PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Mariel Mendoza (Hosted by Merck – Infectious Disease and Virology)

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. Mariel Mendoza, a PhD candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, was placed as a Fellow with Merck – Infectious Disease and Virology. Read about Mariel’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

My host was very accommodating, she asked me what I wanted to learn from my experience and she helped set up informational interviews that best fit my interests.

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

I learned a lot about R&D in industry, what skillsets are the most useful, how is their day-to-day like, what their projects are, etc. I think learning about all of these helped paint a better picture on how it’s like to work in industry, which I was not always familiar with. It helped me picture myself to decide if it’s something I wanted to do.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

This experience helped me explore other career options outside academia. I also learned about the postdoc program they have at Merck (and at other pharmaceuticals, which I didn’t know), and I thought that was a really great option since it’s in-between an academic and an industry career. Overall I thought this experience gave me more options on what I could do after grad school.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of my experience was meeting all the scientists from my 1-on-1 interviews. I learned so much from just speaking with them and listening to their experiences. I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity if it wasn’t for the CEF.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

This experience helped me reflect on myself and what I want. During grad school, I get caught up in my current thesis project and making sure I’m making enough progressthat I haven’t prepared myself fully on what is there after grad school, and what careers there are for me. Participating in CEF helped me learn more about careers outside academia and helped me slow down and decide what I picture myself doing after grad school.

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