Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Let's talk about Networking. Part 1.

This post is inspired by the talk I have given at the University of Geneva.

When I was asked to deliver a talk on Networking as a career tool, I had to do a fair amount of research. I have further decided to publish the key take away messages here. I hope it will be useful for some of you. 

First of all, why out of all people did the representatives of Geneva University ask me to deliver a talk on such subject? Well it was probably because I have started my non-academic job straight after my PhD defence and I got my job through networking.

So what is networking? According to the Business Dictionary definition, networking is "creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit". But to put it simply, networking is getting to know people.

And why should anyone network? It does not really matter if you are pursuing an academic or a non-academic career, networking is very important. For instance, if you are planning to stay in academia, being bright and hardworking and publishing good is of course very important, but that alone will not be enough to climb the career ladder. It is important to be connected in order to get promoted, because people prefer to do business with someone they know not only by their publications, but also in person.

Another reason for networking is the fact that there is a whole hidden job market. These jobs do not get advertised, because quite often instead of interviewing endless candidates people just prefer to hire someone from their network. Latest data suggests that at least 60% of jobs are found through networking. And in a recent article by the Guardian it was stated that Google hires less than 1% of its online applicants.

People do business primarily with the people they know and like 

Do not forget that job listings tend to attract thousands of applicants. HR department of such companies as Nestle receives thousands applications daily. Your chances of getting your CV spotted are quite scarce unless someone in the company recommends you directly.

But apart from networking in order to get a job, you should also remember that networking is a very important tool of knowledge and ideas exchange. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

When will we have an HIV vaccine?

Today is the 1st of December, international AIDS day. The human immunodefeciency virus (HIV) is a subgroup of retrovirus (a lentivirus to be exact) that causes HIV infection and acquired immunodefeciency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is a condition in humans in which progressive failure of our immune system allows potentially life-threatening infections and even cancers to thrive. Currently there are two types of HIV that have been characterised : HIV-1 with high virulence and high infectivity which is common globally, and HIV-2 with low virulence and accordingly low infectivity which is prelevant for West Africa. According to WHO since the beginning of the epidemic almost 78 million people have been infected with HIV and around 39 million people have died from HIV. By the end of 2013 approximately 35 million people worldwide were infected with HIV virus.

Despite of intense research existing treatments from HIV are far from being satisfying. Current advance of combined HIV treatment includes multiple antiretroviral drugs which help to keep the disease in a chronic state where it does not progress into AIDS. However any disease and in particular HIV is easier and cheaper to prevent than to treat. Currently we have preventive vaccines against such diseases as polio, chicken pox, measles, rubella and many others. We often forget how many lives these maladies took before the vaccines were developed. But what about AIDS ?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

How to nail your dream job outside academia straight after your PhD

After an increasing demand on career advice from my friends and colleagues I have decided to write this article that I hope can be useful for some of the people who wish to transition after completion of their PhD straight to the non-academic world. In this article I would like to describe my own personal experience in the search for a dream job. I would like to state right away that I was not interested in working as a scientist in the industry (start-ups included), neither to pursue an academic career or create my own company. So I have tried to make a summary of my activities and the steps I undertook to nail a position of Innovation and Development Manager for a non-profit organization.

1.       Identify what you want to do after your PhD. This is the hardest and the most crucial step among all of them. You have to know exactly what position you want to apply to, because once you have that figured out, you will need to develop the skills required for that job. But how can you find out about multiple career opportunities out there? That is an easy one. There are multiple career events organized on campus all the time: career fairs, seminars organized by pharmaceutical or consulting companies. Find something that inspires you. Go to all of these meeitngs, meet people, ask questions and try to learn as much as you can about their jobs. Learn about pros and cons of their jobs and identify what would you like to do after your PhD. When I still had 2 years left of my PhD I have decided that I am absolutely not interested in quality control, clinical trials, regulatory affairs or everything linked to intellectual property. However I was interested in marketing, scientific communication, project management, business intelligence and consulting. That is still a very big list which I managed to narrow down further on. However I had a clear idea of the things I did not want to do and that was already something.

