Thursday, June 7, 2012

Science and Business: Advice on Combining Your Interest in Both into a Successful Career

By Dana Walsh

On Tuesday, May 8th, Brandy Salmon, PhD, MBA, took some time out of her busy day to speak with UNC graduate students about her career as Innovation Advisor/Business Growth Manager at RTI International and offer advice to students interested in combining an interest in science and business. The conversation focused on tactics for transitioning into careers that leverage scientific training and individual interests without continuing at the bench.  Brandy often reiterated that there is no one “right” path and that many roads can lead to a fulfilling career.  She provided some suggestions for networking, the value of an internship, and the advantages and disadvantages of attending business school after graduate school.

On doing a post-doc:
  • The value of a post-doc largely depends on an individual’s goals, timing, and a given situation.  In many cases, if a graduate student is ready to make a change away from the bench, completing post-doctoral training is not necessary.  If, on the other hand, one hopes to continue in a scientific capacity, hopes to round out particular training/expertise, or just needs time to consider new options, a post-doc fellowship can be time well spent. 

On business school:
  •  Attending business school can be a great option, provide a new perspective, and create new opportunities for learning and networking; however, the value of an MBA can differ by individual, as can timing, program, and school.  For Brandy, earning an MBA provided a great next step after completion of a post-doc and her start-up experience.
  • Of course, earning an MBA is not a prerequisite for entering or being successful in the business world with a science degree. There are innumerable great paths; for instance, an internship at a mid-size to small company can provide a lot of great exposure, new skills and connections for building a solid career.
  • Business school can offer entry points into large companies, as many large companies recruit at business schools for interns and full-time employees.
  • Those students who are interested in working for a specific company should consider business schools through this lens and inquire about the particular companies that recruit on campus.  Additionally, most schools post employment statistics on school websites.  One thing to consider when crafting an application is how attractive you might be to employers downstream, as this is something admissions teams will consider.  They will want you to have a great school experience and part of that is finding a great new job.  So, take the time to craft a thoughtful, persuasive, and high quality application with clear goals for yourself, as these are the same qualities recruiters will be seeking.

On internships:
  • Either before or instead of business school, an internship can provide a great entry point into “the business of science”.  Some students seek internships within technology transfer divisions within the university system.  These roles can provide a lot of business-related skills and still leverage your science education – UNC’s Office of Technology Development offers internship opportunities.
  • To find an internship, you will find no substitute for networking.  The internet has burdened companies with unmanageable numbers of inquires and resumes.  The best approach is to spend the time to talk with folks working in companies (via alumni networks, LinkedIn, friends, family, etc.).  When meeting with someone, show a genuine interest in learning, be knowledgeable about the company, know why you want the internship, and try to articulate your value to them.  Your story should convince others that you can bring value (by, for instance, being thoughtful, eager, and hard-working) and that you are worth the investment.

On the differences between small and large companies:
  • Large companies can provide great careers, benefits, and opportunities.  However, if you are interested in moving from bench to business, but have started in a research capacity, you may find that it takes time to make the transition from one function to another.
  • A smaller company may be more flexible and provide opportunities to engage on the business side in a shorter time frame.
  • Some companies sponsor MBAs, but factors such as company, economic climate, and company performance can shift sponsorship opportunities. 

On business work/life balance:
  • The concept of work/life balance will differ for everyone – some folks are ready to throw themselves into work, while outside interests and commitments are more important to others.  Also, for many the balance can shift over the years and life stage.  Many find that the best strategy here is to continue learning and seeking new challenges that are attractive to employers – this way, one can find roles that fit his/her needs at various times throughout a career.

General Advice:
  • Networking is very important to your success – you may find it helpful to make connections with others in a variety of roles to ask them for advice and suggestions.
  •  Working at the intersection of business and science can be fascinating and rewarding, but in some cases in can be a bit non-traditional, as you are not necessarily working as a researcher or in a strictly business function.  Thus, it is important to consider a range of roles, companies, and functions to find opportunities that bring together the two.
  • Seek to capture value and skills from all experiences and be patient.  Professional success can also come from viewing a career as a marathon instead of a sprint. 
  • To understand various roles and responsibilities of different positions, one might find reviewing job postings and descriptions online helpful for understanding what sorts of roles companies are seeking to fill and how your skills might be applied.

About Brandy:

Dr. Salmon serves as an Innovation Advisor and Business Growth Manager for RTI where she routinely provides technology scouting, licensing, market opportunity, market and competitor assessments, and innovation advising services to commercial, government, and university clients.  She is also working to provide commercialization and business development support to the newly formed Center for Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Center with RTI.
Prior to joining RTI, Dr. Salmon was with the Duke University Office of Licensing and Ventures, where she managed a portfolio of university-owned assets, shepherding them through all aspects of the commercialization process, including invention disclosure, patent prosecution, marketing, valuation, negotiation, and license execution.  Dr. Salmon has also worked for two university-based start-ups, a venture capital firm, and a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company.
Brandy is happy to take any questions; you can email her at
Brandy is also on LinkedIn.

Dana Walsh is a UNC graduate student in the toxicology curriculum working on the effects of pollution on human health.

1 comment:

  1. What advice do you have for networking industries that aren't in your locale? I tried to get results in Manchester when I was in the renewable energy business and I was facing brick walls every way I turned.