By Hannah Kates
BY HANNAH KATES
A day at the Biotech fair.
The Harvard Biotechnology Club held its twelfth annual Career Fair this past Thursday. Attendees visiting the recruiting tables on the third floor of the medical school’s Longwood building had the opportunity to speak to representatives from over twenty-one companies in biotechnology and related fields. Young, well-dressed graduate students and post-docs armed with informed questions and stylish suits crowded (politely) around tables handing out informational pamphlets, emblazoned pens, and opportunities in biotechnology and healthcare ranging far beyond conventional lab jobs.
Though it felt professional, the fair also felt dynamic, energetic and comfortable. The unified theme of the fair belied the vast array of career backgrounds and job opportunities represented. Company and club representatives were more than happy to discuss their backgrounds and their goals for the fair with me. Surprisingly, I found the job-seekers at this career fair to be the most reticent in talking to me. While they were polite and friendly, many attendees were hesitant to give out personal information to this publication, for reasons immediately understood, including a fear of current employers learning of their attendance and a general uncertainty of career path and the ensuing reluctance to define it.
The companies represented at the fair encompassed a wide variety of professions, including financial consulting, Intellectual Property law, and pharmaceutical research. I first approached the consulting group AtlasX. Stephanie, one of the company’s representatives, described it as “a research group within a hedge fund” that specializes in competitive landscape analysis, a process of compiling relevant data into a map to provide context about current biomedical research. The hedge fund then invests in the companies doing the research that AtlasX finds to be the most impactful. The map displayed on the company’s table showed where research into various diseases was occurring around the globe, each experimental drug’s stage of development, and whether research is focused on managing, preventing, or curing a disease. Stephanie explained that these classifications really define the research landscape, illustrating where research is most needed (and thus where investments would be most profitable). For example, if research into preventing a certain disease is already under way, it does not make sense to invest in research into managing the disease — even though, according to Stephanie, the drugs involved in disease management are “the ones making millions.” Though AtlasX prioritizes certain aspects of medicine, they are ultimately “trying to cover the entire human condition” with their maps — an honorable goal for a company working in a field I did not know existed.
Science, the scholarly journal, was one organization I’d heard of before I talked to a representative. However, it sends representatives to this fair specifically to promote the publication’s website, which offers tools to help with career searching and development.
I also spoke to a representative at the table for ClearView Healthcare Partners, a consulting company providing “world-class strategy decision-making support” to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. I asked a representative what the company was looking for in a prospective employee. Beyond academic qualifications — for most, a PhD — the firm is looking for creative, flexible thinkers who can communicate their ideas to a wide variety of audiences. ClearView is “6 or 7 years old — young, but old enough to know that we won’t go out of business next year,” said a representative who seemed to be a veteran of less-stable times.
Finally, curious about a field I’d never really encountered before, I headed over to the IP law firms’ corner of the room. Wolf Greenfield is a firm specializing in intellectual property law that hires scientists with PhDs and puts them through law school so that they can do patent applications and prosecutions. “The idea,” said Alan, the company’s representative, “is to teach law to the scientists, because it’s really hard to teach lawyers technology.” Wolf Greenfield has had a table at the fair for at least five years, because Alan was recruited at this fair five years ago. Noticing my shirt, he added that Burton is one Wolf Greenfield’s clients — the firm’s clients range beyond the field of biotechnology.
Mark Yore, one of several student directors of the Harvard Biotechnology Club managing the fair this year, happily stopped to discuss some statistics. Some of the club’s goals for this year’s fair had been to increase company attendance as well as general attendance; he estimated that 5 more companies attended this year than last, and that about 650 people had shown up by 2:00 pm compared to last year’s total to 430. The club had also hoped to reach out to non-Harvard affiliates, and even after talking to only a few fairgoers, I can confirm that their diverse backgrounds included degrees from other schools. Sergio Davila, another club director, added that the fair tries to cater to as many people with a science background as possible: this includes graduate students, postdocs, instructors, and fellows. A lot of people here, he said, don’t have a business background, though many of the jobs offered here focus on the business side of biotechnology. The club had aimed to broaden the scope of the fair without making it too big that valuable face-to-face interactions between employers and job-seekers are lost. When the room is too full, it “becomes unproductive for everyone,” said Sergio.
Luckily, I was able to have valuable face-to-face conversations with several of the fair’s attendees. Tal Kramer, a postdoctoral researcher in the neurobiology department at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that he is here to “learn about what the options are, who’s hiring, and what qualifications they’re looking for,” a sentiment echoed by many other attendees. Beverly, also a postdoc, said that she was “just shopping around,” and agreed that many people here “aren’t sure what they want to do”. This was her first time at the career fair. Teja, a PhD student in immunology at Harvard, while interested in the life sciences, was investigating strategy consulting, a field that also values the analytical mindset that PhD students gain from their work. Inspired by Teja, who admitted knowing little about IP law, I sought out Peng in the line for one of the IP law firms. He has a degree from Harvard law school and a PhD in genetics and was “here to do some networking.”
Hannah Kates ’18 (hkates@college) would love to learn more.