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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / November 2023 Part II / “Unlocking Career Insights: The Power of Job Shadowing for Aspiring Toxicologists”

“Unlocking Career Insights: The Power of Job Shadowing for Aspiring Toxicologists”

By Ryan Owens, MS, PhD Candidate in Toxicology

Most people tend to associate gaining outside experience solely with internships. However, as a full-time graduate student, committing to an internship limits you to one role, one company, and one perspective. Job shadowing offers more extensive exposure to the job, company, and workflow of the team.

During my job shadowing experience, I gained insights into the entire company, not just the day-to-day activities of the Director of Toxicology in Biocompatibility but also how the entire department functions. I had the opportunity to be personally mentored by Betina Lew, an alumnus of the University of Rochester, which added significant value to my experience. Betina Lew provided guidance and shared her wealth of industry knowledge. Additionally, I observed how the entire company operates, got a feel for the company's culture, and had the opportunity to interact with individuals from various departments, including the Analytical Chemistry department, Microbiology labs, and pre-clinical labs.

As Ph.D. students, we often have preconceived notions about our future roles as Toxicologists, such as exclusively using our project-specific skillsets or working only with fellow Ph.D. Toxicologists. However, through job shadowing, I witnessed effective team communication, project initiation and completion processes, and collaboration between different teams. Despite the seemingly quiet office or lab setting, the role of a Toxicologist at Johnson & Johnson demanded a sense of urgency, often leading to the cancellation of meetings to prioritize critical project tasks. Surprisingly, many projects considered "completed" remained in constant development to meet evolving regulatory requirements and user needs, emphasizing the importance of soft skills like communication and multidisciplinary team management for success. Leadership roles require ongoing personal development and mentorship, even after attainment, which can significantly impact a company's growth.

A strong foundation in various technical skills enhances understanding of project components and team dynamics, fostering effective collaboration. Conversations with experienced professionals who had spent over two decades in their roles or with a company highlighted the satisfaction within the industry and the significance of the first post-Ph.D. position in one's career. My exposure solidified my desire to pursue a career as a toxicologist in the industry, providing clarity that others often achieve only after graduation and their first job.

Contrary to the assumption that Toxicologists work in small, specialized teams, my experience demonstrated the need for a diverse skill set across different fields to successfully execute projects. This multidisciplinary collaboration can be highly enjoyable. Learning how to bring a project to completion during graduate school is a valuable experience for aspiring Toxicologists.

To learn more about internships or job shadowing opportunities check out the URBEST Internship & Career Exploration webpage or make an appointment with Eric Vaughn through Handshake.

Katherine Bognanno | 11/28/2023

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