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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / March 2019 / No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

No Matter Where You Go, There You Are

By Alicia Henn, PhD, MBA, Chief Scientific Officer at BioSpherix, Ltd.

I had a friend who described his career path as “blown through life sideways.” While I’d like to think that I’ve been more self-directed than that, opportunity came from unexpected directions.

After a PhD in Molecular Pharmacology and Cancer Therapeutics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY, I wanted to be close to family in Rochester so my kids could be near their grandparents. It was those family links that kept me in Rochester through several different positions.

The lab where I first post-doc’d spun off into a company, Vaccinex, so I was a scientist at a company for almost four years. By that time, I really needed a change and wanted to get back to academia, so I came back to UR and did a five-year post-doc. I published some papers and a patent, but by that point, I was too far past my PhD to ever get my own funding. I felt trapped. I was looking at either being a “lifer” post-doc going from lab to lab without advancing, or leaving to slice bologna at a Wegmans’ deli. I started a support group called “Past the Post” for others at the med center that felt the same way.

My opening came from a direction I never expected. With my husband and some friends, I had founded a not-for-profit called the Rochester Speculative Literature Association (R-SPEC, Inc.), for local writers of science fiction and fantasy. We had set up our own press and published some books with visions of a future Rochester. That group still meets at the Pittsford Barnes and Noble the first Tuesday of every month at 7pm.

One of my R-SPEC friends did an MBA at the Simon School as a way to make a career change. So the next time the “Simon Games” came around, I decided to give it a try. The Simon School ended up giving me a 50% scholarship because of my work with R-SPEC. My boss was kind enough to get me a low-ranking faculty position so I could get a tuition benefit, which was the other 50%. He also gave me every other Friday off so I could attend classes. The wind was blowing sideways and I went with it.

With my MBA in hand, I went looking for jobs in Rochester and could not find one anywhere. Making meat flowers at the Wegmans’ deli was still looking like a possibility. I converted my homework station at home into a job search station and got a list of all the biotech companies in the state. I started with the “A”s and called every one, asking if they had a position for me until I got to BioSpherix, who asked me to come in.  I also landed an interview with a big pharma company. They weren’t in Rochester, but they were a job in science.

BioSpherix makes barrier isolators that keep cells at physiologic temperature and gas levels so they never have to come out into uncontrolled room air. The minute I put my hands into the gloves, I knew that I had found my passion. For the first time in my life, I could go into the world of my cells instead of bringing them out into mine.

I have been very happy at BioSpherix, which is a small company in Parish, NY, near Syracuse. I’m doing everything I love: cutting-edge science, writing, speaking, traveling, teaching, crafting our message, even bioprinting and robots. I feel like I was born for this. All that struggle and stress and soul-searching was worth it.

Come join me Wednesday March 20 2:00 – 3:00 pm in the Natapow Conference Room (1-9545) as I share my stories of late nights in the med center, having a family and a career, and being a woman in the business of better science. I’d love to take your questions!



Tracey Baas | 3/13/2019

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