Throughout September, Career Services is hosting a series of online chats with graduate alumni working in STEM fields. On September 18th, we heard from a chemistry PhD graduate who is working at Pfizer as a staff scientist. Below is a summary of his experiences and advice for current Penn graduate students.
How he began to think about a career in industry/how he explored the interest
- He worked in industry prior to obtaining a PhD and came to the PhD interested in returning to industry
- Take advantage of the talks around campus on various topics – he learned a lot which helped to shape his desire to work in big pharma
- His interests narrowed into medicinal chemistry – now he works in this field in oncology
How he applied/the structure of the application and interview process
- Applied well in advance of graduation – they reached out approximately 6 months before he was set to finish
- His first interview after initial one was with a scientist – this was to check for fit
- Then invited to on site interview – full day with a dinner the night before. Note you must dress professionally for the dinner – even if other attendees are not – he has since seen interviewees not take the dinner seriously and this shows
- Interview day was very intense – started with a 45 minute presentation. Very important that you practice this ahead of time as much as possible – use good visuals and tell a story. Don’t need to focus on every single experiment you have ever done – do not need to have good results to tell an interesting story of scientific exploration. Use your department to practice!
- Then had a 60 minute tech interview – like a chalk talk exam – very challenging and got harder as he went on – he reached a point where he could not answer the question and that was the point – to see how he handled being unable to answer a question
- Then 12 1-on-1 interviews with scientists – mostly friendly “fit” type questions but also a few light technical questions
- Very important to bring questions to each interview! They expect you to ask questions – no matter how tired you are – can ask multiple people the same question
- He got an offer soon after that and was able to negotiate – they expect you will negotiate – look at the total benefits and not just the salary
- He had two offers – Array and Pfizer – and took Array. But Pfizer acquired Array before he could start so he works for Pfizer. This happens in pharma when you work for small firms.
Advice for informational interviews
- Internal referrals can lead to a phone interview – cannot overstate how important these referrals can be – do as many informational interviews as possible
Did he need specific skills?
- For some jobs yes – he is using less than 50% of his bench skills from his PhD so it was more his research skills than specific bench skills that helped him
How and when to apply
- He estimated that he applied to 300+ jobs (note from Career Services – this is not typical!)
- He began applying to roles 1.5 years before graduation – he feels in retrospect this was not a good use of his time and he should have waited – he thinks 14 months ahead of when you graduate is a good time to start looking (not necessarily applying) – interest in you will grow as you get closer to graduation
- Applied to medicinal chemist roles at both Array and Pfizer – they were interested but it was too far before his graduation, so they held off bringing him for a site visit until he was 6 months away from graduation
- He utilized a CV format to apply to his job. They also requested a cover letter and a research summary – this should be no more than 2 pages (inclusive of everything, including figure you may include)
- Your job as an applicant is to sell yourself – you really need to tailor your documents to the job you are applying to – they get 200+ applicants and you want to stand out as someone who is qualified AND wants the job
Transitioning from academia to industry
- He did not do a postdoc and feels that it was not necessary – there are some roles which require it, but not the case at Pfizer.
- About 50% of the people he works with did a postdoc –
Future plans and hiring in the next few months
- His goal is to be a director of medicinal chemistry – this could become less lab based but he likes the lab and likes working with people so he hopes to stay in the lab somewhat
- Hiring is definitely happening in pharma despite covid – you should apply if interested! His team is working in shifts for social distancing but very busy