Follow Where Your Career Takes You
My current position is a combination between an academic research scientist, an industry product development scientist, a laboratory director, a medical science liaison, and a consultant. My job is to do novel research and product development to move cellular therapies forward. This position also involves building relationships with potential clinical partners and helping basic science researchers understand how a blood center can help their specific research move toward the clinic.
I have always loved doing experiments and working at the bench. In my early career, I had planned to become a traditional academic professor with my own laboratory someday (don’t we all). However, at each stage of my career, I spent a lot of time building the scientific tools I needed to complete my research projects. This resulted in a lot of creative project designing, technical optimization, and troubleshooting, but not so many first-author publications.
Academic professorships are so competitive, and one’s publication record is key, therefore I couldn’t compete on paper with my fellow postdocs for the VERY few open positions out there. I was able to accept this, though, because deep down I knew that strict academic research was not my true calling. I was driven by clinical applications of basic research and building new things, so I began to pursue positions where I could apply the skills I had developed and build on existing research data to do the kind of work that motivated me. After my postdoctoral fellowship, I worked as an R&D scientist at a for-profit company, scientific consultant with my own firm, and now the science officer at a non-profit blood center.
For me, pursuing a career beyond academia was organic—I followed where my career was taking me. My circumstances forced me to figure out what truly motivated and satisfied me, which was creative work that helps society in a more direct way than scientific publications and grant-writing. Because I wear so many hats in my position, I have a chance to be a part of a lot of ventures and make contributions to a lot of projects. This work allows me to apply my creativity in many different ways.
What I love most about the work I’m doing is that I am directly using what I’ve learned throughout my entire career and applying it to help others. More specifically, I’m building something new that has the potential to directly help a lot of sick people. I am developing novel cell therapy products, helping the blood center be good stewards of their resources, and driving forward the research of my fellow scientists.Because the nature of my position at a non-profit blood center is helping others, I am successful when scientists use our blood products and therapy platforms to make discoveries and treat patients.
I chose to offer my diverse expertise to other scientists and companies as a scientific consultant to help move their writing, research, and product development projects forward. I recommend all postdoctoral fellows do something like this—offer your expertise to others as a freelance consultant (paid or unpaid) to grow your network, skills, and experience. By working as a consultant, my confidence grew a lot, in addition to my network and expertise. I also connected with my current employer by working as a consultant for them first.
Jennifer Chain earned her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She is currently the Science Officer for Cellular Therapies at the Oklahoma Blood Institute.
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