2.       Acquire the necessary skills and education. Unless you want to continue a scientific career, skills developed during your PhD are not enough for any job outside academia. Therefore after you have identified what job you would like to apply to, learn about the required skills. You can either read about them on the internet or simply look for the job adverts. If this is really something you want, you will have to invest in your education, and not only time, but money. It is hard to combine additional webinars and courses with a PhD, but this is something you will have to do. Go to a project management course, learn how to work with SAP software, subscribe to a course on intellectual property, scientific writing, regulatory affairs or clinical trials (most of them you can find on-line), learn new languages or prepare for the interviews in consulting companies. It is a very tough world out there, the desired qualifications are often extremely high and keep in mind that you are competing with people who already have a business degree and work experience, which makes it even harder. There are a lot of courses on campus or seminars organized for PhD students for a reduced price. Profit from them while you are here! As for myself, I have obtained a degree in management and attended seminars on drug discovery and intellectual property while doing my PhD. I went to workshops and seminars organized by McKinsey, Roche and other companies all over Europe and participated in different scientific communication campaigns. I have learnt many useful things and connected with a lot of people. As I was interested in scientific communication, I have also started a blog. This is a great way to improve your writing and learn to communicate scientific topics to wide public. Do not forget to notify your social network about current updates on your blog in case you start one. Another very important point is finding out how you can enter a desired field. For instance, there are existing training programs in pharmaceutical companies in intellectual property or regulatory affairs. On the other hand, you can nail a position in consulting straight after your PhD. There are many options and your goal is to learn about the ones that are interesting for you. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

We are what we eat: how our diet can affect our genome

As I did my PhD in the diabetes research, I am more than anyone conscious about nutrition. Balanced diet is a basis of healthy life. We all know obvious things: avoid fat, preservatives, junk food, salt, reduce meat, etc. But today I would like to speak about something else. Today I would like to speak about how what we eat can affect our genome. Let’s talk about epigenetics. 

Epigenetics describes the cellular processes that determine whether a certain gene will be transcribed and translated into its corresponding protein. In the end it all breaks down to simple chemistry. Your DNA is nothing more than a chemical molecule which can me modified by adding to it an extra chemical group e.g. a methyl group. These small chemical modifications however can have a great impact. Modifications in our DNA will affect the way our proteins are being synthesized. Subsequently, this can affect our whole body metabolism and trigger numerous diseases such as obesity and cancer.

There is accumulating evidence in the scientific literature that the nutrients consumed by us can have a greater impact on our health than we assumed. We all know how women should not smoke tobacco and drink alcohol during pregnancy, avoid raw and smoked meat and fish. But there is much more than that! For instance, if we take mice with complete lack of methylation on agouti gene (prone to diabetes and cancer) and feed them during pregnancy with methyl rich diet (choline, folic acid, betaine and vitamin B12 supplements), they will very likely give a healthy offspring. This experiment demonstrates the importance of womb microenvironment and it’s influence on our health. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Organ-on-a-chip - alternative to animal testing?

Constant search for the alternatives to animal testing keep pushing biotechnological research forward. Scientist is currently developing new mock organs that can fit in a palm of a hand.

Organ-on-a-chip is a multi-channel 3-D microfluidic cell culture chip that simulates the activities, mechanics and physiological responses of entire organs and organ systems. The convergence of labs-on-chips (LOCs) and cell biology has permitted the study of human physiology in an organ-specific context, introducing a novel model of in vitro multicellular human organisms. 

A lab-on-a-chip is a device that integrates one or several laboratory functions on a single chip that deals with handling particles in hollow microfluidic channels. Advantages in handling particles at such a small scale include lowering fluid volume consumption (lower reagents costs, less waste), increasing portability of the devices, increasing process control (due to quicker thermo-chemical reactions) and decreasing fabrication costs. Additionally, microfluidic flow is entirely laminar (i.e., no turbulence). Consequently, there is virtually no mixing between neighboring streams in one hollow channel. In cellular biology convergence, this rare property in fluids has been leveraged to better study complex cell behaviors, such as cell motility in response to chemotactic stimuli, stem cell differentiation, axon guidance, subcellular propagation of biochemical signaling and embryonic development.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

3D organ models and their application in Biotech industry

3D printing is currently the main innovation driver in many areas such as manufacturing, art, engineering, medicine and education. Due to the recent advances in this area it became possible to combine biocompatible materials, cells and supporting components into complex 3D functional living tissues. Today 3D bioprinting is being applied to regenerative medicine in order to supply for the need of tissues and organs suitable for transplantation. However in comparison to non-biological printing 3D bioprinting includes additional challenges such as the choice of materials, cell types, growth and differentiation factors as well as technical challenges related to the sensitivities of living cells and tissue construction. Addressing these issues requires complex approach with the integration of engineering, biomaterials science, cell biology, physics and medicine. Remarkably 3D bioprinting has already been used for generation and transplantation of several tissues (multilayered skin, bone, vascular grafts, tracheal splints, heart tissues and cartilaginous structures) as well as development of high-throughput 3D-bioprinted tissue models for research, drug discovery and toxicology.

Currently we are facing a major crisis in healthcare as our lifespan increases and so is the demand for organ transplantation, whereas the number of the organs available for the transplantation is clearly insufficient to provide for existing needs. 3D bio printing can indeed be an elegant solution.

In this brilliant TED talk Anthony Atala is discussing current challenges and advances in 3D printing of human organs.

S V Murphy, A Atala 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs Nature Biotechnology 2014

Photo credit http://www.3ders.org/articles/20120629-future-of-medicine-3d-printing-new-organs.html