As Barbara Hewitt recently stated on the blog, the Career Plans Survey from the Wharton Undergraduate Class of 2012 is completed.
For current students, the survey is a great resource to see what students have gone onto after they have graduated. While 5.3% of the Wharton students pursued further education, the vast majority went right to working full-time.
This summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work for a startup in San Francisco called Adamant Technologies. Adamant is a new company in the biotechnology space working on some very exciting medical diagnostic technology, and I was able to work closely with the CEO and founder, Samuel Khamis. It isn’t hard to look back and find many valuable lessons from those nine weeks.
Lesson #1: Skills for the Biotech Space
One of the first valuable insights that I took away from this experience is the type of skills needed in the biotech space. Obviously, strong technical knowledge is very beneficial. Some days, the CEO would need information on a particular type of manufacturing process or a specific material that he was thinking about using in a device; my fellow intern and I would have to comb through scientific literature to find this information. Insight number two is that research skills always come in handy. In addition to understanding the literature, it is also a skill in and of itself just to find the appropriate papers and information by knowing which resources to utilize. The last major “skill” that I used is simply being flexible. As an early stage startup, there were always many tasks that needed to be accomplished on the business and technology sides, and you have to be able to respond to unique situations.
Lesson #2: Context is Everything
Besides useful skills in the biotech industry, I learned multiple important lessons covering a wide range of topics, from starting a company to going to graduate school. One of the most important ones was to not listen to anyone’s advice. This gem was given to me by Naval Ravikant, the founder of AngelList, at an event where he was speaking to interns during my second week in San Francisco. In life, every situation comes down to context. Thus, it is extremely important to tailor that advice to a specific situation. Break down whatever piece of advice you are using and try and find the fundamental assumptions and beliefs behind that advice. If those assumptions and beliefs are valid, use them to your advantage, but make sure that you’re ultimately following the best path for your particular situation.
Lesson #3: Challenges with Starting a Company
In the age of the Internet, is seems like all you need to start a company is some coding knowledge and maybe a small amount of capital. However, a second lesson is that starting a startup is extremely difficult. This fact was brought to my attention by Mr. Ravikant during the same talk in which he delivered piece of advice #1, and the best way to experience the truth of it is to go work for a startup. There is so much more involved than just making a website, from deciding which people to hire to getting funding and even finding furniture for your office. It’s very rewarding to be able to build a company and pursue a vision, but be prepared to deal with a lot of challenges along the way.
Lesson #4: Graduate School
Another piece of advice that applies to the biotechnology industry is to be very, very good at a specific skill set. Sam and I discussed this at our last meeting as well. This piece of advice can be applied to a variety of situations, such as getting a job, but we were discussing it specifically in the context of grad school. If you can come into a lab with a valuable skill already developed, you’re much more likely to get accepted to the group. In terms of a career, it’s also much more valuable to have someone who is great at a skill that is very important and will provide immediate value to a company, rather than someone who is a jack of all trades who may need time and training to develop the necessary competences.
Final Lesson: Business vs. Tech Guy
Besides these lessons concerning life and startups in general, I also learned some lessons specifically pertaining to undergraduates interested in the biotechnology industry. The first lesson is to decide whether you want to be the business guy or the technology guy, because it can be very difficult to do both. If you want to be the technology expert, graduate school is usually in the cards; this entails a slew of advice, starting with making sure you like the team that you’ll be working with. If possible, try and arrange a visit that can act as a two-way interview. The team is looking at you and your specific skill set that should provide immediate value, but you’re also making sure that you will mesh with them. You also want to go to a lab where you can take a leadership role in order to gain experience and have the chance to develop your own projects.
If you want to be the business guy, the only piece of advice I have is to dive in and be passionate about the company you’re working for. Prior work experience, recommendations from previous employers, and contacts in addition to knowledge and a skill set seem to go a long way in the startup industry, and there’s only one way to gain these things.
Needless to say, I learned an incredible amount last summer, and I can’t thank everyone at Adamant Technologies as well as everyone else I interacted with in the Bay area enough for the experience. This summer has made me extremely excited and optimistic for the future, even though I’m only slightly closer to knowing what I want to do. I know that discovering where my passions lie will surely prove that the rewards aren’t in the destination, but rather in the journey.
Two new videos today from our recent Biomedical & Life Sciences Career Fair. First up, we talk to recruiters and then to alumni of Penn’s various biomedical and science graduate programs who are now in the work force.
Last night, I joined fellow members of the Penn family at Irvine Auditorium to hear Eva Longoria speak at the Lauren and Bobby Turner Social Impact Executive Speaker Series event. Longoria, an actress, director, activist, humanitarian and business woman, sat down with Wharton grad Bobby Turner for well over an hour to shed a little light on her background, admit to challenges over the years and offer advice to those trying to figure out their own career aspirations.
Not really knowing much about Eva Longoria except something about her character Gabby on Desperate Housewives having a scandalous affair with the teenage gardener (okay, I’m lying, I totally know the plot for at least 5 seasons of that show), I still found myself phone-Googling her non-Desperate Housewives career endeavors about 15 minutes into the presentation. It didn’t take much searching to see pretty quickly she does have a genuine philanthropic spirit.
While biking home two weeks ago, I collided head on with another cyclist on Kelly Drive and suffered a concussion. I spent the next week at home on cognitive and physical rest with a “screen ban” in place. No texting, no reading, no television, no thinking, no running. It sounded daunting. But that week off the grid got my head back together and taught me a few things.
1. There are nice people out there. Be one of them. Can you believe that the cyclist who hit me stayed until help arrived, admitted that the crash was his fault, and emailed to check on me after the accident? Also, not one, but two friends, happened upon the aftermath and helped me get in touch with my family when I clearly didn’t remember why I was sitting on the bike path and that I have a phone on me. Nevermind that the ambulance never came, but I am reminded again that how you treat people on a day-to-day basis is how you make an impact in this world. I am so fortunate that I have a job where I help people, and I hope that my students will find a way to contribute to the common good, too.
2. If you ever want to know what you’re about, don’t do anything for a week and then see what you miss doing the most. I didn’t realize I can drop everything at once. It turns out it’s okay if I don’t read the paper everyday, but I need to interact with people. It turns out what I miss most is running after my toddler, not running marathons. Since the accident, I’ve cut down my blog roll significantly. So, if you’re curious about what is essential, what you need to be spending your time doing, try deprivation.
3. Worrying is not productive. Keep in mind the big picture. I couldn’t reply to emails while I was concussed, and felt stressed knowing that there were probably important questions in my inbox. But everything turned out okay. My wonderful colleagues pitched in, and many students found answers to their questions marked “urgent,” or they emailed me to say that they can wait until I get healed up (thanks!). My career is not over because I let go for a week. The biggest thing I learned from doing nothing for a week is just to step back and worry less.