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Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Sun Oct 16, 2016 3:07 pm
by Katherine Lee
Time for another success story! What follows is a story of how planning, drive, patience, and perseverance helped me launch into a career as a biotechnology equity research associate at a Wall Street bank just four months after finishing my Ph.D. in Microbiology. That’s right people. NO post-doc for me!


I have lurked this forum for probably close to four years, and I listened to the advice of the moderators and regulars. They know what they’re talking about. Networking and informational interviews are scary. But, once you get started you will quickly realize that there are very nice, helpful, friendly people outside of academia that are willing to give you some of their time. Be respectful of their time, and don’t expect them to give you ANYTHING other than some information/feedback. Do not EVER approach networking as an immediate gratification experience. It’s a learning experience and you might not realize what you learned right away – but trust me – networking/Informational interviews are ESSENTIAL for the academic, with NO work experience, to get a foot in the door.


Key things I did that I think made me successful:
1. Listen to the advice of this forum.
It all started here for me. It works. Network. Informational interviews. Do it. Hone the skills. You may feel awkward and come across as awkward at first, but you’ll get better and your awkward inner scientist will bloom into a social butterfly that can relate, and communicate your value beyond pipet skills to non-academics.

2.Know what you want, and let yourself have it. I wanted to be an equity research associate – so I talked to people in the field via informational interviews (largely cold contacting via LinkedIn), and really learned what would set me apart on that stack of resumes. If you don’t know what you want, networking is a way to figure it out. And word for advice, really figure this out because interviewers want candidates that really want THEIR job – not just ANY job. If they sense that you’re all over the place in your career aspirations, it will hurt you. Make sure your answer to the “Why do you want to be [insert job title here]?” is your strongest job interview answer.

The last obstacle in your way once you know what you want, is yourself. Stop playing the victim “I’m a PhD and I am banned to post-doc purgatory for life!” If that’s your attitude, then that will be your reality. If you want something different, let yourself have it by putting in the work to get it.

3.Drive. Once I knew what I wanted, I put in the work to look appealing to employers. I did some free work as an unofficial intern for a bank during my PhD. I also studied for a exam that MBAs and finance professionals sit and pass at a 40% success rate – and I passed despite ALL the material being new (corporate finance, economics, fixed income, derivatives, financial statement analysis, etc), but I had to study 2 hours a day for 6 MONTHS to do it. I knew from my informational interviews that taking this exam and working as an unofficial intern would help set me apart from the resume stack. It showed drive. It showed initiative. Put in the work. These types of things are good stories to tell come interview time.

4.Patience and perseverance. Rejection hurts and it seems easy to just give up. I almost did. I had several phone conversations and coffee chats with networking friends whining about job interviews that I thought went well, but didn’t go anywhere. In fact, after four months on the job search I was talking about trying some other areas and giving up on equity research after being passed over after multiple interview stages for more qualified candidates. I thought I didn’t have a chance – there would always be someone better in New York City applying against me. A week later I had two verbal offers from two Wall Street banks I was certain had a better candidate to offer to. I was on cloud nine! And my network was really at full gear working for me because I was interviewing at a third place at the time and my network let me know about three other open positions they could introduce me to. Don’t give up. If you want it bad enough, you will be patient. If you build your network, they will be there to support you, keep you from giving up, and point you out to opportunities to pursue.

Now, if you’re thinking – that’s fine and dandy for you, but I don’t want to be on Wall Street. I want to work for industry as a scientist. Networking IS your path, too! I know at least six PhD friends that went straight from PhD into pharmaceutical or biotech companies that are names that are well-recognized. Regardless of whether they entered through a post-doc program or straight into a scientist position, they had networked into that position. You don’t need to be best friends with someone on “the inside” – in most cases it was a third or fourth degree connection that got them there. Figure out what your connections are, and use them to your advantage. Don’t have any? That’s because you need to search harder – or you need to make them yourself.

Know what you want, and let yourself have it.

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2016 9:32 am
by Dave Jensen
Katherine,

What a terrific post. Great advice, and so satisfying to see yet another success story here that relates back to Forum advice. My heartiest congratulations to you.

I had a good forum "friend" on this site who did just what you did. He was one of our early success stories, many years ago. That fellow has gone on to become one of the most senior and successful biotechnology Wall Street analysts and he's never looked back. I wish I could convince this fellow (G.M.) to come back on occasion and post here to keep our audience in tune with what it takes.

Most importantly, it's nice to hear these stories of moving into a successful career without having to do the postdoc route. Thanks Katherine, please stay in touch!

