Corina White: Crossing into the great unknown

 In PhD/Postdoc Blog

The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Over the course of six months, Edward van Opstal, Ruchi Masand, Corina White, and Darcie Cook will give monthly updates on their progress. Check back every Wednesday for new blog posts!

Current position: 5th year PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering
Program start date: 2012
Institution: Rutgers University

At the time of this blog post, I will have been a full-time pharma industry employee for one month! And what a month it’s been! I really feel like I’ve hit the jackpot with my position, company, and co-workers. Already in the past few weeks I’ve learned so much, and I’m so thankful to my boss and the leadership here for being so supportive of me during this transition.

As I mentioned last time, I took this job and started before I have defended my dissertation. This requires me to go to my lab before or after work – sometimes both. It sometimes requires me to answer emails, phone calls, or texts during the day while I’m at work. Since day 1, my boss has told me to be open with him and let him know what I need in order to finish my doctorate. He told me it should be my #1 priority. Of course in the first few days, I thought he was just being nice. But as this past month has gone on, I’ve realized that he’s very serious and very willing to give me the flexibility I need in order to finish up at Rutgers. The best part is that this attitude comes from the top. Not only does my boss’ boss also support me but the first time I met the Senior Vice President that I report to he said “Hey you have to promise me you’re going to finish your PhD! Don’t just leave it hanging, you’re too close and I know it’s so important to you. So make sure you let us know what you need.” This made me feel so comfortable. It also gave me so much confidence that I made the right decision in joining this organization with such a great, supportive culture.

Transitioning into industry will be different for everyone but I’ve realized a two main things in the past month that will be helpful to reflect on during a job search and the interview process.

  • Culture is SO important! I know that everyone always talks about the culture of a company is important but I think it’s hard to understand that until you are immersed in a culture. As I mentioned, I feel like I have really lucked out with this company. Not only are they supportive of me finishing my doctorate, everyone here is nice, friendly and helpful and has an incredible work ethic. This culture resonates through the entire company, starting with the CEO who knows every employee’s name. While I personally love science, engineering, and medicine, the reason I got into this field was not solely for those challenges but also to help people. I am lucky enough to work at a company where patients are the highest priority. Whether I sit in meetings about manufacturing, quality, logistics, or regulatory, getting our products to the patients is always the driving force. Patient advocacy is such an integral part of this company that there is a chief of patient advocacy – the only patient advocate at the c-suite level in any pharma company. During your job search, seek out companies that align with your goals, wants, and needs. You should ask questions in interviews that help reveal the culture of the company, such as questions regarding continuing education, patient advocacy, flexible worktime, etc. Whatever you find important – ask about it!
  • You are not an imposter. Whenever you are a newbie at anything, it is easy to feel like you don’t belong. There was one day here, I remember going to a meeting and having NO IDEA what anyone was talking about. I felt so self-conscious and was so worried people were going to figure out that maybe they shouldn’t have hired me. Luckily, that same day I grabbed lunch with my boss and he made an off-handed comment about how I have such a unique skillset and everyone is really excited I’m here. In your transition into industry, it’s important to remember that they don’t expect you will know everything. But they expect you to try and they expect you to ask questions and reach out for help. In grad school, many times you are just supposed to figure it out yourself. That’s not always the case in industry. Ask the questions you have. One of the biggest thing you should learn during your graduate studies is how to ask questions and what questions are most important to answer. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions. Sometimes with your fresh set of eyes, you may see something that can be improved.

Starting a job comes with a variety of emotions – fear, excitement, anxiety – but if you remember to have confidence in your knowledge base and your ability to ask questions, your transition will be seamless. It helps to find a company where you feel supported and comfortable to ask those questions and make suggestions. Finding that type of company that aligns with your needs, goes back to some of my other blog advice in setting priorities, networking, and asking the right questions during your interview process.

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