What has been your career path leading to your current position??
My path to consulting has been a long (very long!) and somewhat unexpected journey. I began my post-secondary education at McMaster University, where I completed an Honours BSc in Biology & Psychology. During my time at McMaster, I became quite fascinated with the neurosciences and various aspects of psychology, and decided to pursue a Master’s degree and, ultimately, a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario. I enjoyed academia and my research pursuits, but was looking for a more dynamic, fast-paced environment, and was specifically intrigued by opportunities that would apply my scientific expertise in a business setting. I just didn’t know what that meant at the time.
Upon completing my PhD, I applied to various positions in government, industry and the not-for-profit sector that interested me and where I could apply my skill set, but had very few bites—it seems I had the academic profile that organizations were looking for, but lacked relevant work experience. Through a series of networking lunches with colleagues, it was suggested that I attend an event for current and aspiring business professionals where Borys Chabursky, Founder and Chairman of Shift Health (formerly SHI Consulting), would be speaking. Little did I know that this chance meeting would change my life.
At that point in time, I did not know much about consulting and had not yet seriously considered it as an option. But after looking into Shift Health in advance of this event, I was drawn to the firm’s diverse portfolio of projects, its specialized focus on healthcare and the life sciences, and the fact that it bridged science and business. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. I spoke with Borys casually after the event and he informed me that—rather fortuitously—Shift Health was actively looking for a new analyst and was holding a recruiting event that same evening in the same venue. He suggested I submit my résumé as they would be screening applicants shortly, and the rest, as they say, is history!
What does your current position at Shift Health, as a senior consultant, entail?? And how is it different compared to your previous roles at Shift Health??
Our firm is a strategy consultancy devoted exclusively to healthcare and the life sciences. We work with Canadian and global clients across government, academia, industry, the not-for-profit sector and healthcare providers to amplify healthcare and research leadership, advance global health innovation and achieve eminence in healthcare markets worldwide.
My role as a Senior Consultant is quite diverse and entails a number of different responsibilities. A key element of my day-to-day life is focused on project management—planning, implementing and overseeing activities, mobilizing and leading teams, and ensuring that projects are delivered on time and on budget. As part of this responsibility, I am actively involved in building client relationships and communicating with clients on a regular basis. My role also requires me to provide strategic guidance and insight, helping to understand the “big picture” from the client’s perspective, and translating evidence into impactful and incisive products. Other elements include demonstrating leadership, supporting and developing junior team members, and playing a role in the sales process.
In comparison to previous roles at Shift Health, the Senior Consultant role has greater accountability in terms of project management, client management, and strategy development and facilitation. An Analyst role at Shift Health is typically more focused on research, analysis and deliverable development, whereas a Consultant role continues to refine these skills and begins to transition more into project management.
How and when did you become interested in consulting?? Was there anything that you did during your undergrad or graduate years that prepared you for this role?
I didn’t know much about consulting until I met with Borys and learned more about Shift Health at the networking event, so I would have to say that it was then that I truly became interested and excited about this industry. Given this, I did not do anything intentionally during my academic career to prepare for this role, but, in hindsight, I can say that there were a number of valuable experiences that enhanced my skill set and contributed to a strong résumé for a position in consulting. As a graduate student, I was immersed and developed expertise in hypothesis-driven research and data analysis, skills that have translated seamlessly into our consulting methodology. As a lecturer at Brescia University College in London, I was able to hone my communication skills and gain experience mentoring undergraduate students, which has helped in supporting junior team members in my current role. My verbal communication skills and “on-the-spot” thinking was further refined during a three-year stint as a sports radio show personality on Radio Western. I also participated on academic committees (e.g. Graduate Program in Neuroscience) and held executive roles (e.g. Graduate Teaching Assistants Union) where I helped identify priorities and set strategic directions for these organizations, activities that are integral to consulting and our work at Shift Health.
I should also note that my professional development as a consultant has continued to this day. At Shift Health, we are constantly engaged in on-the-job learning and training, and we receive a lot of mentorship and guidance from senior team members to help develop the skills necessary to excel in our roles.
What qualities/skills do you think that a consultant should have??
There are a few qualities that I feel are vital to excelling as a consultant and enjoying consulting. First and foremost, you need to be passionate about what you are doing—in my case, and that of our consulting team, we are all personally and professionally motivated by the aspiration to advance human health and well-being. A good consultant is also driven to challenge and test the status quo and push their clients and themselves to assess ideas, think intelligently and strategically, and advance innovation and solutions. Beyond these key qualities, consultants should also be able to work collaboratively with others, possess strong communication skills, and have the ability—and desire—to work in a fast-paced environment.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your job??
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is that I get to work in a field that I am passionate about. I am truly fortunate to be able to work on engagements that focus on improving human health and advancing health innovation, while leveraging the skills and expertise I gained during my scientific career. The diversity of our project work is also something that keeps me motivated on a daily basis, as every project has unique challenges and requires innovative solutions. No two days are the same and this is exciting!
One of the key challenges in consulting is time management and balancing competing priorities. Oftentimes, you are working on multiple projects at the same time with varying timelines and milestones, in addition to managing personal priorities and commitments, so this requires meticulous planning, open communication with team members, and the flexibility to adapt to expected—and unexpected—occurrences.
Do you think your PhD has given you unique advantages or disadvantages in being a consultant??
Definitely. There are many different skills that I acquired during my PhD that I apply to my consulting role to this day—a hypothesis-driven approach to research and analysis, the ability to critically review articles and extract meaningful data and information, the ability to communicate findings and engage with experts in the field, and experience project management. I truly feel that I was better prepared for the rigour and challenges that come with consulting as a result of my graduate experience. At Shift Health, specifically, it is a requirement for applicants to possess an advanced degree in the health or life sciences, so my PhD degree represented the first step of many to starting my career with this firm.
What other professions would you like to attempt if given the chance??
Interesting question. Firstly, I do not see myself leaving Shift Health any time in the near future—our work is engaging and challenging, our team is second-to-none and I’m extremely happy. Why change when you have a great thing going! If I am to look elsewhere, I might consider opportunities in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology sectors. The projects that we work on for these clients—from opportunity evaluations to product/portfolio strategies to supporting market access—are diverse and interesting, and I truly enjoy supporting these clients in the work they are doing.
Three pieces of advice which you would like to give to graduate students or your younger self.
The first piece of advice I might give graduate students is to make sure that they are involved in many different activities, be it academic, extracurricular or otherwise. Not only will this help you to develop into a more well-rounded individual, but it could also open your eyes to possibilities that you didn’t know existed. I would also highly recommend speaking with individuals in the workforce who have gone through a similar academic journey to understand their motivations and how they ultimately ended up in their chosen professions. These types of discussions were quite illuminating for me and, as I mentioned previously, ultimately led me to my current role at Shift Health. Finally, remember to enjoy graduate school and everything it has to offer, as it is often the last academic hurdle before you enter the real world!