PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Iris Lee (Hosted by Janssen – Immunology Translational Sciences)

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. Iris Lee, a PhD candidate in Bioengineering, was placed as a Fellow with Janssen’s Immunology Translational Sciences team. Read about Iris’s experience in the CEF below!

Headshot of Iris LeeDescribe your experience working with your host:

Dr. Sheng Gao, Director of Immunology Translational Sciences at Janssen, was an amazing host. Sheng was extremely accessible throughout the entire program and I felt like he was genuinely interested in learning about my career goals to make sure my CEF experience is best tailored to my interests. He set up multiple informational interviews with Janssen scientists across different departments and disciplines, from bench scientists to people more involved in the business aspects of industry science. Sheng also made time to meet with me every 2 weeks to discuss my thoughts from the interviews and to answer any questions I had regarding different career paths, his experience, etc. Sheng was extremely accessible, flexible, and very open to sharing his own professional journey, which I really appreciated.

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

I learned that there are many “flavors” of industry jobs out there! Before participating in the fellowship, I thought the bench scientist position was the only job open to PhDs straight out of graduate school; however, hearing about all the different types of work in the pharma/biotech setting, I learned that there are many opportunities outside of scientific research in the industry (e.g. business development, clinical trial management, etc.) for people with a PhD background.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

The CEF experience allowed me to explore industry careers and learn what the transition from academia to industry looks like – I now have a more concrete idea of what steps need to be taken to successfully make that transition. I also had the opportunity to make connections with people who are working in the pharma/biotech industry, and learning about their different journeys taught me that there are many paths to industry positions and it is just a matter of finding what I want to do/what works the best for me.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of my CEF experience was building a connection with my host, Sheng. With all the 1:1 mentorship from Sheng, I feel like I now have a supportive mentor in the biotech/pharma industry to whom I can reach out to ask questions regarding different career options, job opportunities, and more!

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

Although CEF could be a valuable experience for all graduate students, I would highly recommend this program to students who are early in their graduate careers as the program provides exposure to many different career paths and teaches you about the steps that need to be taken to discover the right career option for you.

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