PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Olivia Farrelly (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. Olivia Farrelly, a PhD candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology, was placed as a Fellow with Merck – Digital Analytics and Technologies. Read about Olivia’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

My fellowship started with a one-on-one conversation with my host, Bryan Hansen, to discuss my scientific background and my career interests. After he had a good grasp on what I’d like to pursue after graduating, he set up 5 informational interviews with Merck scientists across different departments. I ended my fellowship with a final check-in with my host, where we talked about my overall experience and I was able to ask any lingering questions I had for him.

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

Before this opportunity, I had a general idea of what I’d like to do after graduating, but didn’t have a solid network of non-academic scientists to ask advice on how to achieve this goal. By speaking with various scientists at Merck, I gained valuable information on how to successfully transition from academia to industry. Most importantly, I learned the jargon surrounding job positions and postings, which helped me identify the search criteria I needed to find and apply for jobs of interest.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

My CEF experience gave me the tools to jumpstart my career exploration. Attending the workshops that are included in this fellowship significantly lessened the anxiety surrounding finding a job outside of academia. The fellowship also allows for self-reflection, which gave me the time and space to evaluate what exactly I’d like to do in the future.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of my CEF experience was becoming adept at conducting informational interviews. I’m much better at describing my thesis work to scientists in industry who may be outside of my field. I’m also much more confident in scheduling informational interviews in the future.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

I would recommend this fellowship to PhD students who may be nervous to start their career search outside of academia, or would like some clarity as to what exactly they’d like to do after graduating.

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