PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Matias Porras Paniagua (Hosted by Penn Center for Innovation – Ventures)

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. Matias Porras Paniagua, a PhD candidate in Bioengineering, was placed as a Fellow with the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) Ventures. Read about Matias’ experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host.

I was hosted by Penn’s Center for Innovation Ventures division under Dr. Mike Dishowitz and Dr. Bhavana Mohanraj. PCI Ventures focuses on creating early-stage businesses founded on technology developed at Penn. My experience covered a wide range of experiences spanning talking to various members within PCIV about how to commercialize inventions developed at the University setting, attending meetings where the team discusses portfolio companies and even doing a small project helping a portfolio company define a potential therapeutic indication for their technology. As someone who is very interested in working at the intersection of business and science, primarily in early-stage investing, this was an invaluable experience for me.

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

This experience confirmed several things for me. 1) I derive a great sense of joy from being exposed to very different scientific fields, something that is inherent in careers such as investing or consulting. 2) I do not want to develop my career in the lab bench. I derive a greater sense of gratification from thinking about the strategic questions about how a technology may applied or implemented into the market than I do developing said technology. 3) I will further focus my recruiting efforts on investing and consulting.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

The CEF experience allowed me to better articulate my understanding and interest in the life sciences investment space. Specifically, I learned how to leverage my scientific training in immunology, engineering and neuroscience to ask probing questions to founders and to conduct due diligence on the technology behind a startup.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

It was truly invaluable for me to see how startups spin out from technology developed at the University. I now have a new sense of appreciation for entrepreneurial endeavors at the earliest stage and the types of metrics, insights and questions investors and advisors should have when evaluating companies at the earliest stage.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

The number of opportunities available to students in Ph.D. programs has been increasing over time but gaining exposure to them throughout graduate school remains a challenge. There are very few formal ways in which a Ph.D. student can get meaningful experiential exposure to a career outside of traditional academia without taking time off from their thesis work. The CEF program is one of them and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it.

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