Six Career Tips Shared at Biotechnology Day

Northwestern's annual event featured advice that any professional should follow, even if you have no connection to biotech.

Students who attended Northwestern University's Biotechnology Day on Friday, March 15, heard stories of new inventions, industry challenges and countless areas for growth and opportunity.

As part of the day, 10 guest speakers spent the afternoon talking about their personal career paths and answering questions about what they do, what they've learned and what advice they'd give to current students in Northwestern's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP). Along the way, those in attendance heard career advice that was not only relevant to those interested in biotechnology but could be applied to any industry.

Here are six career tips from some of Biotechnology Day's guest speakers.

Realize that networking is critical

When Patrick Shanley (MBP '13) was an MBP student at Northwestern, he met the founder of Attune Medical, a Chicago-based startup committed to advancing temperature management therapy in all clinical contexts. The company's ensoETM gives healthcare providers easy access to a patient's core and allows precise temperature control — whether warming or cooling — through the esophageal environment.

Shanley interned with Attune Medical and went on to become the company's first full-time employee. Seven years later, he is the Senior Director of Operations and has guided Attune Medical's products to regulatory clearance in the United States, Europe, Canada, and Australia.

As Shanley explained, finding a job is often about who you know. If you want to know more people, Shanley suggested attended some networking events — just don't go expecting to leave with a job offer.

"You don't need to get something out of it," he said. "Just start talking and get to know people."

Understand the value of teamwork

Stacy-Anne Morgan received her MSc. and PhD from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto and went on to be a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. From there, she transitioned to an industry position as a scientist at Zymergen, Inc. in Emeryville, California.

When it comes to her current role, she enjoys the constant education she receives, particularly from her colleagues.

"You're always learning new things," Morgan said. "Everyone thinks about a problem differently, and it's very fulfilling to me."

Work where you believe in the mission

Visit the homepage of Baxter Healthcare Corporation and you'll quickly see that the company considers itself "at the intersection of saving and sustaining lives." That's a mission that Craig Spencer could easily get behind.

Spencer started his industrial career at Baxter as a member of the Technical Development Program. He went on to be a Principal Engineer and Senior Engineer in R&D at Baxter, and today he manages the Technical Development Program he first started in.

"I love my job," Spencer said. "Our mission is to save lives. The company allows me to make an impact on the patient or customer."

Recognize the risks and rewards of your decisions

Michael Köpke is a pioneer in genetic engineering and strain development of gas fermenting organisms to convert carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide to useful products. For the past decade, he's worked as the Director of Synthetic Biology at LanzaTech, a company that has developed a proprietary gas fermentation process that is treating waste carbon as an opportunity instead of a liability.

When Köpke joined LanzaTech, the company had approximately 20 people. Now, he says there are roughly 150.

"Going to a startup is always a risk," he said, "but there's also a great opportunity."

Give back

Frank Li is the Director of Process Development at Catalent Biologics in Bloomington, Indiana. In that role, he leads the process, analytical, and formulation development to meet client drug substance and drug product development needs.

As important as those responsibilities are, one of his most important jobs is the one he holds on the side. Li serves as adjunct associate professor in The Department of Industrial & Physical Pharmacy at Purdue University, where he teaches various classes to graduate students and pharmacy students on the biopharmaceutical development.

"I like to teach," Li said, "to pass on knowledge to younger generations."

Love what you do

With more than 25 years of experience in drug development, registration, and commercialization, Gregg Pratt said there was a lot of advice he could offer to attendees who were preparing to start their career.

After all, Pratt, who is currently Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for Assertio Therapeutics in Lake Forest, Illinois, has held positions of increasing responsibility in R&D and Regulatory Affairs functions at Abbott, Abbvie, Baxter, and Luncdbeck.

Instead of offering a long list of items students should learn from his journey, Pratt opted to pass on just one piece of advice.

"Love what you're doing, or at least like it a lot," Pratt said. "If you don't feel that in your job, go find another one."