Christian Cunningham

Scientist, Early Discovery Biochemistry-Genentech

Informational Interview

Q: What was your career path and what is your lab currently focused on?

A: I completed my PhD in Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco where I studied the conformational dynamics of Hsp90 using a variety of structural and enzymatic techniques. I then headed to Stanford to complete a short postdoc using Electron Microscopy to structurally characterize ribosome-associated chaperones before arriving at Genentech in 2011 as a Senior Research Associate. My first project was a collaboration with the Neuroscience Department aimed at understanding the molecular function and signaling of the mitochondrial deubiquitinase, Usp30, and its relationship to Parkinson's Disease. After transitioning to the Scientist track in 2014 my group has continued its collaborative spirit by undertaking new projects aimed at mechanistically and structurally characterizing novel targets in the oncology and infectious disease areas. Additionally I lead all of the macrocycle discovery efforts for Genentech with a strong focus on understanding how to translate this chemical matter into the next generation of therapeutics.

Q: Reflecting on your career, what would you have done differently?

A: While I certainly did not take a "traditional path" to arrive at my current position within Genentech I don't know if I would have done anything very different thinking back on it now. When transitioning from step to step in my career I have always based my decision on two things: the type of science being done and the people I would be doing it with me. I don't think I've ever considered how one position would lead into another (save for thinking I needed to do a postdoc) but rather just tried to focus on things that have interested me and always keep pushing the boundaries of what I was studying.

Q: How is the daily lab dynamic of an industry lab similar/different from an academic setting?

A: Genentech Research is a very unique place to do science in industry as we are very much setup like academica - each Scientist is, in essence, a faculty member/group leader that leads a team of Researchers in their labs. However, our labs usually only have three people in them - one Scientist and two Researchers - with possibly a postdoc. This structure means we are a very tight knit group and must rely on internal and external collaborators on a daily basis to achieve our goals. I would say the pace of science is much faster in industry and most people are juggling 3-10 projects at once depending on their role. One major similarity that Genentech shares with academia is the requirement to publish our work - both for our annual organizational goals but also to be considered for promotion.

Q: When reviewing job applications what stands out to you in a positive way? What are common mistakes applicants should avoid?

A: I think every hiring manager at Genentech would give you a completely different answer here. One general thing I can think of that is universally considered as a positive is having a good publication record. Not only will this help with the publication goals as an organization it also shows that the potential candidate can complete projects, generate and analyze data, and communicate their work to a broader audience. My only suggestion on what to avoid is to not ask questions during the interview process. I firmly believe the interviewee should be engaging the interview as much as the hiring manager and make sure the job that they're considering is truly the best fit for them and their own goals.