had dinner with them; I met a VP of Operations for a plant-based company out of New Jersey while eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunch, and ended up eating lunch with his company on the last day. I met numerous women in the Women in BIO networking event, which is an awesome resource and professional organization for women in science who are interested in industry to join. The third day was designated “Student Day” where all the students that attended BIO met up and were introduced. After this event, I formed a new group of friends who have similar interests as me, and we were able to discuss the processes we were going through. On the third day, I also was able to introduce myself to the talent acquisition manager from HR at Pfizer, who willingly gave out her email address to help me in this process.
Altogether, even though Pfizer and Fujifilm were the only companies where I got to speak directly to HR reps, the other company exhibitions were just as useful, providing locations and insight into the company environment and, more importantly, providing contact people. The contact people gave me information about the company and advice for applying, and in turn, relayed my information to the company. More often than not, I was told to apply now, which was a surprise for me. All of this newfound knowledge and these newly formed connections were a direct result of BIO. Just getting that positive reinforcement from biotechs taking my resume and seriously considering me made the travel and cost worthwhile. The added bonus was getting the cost offset by URBEST and my PI, Dr. Eliseev. So, for anyone interested in industry, I suggest getting out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in the industry culture, handing out business cards and having resumes prepared because you never know what could happen! I would suggest to start planning now for BIO 2020, talk with Tracey Baas of URBEST for financial support, apply for Center for Professional Development’s Travel Grants, and look for that student discount code when BIO officially opens.
Tracey Baas |