Dave Jensen, Forum Founder and Moderator

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2016 1:54 pm
by Ana
That's so fantastic!! I feel proud of you and we don't even know each other!

Great work, great outcome, and great post. Thank you for coming back and posting your advice, and remember that all those learned behaviours (grit!) will also be key for your career success, not just during job transitions.

Stick around, you certainly can help many other young scientists with your advice,

Ana

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 4:19 am
by D.X.
Wow congrats - beats my record of only an 11 month post-doc before i jettisoned from academia (not that least time spent in a post-doc is a contest..but it should be! :) :) :)

Mirrors my experience when I looked at the same career path many years ago.

In Addition to the informational interviewing and networking that you did, what i did like the most is how you prepared. Fantastic.

There is a quote, Luck, is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, said by Seneca. In this case you made your own luck.

All the best, i'm sure we'll unknownly cross-paths one day at some congress.

DX

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Fri Oct 21, 2016 12:02 pm
by Dave Walker
My hat is off to you, Katherine! We don't get nearly as much good news on the forum as we should. Thank you for the post and the hard-earned advice to go with.

DX's comment got me thinking: I bet many graduate students aren't aware of the job opportunities that one can get without necessarily doing a postdoc. I never knew a trainee that looked forward to a postdoc, versus having the ability to skip it and do what they really want to. Despite the value of a postdoc, it is by definition temporary.

Perhaps we could make a list of careers that one can move into without a postdoc, or of success stories. In general, I think jobs away from the bench are more lenient on this front...something else to consider.

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:46 pm
by TFF
I've been doing the alternative career no-post doc thing for going on 10 years and all of what Katherine says is true. I will add several other aspects that I have found useful in my journey. The connections will get you in the door, but what will get employers on your side is a combination of confidence and being hungry (especially at the beginning). At least, that's what I've found. Both of those may require some type of leap of faith on your part, especially when entering something that you may consider uncharted waters. To some degree, faking it until you make it can be a lot more effective than you would think.

But really, all it takes is something that MAY interest you...an idea...something intriguing. But to Dave's point, I don't think many grad students or postdocs are aware of the full extent of life past the lab. I was lucky to be at a school that had an alternative career day. The event asked alums from the school doing alternative careers to come back and talk. I spoke with the one person who was doing something that I felt I could do if I ever wanted to leave the bench. Low and behold, as I was getting set to graduate, the thought of doing more experiments made me feel queasy! I held on to the business card of the woman I spoke with for 2 years before I reached out to her to ask about a potential job.

I didn't end up getting the exact job I was hoping for, but another one at a sister company. So that brings up another key point--flexibility. I started out at a small private company of 12 people as a piddly little medical writer and currently have a job at what is probably the worlds largest medical information provider. Although it's related to what I started out doing, it's almost exactly what I really wanted to do when I started out but never knew existed.

But it all starts with the courage to take a shot at something that you aren't taught in school, that your PI may not know anything about, and, like in my case, your PI may even look down on you for even considering the choice. But the fact is, if I stayed in research because I was afraid to disappoint my PI or dissertation committee, I would be a very angry and disgruntled person. One of the best decisions of my life was going to grad school for a PhD in neuroscience. I also couldn't be happier with my decision to leave research entirely.

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Wed Nov 16, 2016 10:02 pm
by GGS
Congrats Katherine. This is great. I live in the area too in a major biopharm company and as you said still trying to figure out what I want to do in industry. I am in bioprocess development. Can you friend me here and send me your linked in info.
Thanks,
Gayatri

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Tue Dec 06, 2016 4:03 pm
by Felix
Katherine Lee wrote:Time for another success story! What follows is a story of how planning, drive, patience, and perseverance helped me launch into a career as a biotechnology equity research associate at a Wall Street bank just four months after finishing my Ph.D. in Microbiology. That’s right people. NO post-doc for me!


I have lurked this forum for probably close to four years, and I listened to the advice of the moderators and regulars. They know what they’re talking about. Networking and informational interviews are scary. But, once you get started you will quickly realize that there are very nice, helpful, friendly people outside of academia that are willing to give you some of their time. Be respectful of their time, and don’t expect them to give you ANYTHING other than some information/feedback. Do not EVER approach networking as an immediate gratification experience. It’s a learning experience and you might not realize what you learned right away – but trust me – networking/Informational interviews are ESSENTIAL for the academic, with NO work experience, to get a foot in the door.


Key things I did that I think made me successful:
1. Listen to the advice of this forum.
It all started here for me. It works. Network. Informational interviews. Do it. Hone the skills. You may feel awkward and come across as awkward at first, but you’ll get better and your awkward inner scientist will bloom into a social butterfly that can relate, and communicate your value beyond pipet skills to non-academics.

