One of the important factors in my job hunt was that after my defense, my husband accepted a job in Seattle. Seattle is very far from Pittsburgh, where I graduated, but much closer to our friends and family. It was a great opportunity for his career, and of all the places we could end up, the Seattle area was high on our list for being somewhere we could both work, and wanted to live.
But, I was going to have to build my professional network from scratch. Well, not entirely from scratch, but it didn’t take long to figure out that our computer science college roommates didn’t know a lot of decision makers in the biotech/academic industry.
Like I’ve said before, I was haunted by visions of my hard earned knowledge dwindling until I was utterly unemployable, so I started seeking ways to connect with professionals in the industry and finding ways to develop my professional skills.
I joined several professional societies. My favorite is the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). The Seattle Chapter has a diverse group of women at all career levels, and the events are stimulating. I started volunteering on the board to run the newsletter. I wanted the women I was meeting through AWIS to be able to say more about me than that I was nice, showed up often and was looking for a job. I wanted to show that I could be responsible, collaborate and support our joint efforts.
One of the women that I met as a result of this volunteer effort works at the tech transfer office at the University of Washington, a powerhouse called the Center for Commercialization, or C4C. I’d been toying with the idea that entering biotech from a business standpoint might be interesting, so when I found out that the C4C has an internship program for grad students and PhDs to help the tech managers with their projects, it seemed like a great opportunity.
The nature of the internship supports the general work of the C4C. The UW has a lot of fantastic researchers who are great at developing new innovations. The Tech Managers at the C4C help to guide these innovations to market, either through patents and licensing or as spin-off companies.
The tech managers need help at various stages, such as triaging the profitability of innovations by assessing the potential market, which interns can help with. Many interns move on to those spin-offs as they started up, and the C4C is well connected between UW researchers, other research institutes where collaborators work, and the industry partners and venture capitalists who often infuse the money for these projects. It seems like a smart place to hang out and try to endear myself.
Much of my work there is covered under a non-disclosure agreement, so I am not at liberty to talk about the specific technologies I worked with. But I can do a better job of explaining what I did there. One of my tasks was to perform market analysis. There are many good ideas, but a commercializable idea is one that can make a lot of money. It usually does this by being cheaper, faster or better than the existing solution for a problem that is large.
There are several parts to this. Sometimes researchers would stop in to talk about their mega innovation that improves their assay’s specificity 1,000 fold, which allows them to decrease the time and cost of the assay. Amazing! It’s totally going to revolutionize things for the three labs on the planet that run this assay. These people would usually get sent back to their labs (where they really wanted to be) to continue their work.
Others would come by and say they have this method that improves signal to noise 5 fold, which might increase throughput on these assays by 10%. And I would do a market analysis to determine who would buy this type of technology, how much they are currently spending and how much they might be willing to spend for that level of improvement. And depending on the market, these improvements might be worth a lot of money.
I also helped a specific team that had a reasonably well developed idea try to determine which experiments they would need to demonstrate the value of this innovation. These were different types of experiments, like demonstrating the consistency of an assay.
This was a really different work experience than I was used to. I sat in a cubicle, working on my laptop, writing documents and sending emails and occasionally sitting in on meetings. It was a great chance for me to start learning about the culture shift from academia to the biotech sector. In industry, good ideas have to make money, and often answering the most interesting questions did not make an idea more profitable. My internship was unpaid though, so I was still on the hunt for a long-term fit.
Sandlin Seguin, Ph.D. earned her doctorate in 2011 from the University of Pittsburgh. She currently works as a curriculum writer, writing career education materials for high school students.