Beyond the Degree

Networking in Biotechnology: Serendipity or Perseverance?

June 29, 2020

“What is Networking?”

Networking is a common term thrown around by millennials in an abundance of industries. Whether one works in public relations, finance, or even academia, the act of networking can be advantageous to both your short-term and long-term career trajectories.  Networking is equally as important in the biotechnology field, whether one is interested in the public or private sector. Networking is commonly defined as interacting with professionals in a variety of settings to establish relationships that are mutually beneficial to both parties. 

Demi’s Advice

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Demi Tellios

Demi Tellios is a recent graduate from the M.S. in Biotechnology Program at Georgetown University.  She is from St. Petersburg, Florida and completed her undergraduate degree in Biology from the University of Florida. 

Demi started the networking process a month before she began her master’s program.  She kicked off her professional career by creating a LinkedIn account.  LinkedIn, a social media site that was launched in 2003, is designed for professional networking.  The biggest advantage LinkedIn offers is the ability to connect you with professionals, or recent graduates that are currently in industry roles that excite you.  You can send them a direct message asking them how they landed their job and why you are interested.  Her biggest LinkedIn tips include staying active on the site as well as nurturing the relationships you make.  Demi further explained that it is important to engage with posts that you find interesting because it shows potential employers you are up to date with current industry trends.  Demi also stresses the importance of being genuine during these interactions, whether they be through informational interviews or at networking conferences. 

The Biotechnology Faculty at Georgetown University was instrumental in helping Demi network by connecting her to the right people at the right time.  Dr. Larry Millstein, PhD and JD, who teaches Intellectual Property in the fall, introduced Demi to the Philosophical Society of Washington.  Founded in 1871, this society invites speakers to lecture on exciting discoveries in scientific research.  Demi attended a session on synthetic biology and realized the wealth of connections and knowledge provided to her was beneficial.  She joined the society and is now an active member.  

Demi recently completed her capstone internship at the United States International Trade Commission as an international trade analyst intern.  She was able to apply her transferable skills that she acquired from her experience in the public sector to leverage her job applications in the private sector.  During her internship, she gained crucial experience dealing with cross-functional teams and working on legislation that has been recently published.  Demi explained that her mentor, Dr. Jennifer Catalano, was instrumental in strengthening her own networking expertise. Dr. Catalano, PhD and MBA, would provide Demi with various projects that required her to interact with different people, expanding her network. 

Job Search Assistance Initiative

The Biotechnology Program currently holds a weekly, virtual meeting that is led by Dr. James Hawkins, Director, and Vasna Nontanovan, Associate Director.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic upheaval, the Program was compelled to create this initiative as an means to help and support students and graduates during the summer.  The Job Search Assistance Initiative seeks to bring in staff, adjunct professors and experts in the biotechnology field to share their advice related to the job search process.  Topics range from navigating job offers to connecting oneself with the right recruiters.  These interactive meetings include recommendations and best practices from invited speakers, as well as time for participants to ask personal questions specific to their job-hunting process.

Dr. Hawkins reiterates and stresses the importance of being sincere while building your network. His networking advice to students is to always follow-up with professionals who have taken the time to meet with you.  It could be something as simple as thanking them for their time or sending them an article that reminded you of the conversation that took place.  The program has documented various success stories with their studies during these unprecedented times.  With only 6 weeks out from graduation, Vasna Nontanovan who has been tracking graduate outcomes shared that 35% of the May 2020 graduates have landed a position in employment, internship, or in advanced degrees.  This is considered very successful with the current job climate due to the pandemic.  She added that, “our objective is to see that percentage climb to 50% before the end of the summer and 100% by December.” 

Although this seminar is oriented towards recent graduates that are currently looking for employment, as a student who doesn’t graduate until December 2020, I have found these meetings equally as helpful.  The faculty stresses how invested the Georgetown community is and how the alumni want to work with and help students.  Continuing to network, especially through these tight-knit organizations, will help your contacts grow and might eventually lead to a promising position.  It is important to note that the job search process takes time, so it is better to start earlier than later!

The biggest piece of advice I have received from recent graduates is to start the research process early.  They suggest looking up different companies that you are interested in working for and researching attributes such as their competitors, finances, and pipeline projects.  Not only will you get a better sense of how the management operates, but this effort demonstrates you are genuinely interested in the industry which helps during the interview process.  Below is an example of a recent graduate who obtained a job opportunity through this assistance endeavor.

Wenwen’s Success Story

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Wenwen Xu

Wenwen Xu is a recent graduate from the M.S. Biotechnology Program at Georgetown University.  She is originally from China and completed an undergraduate degree in Food Safety at Southwest University. 

Wenwen recently secured a position working as a project assistant at Humphries Pharmaceutical Consulting, LLC, in Bethesda, Maryland.  She noticed that there are Georgetown University biotechnology alumni who work at the company she was interested in.  Wenwen decided to take a leap of faith and directly messaged the company’s Chairman on LinkedIn.  This networking interaction lead to an interview opportunity.  Wenwen spent much of her time prepping for the interview by researching details about the company and position. 

Wenwen met with both Vasna and Dr. Hawkins on a weekly basis, practicing her elevator speech and informal interview questions.  This allowed Wenwen to gain confidence in an informal setting by practicing her interview material before the real deal. Vasna and Dr. Hawkins were instrumental in this networking process by providing Wenwen with contacts to help her presentation and interview skills. 

Wenwen mentioned that she prepared a presentation for her interview to help market her key attributes and strengths.  The content of the PowerPoint consisted of three sections.  The first section was dedicated to introducing herself, and consisted of a 40-second elevator pitch.  The second portion included a few case studies that she had previously researched.  These case studies demonstrated that Wenwen had knowledge of the processes that the company works through, as well as the responsibilities of the position.  The final portion was focused on what Wenwen could bring to the table for the company, demonstrating she was looking for a mutually beneficial connection. 

This significant investment in time that the Program provides shows the importance of networking and connecting with people, whether that be professionals or your own Program staff and faculty.  The Program is also working on implementing an initiative that pairs international students and recent graduates with native students and faculty who can provide opportunities to practice communication skills in preparation for interviews. 

Parting Thoughts

We spend our academic years sharpening our lab and business skills that will help us succeed in our future careers.  However, as STEM majors, we tend to forget about the importance of interpersonal skills and networking.  The connections that you make through networking can lead to a job opportunity that you were previously unaware of.  Below are some of the most common questions to ask during an informational interview and networking:

“What are your work responsibilities on a daily basis?”

“What got you interested in this field?”

“What are the next steps to take, and who should I contact next?”

By Tierney Sovic, MS Biotechnology Candidate, Dec 2020

Edits by Vasna Nontanovan