UCI Affiliation: PhD Alumna, Molecular Biology & Biochemistry
Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sanford Burnham Institute in San Diego, California
Current Industry: Research at a Primary Research Institution
What is your current position and what do you like most about it?
My background is in protein engineering, however my current postdoctoral lab is focused on obtaining structural proteins. What I like most about our lab, is that it’s a very small group [about five of us in total]. Everyone has their own specialty and my unique set of skills fits nicely within the group. We work together to understand structural information and it’s a very collaborative environment.
How does your current position differ from graduate school?
In terms of technical skills, I utilize similar techniques and methodologies from my time in grad school. However, the lab environment and my responsibilities differ tremendously. My current PI is present but I’m expected, more than ever, to be independent. When I have meetings to discuss research, certain suggestions will be offered but I’m encouraged to take initiative, full direction and ownership of the project.
Did GPS-BIOMED program activities help prepare you for your current position?
I took Introduction to Regulatory Affairs through UCI Continuing Education, which was offered for free by GPS-BIOMED. The course was interesting and it was my first exposure to industry research. The Sanford Burnham Institute [where my current lab is located] is in San Diego. I’m constantly surrounded by individuals in the pharmaceutical industry and when I attend networking events, I find that I can better understand their terminology and their line of work. The course helped me do so.
During grad school, I also made an effort to improve my science communication skills. I took Activate to Captivate, which was public speaking training, and I use [Bri’s] strategies every time I give a presentation. I also took Science Communication Skills taught by Sandra Tsing Loh and it helped me improve my writing and use of language. Both courses taught me to be clear, concise, and use less jargon when communicating with general audiences and other scientists who may not be in my field.
How did you obtain your position? Which people or experiences helped more than others?
Once I decided to do a postdoc, I knew I wanted to focus on structural biology research. I made a tentative list of labs that I was interested in and I showed the list to a few PIs in my department. Doing so allowed me to gather input and I received other suggestions, including the current lab I’m in now. One of the PIs I spoke with offered to pass along my C.V. and I got an interview shortly thereafter.
What went into your ultimate decision to select your current position or career path?
When I first joined GPS-BIOMED, doing a postdoc was not high on my list. I wanted to pursue a research career in industry and I still do. However, during my time in GPS-BIOMED, I was encouraged to do a lot of informational interviews with alumni and professionals in biotech and pharma. I received similar advice from many individuals that postdoctoral experience would be beneficial for an R&D position. That advice made me reconsider my approach. I decided to pursue a postdoc that would expand my skills and knowledge base as well as provide me with a more collaborative environment to work in.
What advice would you give to participants who are new to GPS-BIOMED or who are beginning their career preparation?
Try new things beyond your comfort zone. Try to learn about different career options early on, and network as much as you can! I found informational interviews to be the most helpful approach to networking and learning about new careers. They helped me not only build a network, but also narrow down my interests. I had to ask myself: “Can I imagine myself doing this type of job? What must I do to prepare for it? What opportunities for growth are there?” I learned a lot about myself during the process. I learned that connecting with others when experiments weren’t working, helped me reengage with science. It was nice to speak with an alumnus [who had previously been in my shoes] and gain new perspective on how research training translates to diverse fields.