PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Laura Egolf (Hosted by Merck – Digital Analytics and Technologies)

In the spring of 2021, 44 PhD students from a range of academic disciplines at Penn participated virtually in Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program, where they were matched with a host organization to learn about different careers beyond academia. Laura Egolf, a PhD candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology, was placed as a Fellow with Merck – Digital Analytics and Technologies. Read about Laura’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

My host set up an initial meeting where we got to know one another, and I learned a lot about his career path and how he gained the skills needed to transition into computational research. Based on my career goals, he then set up informational interviews for me to meet people at various stages of their careers, from his own department as well as Merck’s neuroscience, pharmacology, and genomics departments. The meetings were all virtual, but he joined at the beginning of each call to introduce me to his colleagues. He was very honest and helpful with practical aspects of career planning.

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

I learned much more about how industry R&D differs from academic R&D. I had previously gathered some of this from career panels and other events, but the CEF allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of drug development and what it would look like to pursue an R&D career at Merck(day-to-day activities, compensation, mobility within the company, time management, work-life balance, etc.)

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

The CEF helped me clarify many questions I had about industry R&D.I definitely feel better equipped to decide where I want to take my career next, and I’m more aware of the opportunities offered by Merck and other pharmaceutical companies.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

I loved the opportunity to meet people indifferent roles and stages of their career and discuss pharmaceutical R&D. This network of professionals will be extremely valuable as I plan my next steps.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

It’s hard to make time for career exploration during your PhD when you’re mainly interacting with fellow academic researchers. The CEF provides a great opportunity to learn about other career paths and network with professionals who you wouldn’t otherwise meet. It also forces you to set aside time to do the things you’ve been procrastinating on (like updating your resume/LinkedIn and learning how to do an informational interview)and provides the resources you need!

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