Participants at biotech west cast their networks wide

Participants in the ASCB-KGI Biotech West program
Participants in the ASCB-KGI Biotech West program

“Keep networking hard,” said Steven Casper, dean of the Keck Graduate Institute’s School of Applied Life Sciences, as participants attending the ASCB-KGI Biotech West program in Claremont, CA, prepared to present their final projects after a week of lectures, networking events, and engaging discussions.

With generous support from American multinational biotechnology company Biogen, ASCB and KGI brought together 36 participants from July 7–13 to gain insights that will be essential should they choose to pursue careers in bioscience industries. As the attendees learned after sitting through the week’s sessions, besides technical knowledge, it’s all about networking.

Specific successful networking strategies were presented by several speakers. During his workshop, Randy Ribaudo, CEO of training consultancy SciPhD, reviewed the keys to effective communication, leadership, team building, and networking. His workshop was followed by a luncheon talk with a former academician, Andrey Shaw, who is now staff scientist with biotechnology corporation Genentech. And after Shaw, a panel with six participants in diverse careers gave meeting attendees an opportunity to ask speakers exactly how they made their way into their professions.

“Without this course, I never would have met any of these people,” says Zerick Dunbar, entering his third year as a PhD student at Meharry Medical School in Nashville, TN. He was referring both to industry professionals and fellow participants with a shared interest in biotech industry careers. Besides enlarging his network, the course provided a great opportunity for learning about options other than academia, he adds.

Casper’s lecture, “Social Networks, Entrepreneurship, and Career Development,” drove home why social capital and networks matter. Social capital is the ability to appropriate social relationships for economic gain, he said, explaining the ethical nuances of that ability. Casper underscored his message with graphs showing dense network clusters of senior managers and others in major metropolises.

“I really liked the networking aspect” of the program, which provided opportunities to learn both from professionals already in industry and from peers seeking industry jobs, says Katherine Labbé, a postdoc at the University of California, Davis. She also appreciated that the program taught “really concrete” lessons about how to get a job as well as broad business issues “so that we could put ourselves into the context of industry.”

For Pooja Bhardwaj—a postdoc at University of California, San Francisco, who also collaborates with a startup company focused on enzymes to block HIV infections—the course will have immediate practical applications. Before coming to the course, “I didn’t understand the business side and what goes into the commercialization of products and product development.” But what she learned “will really help me talk to investors, business people, and entrepreneurs” in the Bay Area’s startup culture, she says. The networking connections she made during the program will be helpful throughout her career, Bhardwaj adds.

A Harvard Business Review study that was part of the course reading exactly captures a key lesson from the course: “Strong personal networks don’t just happen at the watercooler. They have to be carefully constructed.”

About the Author:

David Clarke is a Washington DC-area freelance writer with more than 20 years' experience covering scientific, environmental, and energy topics as a journalist, senior policy advisor, and consultant. He has a B.A. in Technical Writing and an M.A. in Government and Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University, Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.