STEM Alumni Spotlight – OrtleyBio (now Red Nucleus)

Throughout September, Career Services is hosting a series of online chats with graduate alumni working in STEM fields.  On September 20th, we heard from a neuroscience PhD graduate who is working as a director of scientific services at medical communications firm OrtleyBio.  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

  • As an undergrad, he loved the natural sciences and considered medical school, but realized he was not interested in clinical medicine
  • Came to Penn interested in academia/tenure track roles, but as he progressed through his doctoral work, he realized he wanted to explore other interests
  • Had longstanding interests in graphic design and branding, primarily as a hobby. He picked this hobby up again as a graduate student and spent time doing some design work for the neuroscience program
  • Interested in exploring other interests, he spent time attending seminars in PSOM and through Career Services – discovered medical writing, which he had not known exited before
  • He started at Nucleus Global right after graduating, then then 18 months later moved to OrtleyBio – small start up (he is employee #7)

How he applied/the structure of the application and interview process, what they are looking for

  • Definitely helps to know people “on the inside” when you are applying
  • He utilized LinkedIn and Glassdoor to identify alumni to connect with, as well as job postings in the field
  • He reached out to 3 BGS alumns at Nucleus Global for informational interviews – when he was applying to roles, they helped him to direct his resume – many medical communications firms give referral bonuses to employees who refer a hire – you are not bothering them!
  • Attended Career Services’ STEM career fair and met another medical communications firm there which led to further contact
  • A PhD in the sciences is necessary – background does not need to be in any specific area – they are looking for research skills
  • His first interview was with a recruiter from Human Resources – this person did not have a scient background and the questions were centered around him articulating why he was interested in the role and describing his relevant background
  • After the meeting with the recruiter, they sent him an online writing test to complete – he had to read a scientific article and then write 2 articles – one a 4 page article for an MD audience, and a 2 page article on the same topic for a patient audience
  • After submitting writing samples, he had a day-long on site interview; this consisted of 4-5 30 minute interviews with more senior people with a science background . He also had to give a 10 minute talk of his research – this was a basic overview and not a deep dive
  • He then received the offer, which he was able to negotiate

Advice for interviewing/how and when to apply

  • Generally speaking in medical communications, they post jobs when they are ready to hire someone, so applying a few months in advance of graduation is good timing; earlier than that is not needed
  • Medical communications firms are looking for candidates who demonstrate an understanding of what the field is – on one end of the spectrum, they are creating publications (abstracts/posters), review papers and research articles. On the other end, the work is more commercial and oriented toward medical information/education (advertising, or creating slide decks and other materials to educate pharmaceutical reps)
  • They are looking for you to explain why you are a good fit for medical communications – be able to provide an overview of your research, but also other things you were involved with outside your lab
  • Some firms offer internships – some for undergrads, others for doctoral students 1-2 years into their program – these are not often widely advertised and connections you can make would really help
  • A 1-2 resume is needed to apply – these need to be exceptionally well proofread and be completely free of errors

How he was involved as a student at Penn, and how this helped him

  • Member of Penn Biotech Consulting Group ( – this was a good experience and showed recruiters that he could handle new challenges – also gave him great insight into what else what out there outside of academia
  • Volunteered with Penn’s Upward Bound program – taught neuroscience to high school students in the summer – he enjoyed this and it gave him great insight into explaining science to non scientists
  • Also participated in neuroscience department’s Brains and Briefs program – where he translated papers for lay audients – more to talk about in interviews

Transitioning from academia to industry

  • If medical communications is an interest – work on getting papers out there (academic or not), any track record of writing is helpful
  • Wished he had taken the time early in his PhD to talk to older PhD students – they have a lot of wisdom and insight on how to approach both your academic work and job search

Current work environment and work/life balance

  • Covid has not stopped pharma at all – they would usually have in person reviews of their work with clients, now this is all on video
  • At Nucleus Global – he worked 2-3 days at home and test in the office. OrtleyBio has no offices and everyone works from home – so his day-to-day has not changed since covid
  • His work week is very typical 8:30-5:30, but has a lot of flexibility – rarely works more than 50 hours a week and not on weekends; very casual work environment
  • Constant opportunities for career growth and advancement – lots of internal training available

Click below to see the notes from other September STEM chats with alumni:

By Dianne Hull
Dianne Hull Senior Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs