The LSCDS Networking Reception is an annual event that aims to connect U of T graduate students and trainees to working professionals within the life sciences industry. Guests are invited from a broad range of fields including medical affairs, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, science communication, management consulting, and non-profit to speak about their career paths and past experiences. Previously, the reception was held in-person with structured networking sessions consisting of four 20-minute roundtable discussions that paired one guest with 6-8 students, followed by an open networking session. This year, the event hosted virtually through the Hopkins platform, allowing registrants to participate from the comfort of their own homes. Companies from various industries were represented such as: AstraZeneca, OICR, Notch Therapeutics, and Novo Nordisk.
Structured Networking Sessions
Dr. Liz Csaszar
Dr. Liz Csaszar, Director of Manufacturing at Notch Therapeutics, spoke about her experience from obtaining a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at U of T to working as a Development Scientist, and later, a Process Development Manager at the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM). She explains that her first role was an example of a “right place and right time” situation, as her graduate supervisor was the Chief Strategy Officer of CCRM who connected her to the position. During her years there, CCRM was rapidly expanding, offering many opportunities to get involved and learn more about biotechnology commercialization, the clinical pathway for a product, and a plethora of management-type skills. Later, she was hired at Notch Therapeutics as Director of Manufacturing where she transferred the knowledge and skills acquired from CCRM into driving the manufacturing process of the therapeutics forward. Her advice for graduate students looking to apply for industry jobs is to be specific in describing the technical and soft skills on your resume. Hiring managers will likely scroll through many applications and tend not to read cover letters unless your resume catches their eye from the start. If applying to a posted job, it is also helpful to figure out who the hiring manager is and show initiative by reaching out to them. At this point, it will not come across pushy and is often welcomed. Finally, Dr. Csaszar emphasizes the importance of networking, advising to “appreciate the people you know; committee members, friends in the lab next door – that’s your network! You already know these people,” so make them count!
Dr. Anna Georges
Dr. Anna Georges, Research Scientist at Corbin Therapeutics, is another speaker I had the pleasure of meeting from the Pharmaceuticals/Biotechnology Industry. Dr. Georges recently graduated with a Ph.D. from the Department of Molecular Genetics at U of T. Four months after the completion of her degree, she obtained the role of R&D Scientist at Corbin Therapeutics – a small pre-clinical biotech company based in Montreal that focuses on the development of small molecule inhibitors for the treatment of neuroinflammatory diseases. Her day-to-day life involves benchwork, assay development, data analysis, and most importantly, liaising between her team and contractors to ensure deadlines are met. Her role also involves preparing and delivering pitches to potential investors, securing funding, and reporting finances. Dr. Georges shared that during her job search, she was warned that landing a job in “Big Pharma” as a student coming directly out of university would be difficult. Following this advice, she decided to apply to small biotech companies instead, before acquiring a role at Corbin Therapeutics. She acknowledges that job security at start-ups is risky since the companies rely solely on a set amount of funding at the beginning, with their very survival depending on the success of the company; however, with the experience gained from a start-up, you will likely have a much easier time landing your next role. She adds that developing good communication skills is key, as well as selling your ability to learn quickly. “Everyone can learn the technical skills. Spin it in a way that sells you can. Good communication, presentation and writing skills – find opportunities to enhance those skills. Those are big in how to succeed in this field.”
Dr. Carlos Zepeda
From the non-profit sector, I met with Dr. Carlos Zepeda, Research Scientist at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), who completed a M.Sc. in Organic Chemistry from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Following his graduation, Dr. Zepeda worked as a process chemist at Signa, S.A. de C.V. (Apotex Pharmachem INC.) prior to pursuing his doctoral studies at McMaster University in Canada. Currently, his work focuses on structure-based drug design and researching chromatin regulation. He describes his role as rather diverse, with grant-writing and lab work making up the larger component of his workday. During our roundtable discussion, Dr. Zepeda gives three pieces of advice:
- Have a network. It is important to network with others from diverse areas as most positions are not advertised and only hired through word of mouth. Use your time during university to construct a broad network of peers who may connect you to a position later during your job search.
- Get a mentor. This will help lead your career and gain insight on how to navigate the job application process.
- Work hard. Try to learn as much as possible and practice talking to anyone you can, including your supervisor and colleagues. Communication is very important and key to successfully getting through interviews.
With our discussion ending, he suggested being open and flexible to new positions, as you may enjoy the work in a role you never expected.
Open Networking Session
Open networking session in R&D category with guest speakers: Catherine Trepanier, Anna Georges, and Elli Kubarakos.
The night was capped off by an open networking session, where speakers were grouped by their sector, and attendees were free to join any sessions that interested them. In the medical writing and communications group, Dr. Andrea Savio, Medical Writer at Intrinsik Corp., and Jasmine Chong, Medical Writer at Caudex spoke about their transition from wet lab research to a writing role. While neither wanted to pursue research as a career, Jasmine found she did not mind the writing aspect. Similarly, Dr. Savio was ready to leave the bench and preferred to learn a multitude of new things quickly. Jasmine explains that the skills learned from the writing portion of her graduate studies were transferable, from learning how to search and read articles from PubMed, to understanding and mastering scientific communication. In her current role, her responsibilities involve producing promotional and education slide decks used by sales representatives and medical science liaisons. Dr. Savio adds that attending different talks during her graduate studies also allowed her to gain insight on several different topics, without having worked on them directly. Her job involves interpreting clinical data, delivering documents to clients, and reviewing manuscripts.
Overall, the reception had a wonderful turnout, with 30 guests and 139 students attending the virtual event. Based on the responses from those who filled out the post-event survey, 77.5% of the attendees were from U of T, while the remaining 22.5% consisted of professionals and students from other universities. Although most participants wished for longer session times with the guests, most of the feedback received was positive, with students and guests praising the organization of the night. One of the invited speakers remarked:
“It was a great program. I appreciate it must have been difficult to organize an event of this size in a virtual space. Congrats and I look forward to supporting in [the] future!”
Students and attendees also commented on the ease of networking through the event, stating:
“Networking events usually feel like a chore to me, but this was very enjoyable. The structured sessions felt both relaxed and professional.”
“This was one of the most amazing networking events I went (to). I connected with my preferred professionals, chatted with them, asked questions, and later connected on (LinkedIn). This helped me when in-person sessions are not happening, and information interviews are need(ed) to break into industrial roles.”
Despite the unusual format for this year’s event, the LSCDS Networking Reception was an overwhelming success! Approximately 50% of the guests preferred in-person networking, while the remaining 50% preferred the virtual platform. Alternatively, 57.5% of the attendees preferred in-person, while 42.5% preferred online. In the future, it may be beneficial to incorporate both concepts to accommodate those who are unable to physically attend the event, and those who wish to meet personally to develop more meaningful connections.