In the last six months since commencing the IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program as a mentee, I have received more advice on careers in industry than in my last ten years of university and work. Before I started my PhD in 2016, I was conflicted whether to pursue a career in academia and I had little knowledge of what a career in industry involved. I did not plan to think about careers until I was near the end of my PhD, as most PhD students just focus on completing.
When the opportunity to participate in the IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program as a mentee arose last year, I jumped at the opportunity as I thought it would be beneficial to get exposure to industry and to start thinking about careers earlier. I was very fortunate to be accepted into the program and be matched to a mentor working in a similar industry to me, Dr Gabriel Liberatore, General Manager of Research and Development at Swisse Wellness. Gabriel has had extensive experience in both industry and research, and I have enjoyed each of our engaging meetings which have provided me with valuable insight into careers in industry.
Gabriel and I have met face-to-face every month at the CLED (“Celebrate Life Every Day”) Café at the Swisse Wellness offices. The café is both the meeting and lunch room for Swisse staff and is an amazing vibrant open-spaced area for our meetings. Gabriel organised Swisse staff members to meet with me one-on-one so I could learn about their everyday working lives in different areas of the company. I had the opportunity to meet a Clinical Trials Associate, a New Product Development and Innovation Manager, a New Product Opportunity Manager, a Sales Manager and a Quality Manager. I was thrilled to learn about their roles and responsibilities first-hand and it has influenced what career pathways I may pursue post-PhD. I am very grateful to both Gabriel and the Swisse staff for donating their time so that I can further my knowledge of different careers in industry.
Throughout all of our meetings, Gabriel emphasised the importance of networking to develop my career opportunities for life post-PhD. This included refining my ‘elevator pitch’ so it only takes 20 seconds, as you never know when you will need to share your research and passions! With networking, I have always dreaded this! It can be intimidating to approach other people at functions, particularly high-level and well-regarded industry leaders and professionals. Gabriel provided me with practical advice on how to make the approach easier and to make the most of each networking event.
With Gabriel’s encouragement, I created my LinkedIn and my Twitter profiles to improve my networking via social media and to raise awareness of my research area and expertise. Using these social media platforms to connect with industry and research professionals and to keep updated and interact with the latest research findings and industry news has been enjoyable. Social media for networking and research purposes is now a part of my daily routine.
In addition to my mentoring meetings with Gabriel, I attended all of the events that have been organised by IMNIS, which were the Program Launch, Pitching to Industry and STEM Careers in Industry. Each event was very well-organised with lots of useful information to absorb and plenty of time devoted to networking. It was refreshing to hear from the panel of guest speakers at the STEM Careers in Industry event. They shared stories about their career successes and challenges and it was amazing to see where a PhD can take you.
I fondly remember an important piece of career advice that one of the panellists, Dr Krystal Evans, shared, “Treat academia like a highway. Acknowledge the exits along the way and prepare yourself with the skills to exit, or not, when it is right for you.”
Although academia may commonly be seen as the primary and typical career pathway post-PhD, it is definitely not the only one. At these events, I was also able to apply the networking advice Gabriel provided me and I felt much more confident with approaching and connecting with other IMNIS mentees, mentors, scientists and executives. They have all been friendly and are generous with sharing their time, experiences and knowledge. They are also interested to learn about my PhD project. At the end of each event, it felt very rewarding to be a part of the larger IMNIS community.
“In the last six months since commencing the IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program as a mentee, I have received more advice on careers in industry than in my last ten years of university and work”
At one of our recent mentoring meetings, I asked Gabriel, “Why you are participating in the IMNIS program?”
He responded, “Career guidance to young PhD students is extremely important. The program not only benefits the mentee but also gives the mentor and the mentor’s company the opportunity to contribute to our community, the STEM ecosystem and to help, in-part, foster the next generation of STEM professionals. I think it is one of those rare initiatives that is truly a win-win situation for all involved.”
Gabriel elaborated, “Watching you [Alastair] grow in confidence as the program progresses and giving you different insights and introducing you to all of the possible career options post-PhD is personally rewarding. The first and second meetings of our mentoring relationship were quite formal but you have quickly developed into a far more confident and engaged individual. You now have a solid foundation to build on a clearer and successful STEM career pathway after you complete your PhD. I hope you will benefit through all of the opportunities the IMNIS program has to offer.”
Gabriel and I are planning our next six months of the program. This will involve having guest speakers who work in quality control and regulatory affairs, which are two career areas I am interested in to pursue post-PhD. I know it will be a bittersweet day when my participation in the 2017 IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program ends in June as my mentoring meetings with Gabriel will also conclude. However, I anticipate feeling very fulfilled and ecstatic that as a result of being a part of IMNIS, I will have developed my knowledge of industry careers and created many new and interesting connections. I will also be able to join the growing community of IMNIS alumni and be involved with IMNIS events in the future.
One day, I hope to be able to give back to the IMNIS community, in one way or another, for what it has done for me in the last six months. I would like to thank IMNIS and Monash University for this crucial opportunity to be immersed in industry careers, unlike any other program available for PhD students. I know future IMNIS mentees will continue to value this initiative and that they will have so much to gain and learn from participating.
About the authors:
Alastair Kwok is a PhD candidate, based within the Metabolism Group in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food at Monash University. He is a dietitian and has completed his Honours degree and worked as a research assistant in the department. Alastair’s PhD project is investigating the potential energy imbalance associated with snacking in social drinkers, with the goal of developing healthier and acceptable snack options. Alastair communicates his research through Twitter (@alastair_kwok) and is a mentee in the 2017 IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program.
Dr Gabriel Liberatore is currently the General Manager, Research & Development at Swisse Wellness. He leads product creation, technical innovation, product sourcing strategies, new product opportunities and managers key strategic product related projects. In addition to overseeing the Regulatory Affairs, Quality, Clinical and Technical Development groups, Gabriel has over 18 years’ experience in the life science sector, including 12 years working in the commercialisation of pharmaceutical therapeutics at CSL Limited and 3 years at Deloitte where he provided strategic advice on areas from R&D and innovation through to IP issues. Gabriel has a BSc (Hons) and a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Melbourne. He has also undertaken a post-doctoral research fellowship at Columbia University New York, USA. Gabriel was involved in the development of a novel stroke anti-thrombolytic agent which entered clinical trials. Gabriel is a current member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, AusBiotech, Bio, BioMelbourne Network, Complementary Medicines Australia and Licencing Executive Society – Australia & New Zealand (LESANZ). Gabriel is a mentor in the 2017 IMNIS MedTech-Pharma program.