PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: John Viola (Hosted by Merck – Global Digital Analytics and Technologies)

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. John Viola, a PhD candidate in Bioengineering, was placed as a Fellow with Merck’s Global Digital Analytics and Technologies department. Read about John’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

My host initially met with me to understand where I am in my studies and career goals. He also described his background and path to the Global Digital Analytics and Technologies group at Merck. From there my host facilitated informational interviews with other members of the group with different backgrounds and in different stages of their career. My host was able to take time to join in on some meetings, make introductions, and help facilitate conversation. Overall, my host was able to tailor meetings for me to gain valuable insight into the company and the diverse experiences of the members of the group.

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

As someone who has been focused on experimentation in my PhD and is now interested in learning more about computation, this experience was particularly valuable. I was able to learn how people transitioned from different fields to work in the digital analytics group at Merck. I got a better understanding of collaboration within working groups and companies at large. Specifically, I learned how members of the group have leveraged collaborations to learn new things, build a diverse skillset, and take on new roles.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

Through the CEF experience, I gained advice about how to leverage the expertise I’ve gained in my PhD to transition to industry. I did this through the informational interviews that helped me better understand the skillsets that will be useful in an industry role and the CEF workshops on Linkedin or resume building that helped me better market my skills.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The CEF fellowship helped me begin building valuable relationships with professional scientists in the industries that I’m interested in. The insightful conversations with scientists helped me see how my interests and skills will align with industry roles.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

My top reason for PhD Students to apply to the CEF would be to gain the opportunity to have a better understanding of the day-to-day of being a scientist in industry. As a PhD student, industry can sometimes feel like an unknown, and I was able to understand more about how projects are done at places like Merck.

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