Putting your non-science skills to use…

 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: Postdoctoral Fellow studying obesity and fat metabolism at the Cardiovascular Research Institute; Chief Technology Officer for My Resolve Health, a bay area start-up.

Program start date: September 2015

Institution: University of California, San Francisco

Hey folks!

How many of you always wanted to be a scientist? Be honest now! I just sort of fell into science. For the longest time, I wanted to be a pilot. Oh to be able to leave the world behind and touch the sky! Have you recently considered what you would be doing with your life if you weren’t a scientist though? Lately I’ve found myself seriously thinking about what my life would be without the lab. It’s actually rather difficult to imagine considering I’ve spent the better part of the past twelve years in a lab of some kind! Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty certain I would like to transition out of academic research sooner rather than later. And the past year has been largely about exploring avenues to so just that. But it’s just one of those flashes you get when you are engaged in mechanical tasks leaving your mind free to wander. Life was so much simpler as a kid when all I wanted to do was fly!

The reason I bring this up today is because like I mentioned last month, I’ve been seriously considering consulting as a career path. And from what I’ve learned so far, going down that road might mean leaving science and the lab behind. Just to give you context, the UCSF consulting club kick off event was what bought about this musing. It consisted of a panel of consultants from companies of various sizes and focus areas. And most importantly, they all had a background in the biological sciences. They talked about their work, how and why they made the transition and how their lives were different now. They were truly inspiring tales of people who had walked the same paths as us but had chosen a different direction.

For those who aren’t familiar with this path, consultants, as I understand it are basically corporate physicians! Companies hire consulting firms when they feel something isn’t right. A consultant’s job then is to diagnose the problem and provide recommendations to fix it. And as researchers, several of the job requirements including analytical out of the box thinking, perseverance, attention to detail and the ability to distill down large amounts of information, come naturally to us. These skills acquired through years of training transcend interests and disciplines and serve us well, no matter where we choose to apply them. And most consulting firms have specialized tracks for advanced degree candidates for this very reason.

The consulting panel at UCSF consisted of panelists from both big multinational consulting firms serving all kinds of industries as well as moderate to small life science consulting firms. From what I gathered, the bigger firms have a more rigorous interview process as compared to the smaller ones, although the format stays the same. Consulting firms conduct “case interviews” where candidates are required to solve real life cases in a group or one on one setting. It’s a format unique to consulting interviews and requires some practice. According to the panelists, even though they had no prior management or business experience, they were able to adjust fairly quickly to their new roles. And while all of them had different individual experiences, every single one of them mentioned how much they appreciated the more fixed hours, the work life balance as well as the bigger paychecks that their current jobs offered.

I had the opportunity to talk to most of the panelists at the mixer after and everything I learned was extremely encouraging. A huge plus for internationals is that most consulting firms do sponsor H1-work visas. So as long as you have what it takes, your immigration status does not matter. Additionally, the bigger firms are fairly flexible if your personal situation changes and you need to move to an office in another country. However, when starting out at one of the bigger firms, there is a considerable amount of travel involved. So, if you are unable to travel, a smaller firm with fewer offices might be a better option. The bigger firms also provide an opportunity to branch out into other industries apart from life sciences and healthcare. However, if you are certain you do not wish to branch out, life science consulting might be a better fit.

There are a few other consulting events at UCSF on the horizon, including a panel on boutique consulting that I am really looking forward to. I’ve also been reading about case interviews and looking into the firms I would be interested in. It’s exciting to discover something that just might be the right fit. Maybe I’ll get to fly after all! Until next time…

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