Written by Bassem Toeama

“What careers exist in the industrial research and development (R&D)?”

“How different is working in an academic setting from a non-academic one?”

“Are corporations cutting down on R&D investments in Canada?”

“Where are the opportunities in this environment?”

Today, it is probably fair to say that many graduate students consider transitioning to industry. According to  speakers at the LSCDS R&D seminar, Davinder Chawla, Calley Hirsch, and Linda Zhao, graduate students should explore potential careers outside of academia, as only one third of the doctoral graduates attain academic positions

At the start of the seminar, all guests shared their backgrounds with the seminar attendees. A very lively discussion followed, where Dr. Chawla addressed some of the advantages and disadvantages of working in industry. She highlighted the fast-paced, hierarchical environment in industry, where people management takes the forefront. Talking about academia, Dr. Chawla mentioned that research in academia is publication-oriented and grant-based. She emphasized that in industry, in contrast to academia, strategic priority is given to projects, which have high impact and are en route to commercialization.

Dr. Hirsch referred to the differences between academia and industry, noting that academia typically has flexible work hours, and is curiosity-driven, giving scientists more freedom with experimental design, while industry is generally focused on solving specific commercial challenges. Dr. Hirsch spoke about industry career paths available, using CCRM as a case study, to highlight local R&D and non-R&D roles spanning basic biology, process development and manufacturing of cell and gene therapies to investment and IP diligence, regulatory, and communications. Apart from the core R&D responsibilities, Dr. Hirsch elaborated on time management, project scoping and budgeting, team work and coordination, and writing of new protocols and SOPs as important skills for her position.

Dr. Zhao spoke about the key skills required for her role as a solution scientist, including clear communication, client management, and ability to learn in a fast-paced work environment. All guest speakers agreed that networking and soft skills are important in their careers, as they often find themselves in client-facing roles.

Take home messages for the LSCDS attendees were very actionable. Dr. Chawla’s advice was to keep an eye on any job openings in the industry, be proactive, be self-aware of your needs or wants, and start planning early for the next 5 years. On the other hand, Dr. Hirsch focused more on the job search strategies. She suggested to have an industry-ready resume, where skills most valued by the potential employer would be highlighted. Dr. Zhao recommended engaging in internships prior to graduation. There are many volunteering opportunities on campus, consulting team projects, ambassador opportunities, contract positions and workshops to gain experience that would be valuable in industry.

Davinder Chawla is a senior stability scientist at Sanofi Pasteur. Dr. Chawla has expertise in downstream purification process development of viral bacterial vaccine candidates, management of stability studies, data analysis, GXP including GLP and GMP, product and process development , project management, SOPs, risk management. On top of her job responsibilities, she has contributed as project team member for several strategic projects, as well as management co-chair of Joint Health and Safety committee. She is also a part of the leadership team for WISE (Women Inspiring Sanofi Excellence) Canada Chapter which is an Employee Resource Group at Sanofi. Dr. Chawla received her PhD from the National Institute for Medical Research, London, UK followed by two post doc positions, prior to joining the industry.

Calley Hirsch is a development scientist at the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) with expertise in leading Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T projects, as well as semi-automated manufacturing processes, upstream lentiviral production strategies, and pluripotent stem cell and somatic cell reprogramming. Dr. Hirsch received her PhD from the University of Saskatchewan.

Linda Zhao is a solution scientist at Cyclica, an integrated cloud-based and Artificial Intelligence augmented platform service provider that helps make drug discovery faster, safer, and cheaper. Dr. Zhao manages client projects, maintains client relationships, and supports all business development and marketing activities. Dr. Zhao received her PhD from the University of Toronto.

Careers in R&D are intellectually stimulating, require multitasking and are interesting to learn about. There is a wealth of resources available for those who want to learn more, starting with the links below.

Be sure to look-out for more LSCDS Career Seminar announcements and check out our  LSCDS blogs for more information!