#15 All I want for Christmas… is that post-PhD first job

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Guest Blog post by Gonçalo Brito
PhD student, CMB Department (Goncalo.brito@ki.se)
https://www.linkedin.com/in/goncalombrito/

It is not uncommon to hear friends telling me how much they miss those student years at university, when life was more about having fun and less about important decisions. While nobody can escape grown up life for too long, academia has this beautiful feature of allowing you to stay inside the student bubble for a little longer, when all your friends have a regular job. Throw the first stone who never heard during their PhD “When will you be done with being a student?”. But inevitably, that bubble will burst and not everyone is ready for what lies outside of it.

As a doctoral student in the end of my PhD, I find myself often staring at this wall that I am not sure (yet) how to overcome. And this is not due to my lousy climbing skills, which I am aware of, but more to the fact that the academic ladder has proved not to be a suitable solution. The high number of PhDs who graduate annually, combined with the scarce number of faculty positions, makes the current model unsustainable and this career path an illusion for many. It is therefore crucial that universities put extra efforts in place to educate their students on what is available outside of the academic turf.

The Career Service at Karolinska Institutet is doing an extraordinary job at tackling this issue and I would like to highlight the course Career Skills for Scientists as one of their most valuable initiatives. Not only does it provide you with essential tools such as how to prepare good CV or how to perform well at a job interview, but it also gives you the opportunity to apply for a short-term internship at a company and put those new skills to test.

In my case, I had the chance to work in a project for CellSeed Inc., a Japanese company who developed a technology of cell sheet engineering and aims to establish it as a platform to improve regenerative medicine. Among several potential applications, the first one undergoing clinical trials is directed to patients with esophageal cancer, to improve their recovery after surgery.

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The company expanded overseas through a collaboration with Karolinska Hospital in 2012, which later led to the creation of a Swedish daughter company to carry out clinical trials in Europe. As an intern, my role was to research the European market by mapping companies and available products in the area, mostly through online resources, and consequently identify potential business opportunities and collaborating partners.

I was initially skeptical about how much I would benefit from such a short internship, but it turned out to be a very rewarding experience and it showed me how much the skills we develop during a PhD can make the difference in how rapidly we adapt to a new environment. I was fortunate to have a close supervision that allowed me to steer the project without losing track of the goals and fueled my learning curve in topics I was not familiar with, such as clinical trial design, business development and market access. As a bonus, I got to present my findings over skype to the board of directors in Japan, which made me feel that my contribution was important and valued.

The overall experience was incredibly beneficial to me and I would highly recommend all of PhD students to take the course, especially those who want to move to industry. The internship can give you some extra points by providing industry know-how and you get to try something new while expanding your network. It might have a big impact in your future and give you a useful head start in the job market race. It is certainly making me more confident in what I should do to secure that first job, once my thesis is hanging from a wooden board. Naturally, this still requires a lot of work and a reasonable amount of luck but, if everything else fails, Christmas is around the corner and my letter is already on its way to the North Pole.

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