Biotech Career Roundtable 11/18/20

This series provides a casual event for students and postdocs to learn about the diverse careers available to those with a Ph.D. in biological sciences. Panelists and attendees are split into breakout rooms, where the panelists briefly introduce themselves before opening up for questions. This setup allows students to ask questions about these jobs in a more comfortable setting and encourage discussion about these jobs. Here, we summarize what we learned from each of our speakers about their jobs and experiences in biotech.

Dr. Yu-San Yang, PhD

Scientist at Nura Bio, Inc.

Dr. Yu-San Yang, PhD, graduated from UT Southwestern in 2018. She pursued her PhD thesis in the lab of Ben Tu, where she deciphered the metabolic regulation of yeast ataxin-2, an intrinsically disordered protein implicated in stress granule formation, RNA biology, and neurodegeneration. Since finishing her PhD, Dr. Yang has gone on to work as a scientist at Nura Bio, Inc., a startup in South San Francisco, CA, where she was only the 10th employee. NuraBio was co-founded by Marc Freeman, PhD, and Steve McKnight, PhD, and aims to discover and develop life-changing treatment for neurological diseases. As a Discovery Scientist at Nura Bio, Dr. Yang is responsible for drug target identification and validation.

Dr. Yang chose to move into industry directly after graduate school based on her eagerness to pursue a job where success was not mapped by publication record but by the ability to produce "milestones" that move the project forward. She mentioned that research in industry is not limited by expenditure, as a lot of dollars are invested to keep the project moving swiftly. She appreciates the camaraderie of industry, where everyone works towards similar goals and shares common successes and failures. Dr. Yang mentioned that it is more difficult to get a job in industry without the experience of a postdoc, especially in big pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, those without a postdoc often start with a lower title and salary. She feels that working at a small company has been key to her success, as within two years, she has been promoted to a new role and has been able to hire research associates to work for her. Future promotions to the role of a Senior Scientist will take about 2 years and Principal Scientist will take about 3-4 years, although these promotions take much longer at larger companies.

Dr. Yang is eager to help students from UT Southwestern start their career in industry. She helped explain the entire application process from submitting resumes, interviewing, to landing your first industry job. If you are interested in learning more about her role, you can reach out to her on LinkedIn.

Dr. Jordan Baumhardt, PhD

Biotech Equity Research Associate at LifeSci Capital, Inc.

Dr. Jordan Baumhardt, PhD, graduated from UT Southwestern in 2020. He pursued his PhD thesis in the lab of Yuh Min Chook, which used cell lines to characterize cancer-associated mutations of the human nuclear export machinery. During his time as a graduate student, he was engaged in internships at Reata Pharmaceuticals, Flagship Pioneering, and UTSW's Office of Technology Development (OTD). Upon finishing his PhD, Dr. Baumhardt joined LifeSci Capital, an investment bank with deep domain expertise in the Life Sciences. Dr. Baumhardt's role at LifeSci Capital is as a Biotech Equity Research Associate, which involves explaining the businesses of high-impact biotech companies by producing equity research. Equity research involves understanding the company's pipeline and risk factors, the market, the cash flow, and catalyst trends.

As such finance or investment-driven careers are perhaps the least known to PhD students, Dr. Baumhardt clearly defined the purpose of LifeSci Capital. It is an investment bank that provides emerging Biotech companies with advice regarding raising capital, executing the IPO, facilitating mergers and acquisitions, etc. He also discerned investment banks from venture capital (VC) firms, mentioning that VC firms invest directly in new or fast-growing businesses or startups (by taking equity stakes), while investment banks assist more mature companies in raising investment capital and executing a range of financial transactions in the public and private markets, including public stock offerings.

Dr. Baumhardt's path to this career role began with internship experiences during graduate school, where he gained some knowledge of finance and biotech equity. He also networked with professionals in the field, which eventually led to his decision of transitioning into a finance-oriented career. In addition, he emphasized the importance of utilizing internship opportunities offered by OTD or individual companies to seek a career option outside academia.

LifeSci Capital is currently hiring research associates and for more information, you can reach out directly to Dr. Baumhardt on LinkedIn or

Dr. Alex Willcockson, PhD

Medical Science Liaison at Reata Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Dr. Alex Willcockson, PhD, graduated from UT Southwestern in 2017. She pursued her PhD thesis in the lab of Mala Mahendroo, where she characterized the cervical response to inflammation during infection-mediated preterm birth. Since finishing her PhD, Dr. Willcockson has worked as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) at Reata Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a publicly-traded pharmaceutical company based in Plano, Texas. Reata is primarily focused on investigating experimental oral antioxidative (in relation to NRF2) and anti-inflammatory drugs (in relation to NF-KB). Dr. Willcockson role as a MSL involves building rapport with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and other decision makers in various therapeutic areas, thus the job requires travel and face-to-face interactions. However, with the coronavirus pandemic, MSLs now have to adapt to a virtual platform, mediating calls with KOLs and attending medical conferences online.

Dr. Willcockson mentioned that PhDs with some form of medical knowledge have a significant advantage in finding employment as an MSL. When applying for MSL positions, she demonstrated her understanding of clinical science by emphasizing her participation in the MODTS program that exposed her to clinical research and interactions with KOLs. Other experiences she recommended graduate students to garner include internships that provide a clinical outlook, collaborations with faculty who provide clinical insights into your PhD project, or contributing to a successful grant funding. Dr. Willcockson also iterated that MSL positions are highly competitive, therefore if you are unable to get hired as an MSL in your first attempt, you can improve your chances by taking a related position such as Clinical Research Coordinator/Associate in a Clinical Research Organization (CRO) like Medpace. Dr. Willcockson also recommends networking at least 6-months prior to your graduation, so you can build the contacts necessary for gaining visibility in industry.

Dr. Willcockson has kindly offered to answer any other questions you may have. If you are interested in learning more about her role, you can reach out to her on LinkedIn.

Dr. Brandon Probst, PhD

Director of Disease Biology at Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Dr. Brandon Probst obtained his PhD from UT Southwestern in 2005 under the guidance of Dr. Steven L. McKnight. His research focused on identifying substrates and pathways that are regulated by PAS Kinase.Through research collaborations and connections he developed during his time at UT Southwestern, Dr. Probst embarked into a career in industry following the completion of his PhD. He worked at Joyant Pharmaceuticals in Dallas, Texas from 2005-2010 as a research scientist supporting their ongoing projects in the oncology program. He then went on to work at Reata Pharmaceuticals in Plano, Texas from 2010-2018 in a variety of roles in the R&D space. Dr. Probst is currently the Director of Disease Biology at Recursion Pharmaceuticals in Salt Lake City, Utah. At Recursion, Dr. Probst leads the early discovery team that aims to identify novel therapeutics for various rare diseases using Recursion's phenotypic drug discovery platform.

Dr. Probst spoke about how his experiences at UT Southwestern open doors for a career in industry. He mentioned that working in different companies allowed him to gain a broader view of different therapeutic pipelines and translational science.

If you're interested in learning more about Recursion Pharmaceuticals, or about any of Dr. Probst's previous career experiences, connect with him on LinkedIn.