2.Know what you want, and let yourself have it. I wanted to be an equity research associate – so I talked to people in the field via informational interviews (largely cold contacting via LinkedIn), and really learned what would set me apart on that stack of resumes. If you don’t know what you want, networking is a way to figure it out. And word for advice, really figure this out because interviewers want candidates that really want THEIR job – not just ANY job. If they sense that you’re all over the place in your career aspirations, it will hurt you. Make sure your answer to the “Why do you want to be [insert job title here]?” is your strongest job interview answer.

The last obstacle in your way once you know what you want, is yourself. Stop playing the victim “I’m a PhD and I am banned to post-doc purgatory for life!” If that’s your attitude, then that will be your reality. If you want something different, let yourself have it by putting in the work to get it.

3.Drive. Once I knew what I wanted, I put in the work to look appealing to employers. I did some free work as an unofficial intern for a bank during my PhD. I also studied for a exam that MBAs and finance professionals sit and pass at a 40% success rate – and I passed despite ALL the material being new (corporate finance, economics, fixed income, derivatives, financial statement analysis, etc), but I had to study 2 hours a day for 6 MONTHS to do it. I knew from my informational interviews that taking this exam and working as an unofficial intern would help set me apart from the resume stack. It showed drive. It showed initiative. Put in the work. These types of things are good stories to tell come interview time.

4.Patience and perseverance. Rejection hurts and it seems easy to just give up. I almost did. I had several phone conversations and coffee chats with networking friends whining about job interviews that I thought went well, but didn’t go anywhere. In fact, after four months on the job search I was talking about trying some other areas and giving up on equity research after being passed over after multiple interview stages for more qualified candidates. I thought I didn’t have a chance – there would always be someone better in New York City applying against me. A week later I had two verbal offers from two Wall Street banks I was certain had a better candidate to offer to. I was on cloud nine! And my network was really at full gear working for me because I was interviewing at a third place at the time and my network let me know about three other open positions they could introduce me to. Don’t give up. If you want it bad enough, you will be patient. If you build your network, they will be there to support you, keep you from giving up, and point you out to opportunities to pursue.

Now, if you’re thinking – that’s fine and dandy for you, but I don’t want to be on Wall Street. I want to work for industry as a scientist. Networking IS your path, too! I know at least six PhD friends that went straight from PhD into pharmaceutical or biotech companies that are names that are well-recognized. Regardless of whether they entered through a post-doc program or straight into a scientist position, they had networked into that position. You don’t need to be best friends with someone on “the inside” – in most cases it was a third or fourth degree connection that got them there. Figure out what your connections are, and use them to your advantage. Don’t have any? That’s because you need to search harder – or you need to make them yourself.

Know what you want, and let yourself have it.



Congrats on the CFA and the job!

ER is a field that interests me however one that I am not entirely sure and thus, something I am not entirely sure I want. Regardless, I am a BS level associate and thus feel I am under qualified in competing with those that have experience in the field or those that don't but have Phds. Even if I were to go to a similar route as you to get first level of CFA, wouldn't a firm choose a PhD vs a BS given the choice?

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Thu Dec 08, 2016 9:09 am
by Phil B
Katherine Lee wrote:

3.Drive. Once I knew what I wanted, I put in the work to look appealing to employers. I did some free work as an unofficial intern for a bank during my PhD. I also studied for a exam that MBAs and finance professionals sit and pass at a 40% success rate – and I passed despite ALL the material being new (corporate finance, economics, fixed income, derivatives, financial statement analysis, etc), but I had to study 2 hours a day for 6 MONTHS to do it. I knew from my informational interviews that taking this exam and working as an unofficial intern would help set me apart from the resume stack. It showed drive. It showed initiative. Put in the work. These types of things are good stories to tell come interview time.



Congratulations. A great success story.
I have a few questions. Was your PhD advisor supportive of your career goals? Did you advisor know about your bank internship and time studying for the financial exam? I'm assuming you live in or near NYC for all this to happen. How did you support yourself post-PhD until you landed your job? Could you describe your job a little more. Do you visit or talk to Biotech companies as part of your research?

Re: Success Story - Biology PhD to Wall Street Biotech Equity Research

PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2017 1:40 pm
by RGM
It's been Oct since we last heard, and no response to the person's question above. This is a real shame, as the OP has useful info beyond what was provided.

The question regarding the internship is an important one. Many PD's I've encountered have other aspirations but always mention the PI response issue, "how supportive will s/he be" etc.