PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Lauren Shaw (Hosted by Merck — Infectious Disease and Virology)

In the spring of 2020, 36 PhD students from a range of academic disciplines at Penn participated in Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program, where they were matched with a host organization in Philadelphia to learn about different careers beyond academia. Lauren Shaw, a PhD candidate in Pharmacology, was placed as a Fellow with Merck – Infectious Diseases and Virology. Read about her experience in the CEF below!

What was your fellowship experience like working with your host? What activities did you engage in?

My fellowship involved an initial meeting with Bonnie Howell, the executive director of Merck’s IDV group. We discussed my interests and goals and she suggested potential people that would be appropriate to talk to. After that, we set up a day of informational interviews with members of various groups – from neuropharmacology to IDV to formulations – who were at various stages in their careers. The day began with an hour-long presentation by me about my research, which was attended by those I was scheduled to meet with as well as others who were interested. Then, I had 10 30-minute informational interviews throughout the day and a final interview with Bonnie to see if there were any gaps that I could fill in by talking with other people.

What did you learn from this opportunity (about yourself, about career fields, the job search, etc.)?

As I talked with others about their work, I learned which areas within industry I was more or less interested in. I was informed about the post-doc program at Merck and talked with current post-docs about their experience in it. I also improved my interviewing and networking skills, especially with the added challenge of using a virtual platform. 

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

My CEF experience provided me with an opportunity to explore careers I had interest in but did not tangibly understand. Importantly, I made connections with people who were in those roles and who were willing to stay connected with me. If I decide I want to pursue a career at Merck, I was also encouraged to stay in touch and apply to the post-doc program, which could help launch my career in industry.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of my CEF experience was the exposure to people in specific roles within industry that were excited to talk to me about their careers and about the potential future of mine. I feel much more confident in the path I am interested in taking and my ability to start my career after I graduate.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF?

PhD students should apply to the CEF if they are interested in pursuing a career outside of academia but aren’t really sure what options are available or if they are on the right path to getting there. It is easy to have a one-track mind in academia, so when you are deep in the world of your graduate career, it is very reassuring to hear that not only are there various job opportunities available, but that many people take convoluted paths to get to their current roles.

For more information about Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship, please visit our program webpage here.

By Helen Pho
Helen Pho Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs