While pursuing a postdoctoral position is currently a common path for many Ph.D. students after their graduate training, most of the opportunities are usually provided by academic institutes. On the other hand, more and more companies in the field Life Sciences are setting up post-doctoral programs as well, and this can be a great platform for those who would like to eventually land at positions in the industry.
As part of the Huck Graduate Student Advisory Committee’s (HGSAC) Career Exposure Seminar Series, we invited Dr. Xuan Ye from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals to give a talk at Penn State on January 13th, 2017. Xuan obtained his Bachelor’s Degree from Wuhan University, and received his Ph.D. in Biology at Penn State. He then joined Regeneron Pharmaceuticals at 2015 upon finishing graduate school and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the company. See below for some of his experiences as an industrial postdoc and suggestions for current graduate students.
What are your current roles/responsibilities? How have these changed over time?
My current position is postdoctoral fellow at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. I have taken this position for 1.5 years and this is a 3-year training program. My responsibilities are mainly performing scientific research in a collaborative manner and one of the end goals is to publish. In detail, my role requires me to conceive scientific projects; to keep up with latest updates in the field through reading literatures and attending conferences; to design and carry out experiments; to communicate and collaborate with other departments; to analyze and present data; to write manuscript and publish.
Is there anything specific that prepared you for your current career?
I received great Ph.D. training from my advisor, including critical thinking, presentation/communication skills, scientific writing skill and most importantly scientific attitude and perseverance. Things outside of your research are also important to prepare my current position, such as leadership and mentorship experience, business experience.
Was this career path something you had always considered?
Postdoc in industry is a path I have considered and prepared. Although I did consider some other positions, all these positions are related to pharmaceutical industry. I do think pharmaceutical/biomedical industry will continue to grow for at least 20 years and this is an great opportunity for biology graduate students.
What skills have made you and others in your field successful? Were there any unexpected skills that you needed to learn?
I’m still on the journey to figure out how to be successful in my field. I switched from cell biology to immunology, which is a huge change for me. I learnt the basic knowledge and technical skills from the start. It’s fast-paced in industry and learning agility is an important skill to master. In addition, pharmaceutical industry consists multiple departments groups collaborating together. And they focus on a broad spectrum of diseases. So it’s also important to become knowledgeable horizontally and vertically.
What’s the most challenging part of your career? And how do you think your career will change in both the near and distant future?
The most challenging part is to publish in 3 years without the help from research assistants. Biological research is very laborious and unpredictable. It’s important to find a niche which can take full advantage of company’s resources to test innovative ideas.
Traditional career path after postdoc is to become a scientist in industry and formally involved in the pipeline. It’s a great opportunity to experience the process of drug discovery. In the distant future, I hope I can work in an early stage biotech company to experience the excitement and challenges of establishing a company from scratch.
What can a young scientist do to position him or herself for a career in industry? Any tips on specific ways to network in the field?
First, try to get into a field related to diseases during the PhD study. Pharmaceutical industry focuses on make innovative therapeutics for human diseases. Working in a disease-related field helps you to think like them. Second, do your homework. There are tons of free information on the internet. At the same time, talk to people in industry is also helpful for you to know how it’s like and what skill sets are required. The best way to network with them is through professional conferences and meetings.
What advice do you have, about anything, for current graduate students?
Scientific research is a tough career path. Try your best to learn as much about your field but also broaden your horizon. At the same time, try to enjoy the process and have fun. In addition, keep connected to the real society and gain a deeper understanding of this world. As a scientist, the best reward is the satisfaction of curiosities. As a person in pharmaceutical industry, the ultimate fulfillment is to make innovative drugs to help patients.