March 10, 2006

Career symposium opens doors for students, postdocs

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J.J. Owen, Ph.D., a Vanderbilt graduate now working for AVEO Pharmaceuticals, spoke during the Career Opportunities session of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Symposium last week.
Photo by Dana Johnson

Career symposium opens doors for students, postdocs

Around 500 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows gathered last week to explore the variety of career options available both within and outside the 'ivory tower' of academia.

Scientists, including several Vanderbilt alumni, working in pharmaceutical and biotech industries, academia, and a host of 'alternative' careers, discussed their career paths and offered advice on their chosen fields.

“Whatever career path you choose, pursue it with passion and confidence,” said Diane Pennica, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Genentech, during the opening session.

Pennica noted how a combination of confidence, luck and 'blissful ignorance' helped her in pursuing a career in the biotech industry. She credited her naiveté about the potential pitfalls of cloning tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) with her subsequent success in developing this drug, which is now widely used to treat heart attacks and strokes.

“Knowing all of the possible failures often prevents us from even trying,” she said. “Always assume you will succeed, and you will do it,” she said. Symposium speakers and panelists represented a diverse range of career options: research and administration at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies; clinical and forensic sciences; research, administration and teaching at four-year colleges; consulting and defense; science policy, writing and program management; and technology transfer.

During the break-out sessions, students and postdocs had the opportunity to question the panelists.

“The symposium went very well and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Kim Petrie, Ph.D., director of the Office of Career Development and Outcomes Analysis. “People enjoyed the mix of younger and more established scientists and appreciated the variety of careers represented.”

“In some cases, people were turned on to something they hadn't known about previously,” Petrie said. “In others, they confirmed which occupations were not of interest.”

The two-day “Career Opportunities in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences” symposium was sponsored by the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET) Vanderbilt University and the Graduate School at Meharry Medical College. This was the third such event sponsored by the BRET office, and the first since the opening of the Office of Career Development and Outcomes Analysis.

The event was taped and will be available on DVD within the next few weeks. Interested students and postdocs can check out the DVD and/or obtain information about employment opportunities with many of the companies represented at the symposium from the BRET office.