PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Jessica Chotiner (Hosted by Merck – Corporate Strategy)

In the spring of 2022, 34 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 the professoriate. Jessica Chotiner, a PhD candidate in Cell & Molecular Biology, was placed as a Fellow with Merck’s Corporate Strategy office. Read about Jessica’s experience in the CEF below!

Headshot of Jessica ChotinerDescribe your experience working with your host:

My host was Chintan Oza, and he is a director of corporate strategy at Merck. Chintan was extremely informative and honest about the path that he took to achieve his current position. He emphasized that his start in life science consulting was crucial for his career trajectory, and I learned as much about that career path as I did about corporate strategy. Chintan took a very strategic approach to planning his own career, and I was inspired to take a more long-term view of my own career. He highlighted the importance of professionalism as one transitions from academic science to industry science, or especially from academia to the business side of industry. He introduced me to colleagues in corporate strategy, in R+D, and to colleagues outside of Merck so that I could speak to people other fields. He was very accommodating of my interests.

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

I learned that it’s never too early to meet people in different fields, learn about career options, and in general, it’s never too early to start thinking about one’s own career plan.  The more I learned about resume building, networking, and different career paths, the more empowered I felt.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

The CEF experience has given me an awareness of how to position myself to apply for jobs. It forced me to engage with the process of job hunting in a tangible way.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of my CEF experience was learning how to conduct an informational interview, and specifically, how to ask the right questions. My mentor helped me think of the different aspects of a career that I can learn about in an interview. For instance, does the job align with my intellectual interests, my values, and my other needs, such as compensation, upward mobility, and flexibility for location?

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

The CEF is a wonderful opportunity way to get low stakes experience with informational interviews and networking. If a student wants to pursue a career outside of academia, it can be hard to find a foothold and get information about other options. The CEF is a great way to hear about other career paths and find common ground with people who completed a PhD, left academia for whatever reason, and now, are thriving in a different environment. Last, but not least, the CEF workshops forced me to work on resume, and I was rewarded with personalized feedback!

By Jacob Myers
Jacob Myers 2021-2022 PhD Professional Development Fellow, Career Exploration Fellowship Program