PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Miriam Doepner (Hosted by Merck – Quantitative Biosciences)

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. Miriam Doepner, a PhD candidate in Cell & Molecular Biology, was placed as a Fellow with Merck’s Quantitative Biosciences department. Read about Miriam’s experience in the CEF below!

Headshot of Miriam DoepnerDescribe your experience working with your host:

I was hosted by Merck’s Quantitative Biosciences Division with Dr. Marla Watt. I met with Dr. Watt one-on-one to learn about her career path, R&D at Merck, and my career interests.  After our initial meeting, Marla set up numerous interviews with various scientists in different R&D areas based on my career objectives; once I finished the initial interviews, we met again to regroup and set up another set of interviews. Each of these interviews allowed me to learn more about different positions within Merck and learn about how each of these scientists reached their current position. Dr. Watt was very focused on tailoring the fellowship to meet my needs and interests and provided me with an abundance of opportunities to learn about new careers or focus on different levels of the same career path.

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

Before the career exploration fellowship, I had a general idea of what a future career in pharma would look like, but this opportunity taught me that there are so many interesting paths forward after finishing my PhD. While I don’t think that my first step after graduate school has dramatically changed, the CEF opened my eyes and connections to new areas of biology that I hadn’t previously thought about!

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

My CEF experience has greatly increased my networking, both in direct new contacts and skills in informational interviewing. Meeting with scientists in positions I could see myself in someday and attending the CEF workshops increased my confidence in my ability to find a job that will fit my skills and my passions after my PhD.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of the CEF experience was learning about all of the different career options within big pharma that I previously was unaware of and then being able to speak one-on-one with people in those positions. These interactions with professionals in the field allowed me 1) to gain knowledge of new fields, 2) network with potential future employers and/or colleagues, and 3) gain confidence in a professional setting.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

The CEF provides students a structured platform to learn about career options outside of academia and how to properly conduct informational interviews. While these opportunities are available to PhD students, the career exploration fellowship makes things easy and fun!

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