Alternative Career Panel Exposes Biomedical Graduate Students to Unique Possibilities

Posted in GUMC Stories

APRIL 15, 2016–On Thursday, April 7, a group of scientists gathered in Copley Hall to talk to Biomedical Graduate Education (BGE) and main campus students about leveraging their science backgrounds into careers across industries.

Alternative Careers in Science and Industry (new window)” featured keynote speaker Marcia McNutt, PhD (new window), editor-in-chief of Science. McNutt’s keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion with Yeasin Chowdhury, MS, MBA, senior account executive at Evolvr; Rikin Mehta, JD, PharmD, head of U.S. regulatory policy for Pfizer Consumer; David Kroll, PhD, freelance science writer and Sarah Campion, MS, assay development manager at Cognate Bioservices.

BGE held their first alternative careers panel last year.

“We began the alternative career panel to help our students become exposed to other options,” said Monica Javidnia, third year pharmacology student and president of the Medical Center Graduate Student Organization (MCGSO). “We all have different ideas about where we want to end up next, which may not follow in line with the ‘traditional path’ for our degrees.”

A Fun Career That Uses Science

McNutt’s keynote speech centered on her career in science communications.

“From climate change to gene editing to internet security, these are all issues in which science can inform decision-making and these are all reasons why science communication has never been more important,” she said.

McNutt, who is also a research professor at Georgetown University, told students that to succeed in science communications, they have to be interested in a wide range of research topics and excel at explaining complex science in lay language. But most importantly, McNutt warned against contributing to hype that can confuse audiences about scientific discoveries.

“Most of the horror stories where science has gone wrong are cases in which science was not communicated correctly. There have been situations where scientist A has come to conclusion B, but it gets spun up into something that it was never meant to be. Stick to the facts,” she said.

McNutt said she majored in physics in college to avoid writing term papers though now she writes more than she ever thought she would. However, she never viewed her career as “alternative.”  

“All I thought is that I had a fun career that used science. If you find a way to make a living that uses that science such that every day you get up and you really love going to work, you are an incredible success,” she said.

A Wide Range of Options

The panelists had degrees in physics, microbiology, chemistry, pharmacology and toxicology and work in the pharmaceutical industry, science communications and a marketing firm. But most of them never planned to end up exactly where they are.

Kroll was the chair of the pharmaceutical sciences department at North Carolina Central University when he started a science blog, which led to freelance writing opportunities for publications like Forbes and Indy Week.

“I told stories through my blog. Suddenly, it started to get picked up by news outlets to the point that I was starting to pitch to local papers,” he said.

Champion, who manages the development team for a bioservice firm that manufactures cell-based products, encouraged students to figure out what they like to do, even if they aren’t exactly sure where they want to do it.

“Do you want to manage? Do you want to stay in the lab? Know what you want to do. I manage people, but I made sure to stay in the lab because I love playing with science,” she said.

Leigh Ann Renzulli
GUMC Communications