Transition Q&A:
Caroline Duffy

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

A career that was both satisfying in terms of my interests and values, as well as provided me with some stability. My two biggest areas of interest leaving graduate school were careers in R&D in an industry setting and careers in science outreach.

What was your first post-PhD job?

I began an industry post-doc in rare disease at Sanofi-Genzyme.

What do you do now?

I’m a bench scientist at Sanofi-Genzyme. I purify and characterize recombinant proteins to help support our areas of therapeutic research.

How did you get this job?

I saw my initial position as an industry post-doc as an opportunity to network heavily! It was my intent to leverage my industry experience into a permanent role in early R&D. I also had the support of my post-doctoral adviser to expand my skill set, even if it meant working on projects I wasn’t necessarily hired to do. I saw the posting for my current position about 1.5 years into my post-doc and recognized the hiring manager as someone I had connected with during my first month of my post-doc. I quickly reached out and the rest was history!

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

I work primarily at the bench, which I love. I get requests from different groups internally for protein purification. I get a huge range of requests for different classes of proteins, mostly antibodies, antigens, and enzymes, from microgram to milligram scale. I work with the requester to determine what downstream experiments the protein will be used for, discuss the appropriate expression systems, and provide initial analytics about purity and biophysical characterization. When I’m not at the bench, communication/status updates and data entry are the other main parts of my job.

What most surprises you about your job?

The amount of tracking that goes into a simple request! We have several groups that work together, beginning with a molecular biology team that initiates DNA plasmid construction, my biologics team which does initial expression, purification, and characterization of a target protein, and then the various teams that we hand reagents off to. Everything must get tracked since there are so many moving parts. It’s incredibly helpful but I found it overwhelming when I first started.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

I love being able to design a process for a new and un-characterized protein. It is supremely satisfying to start from a cell lysate and go to a purified product by the end of the day. Additionally, I really enjoy trying to simplify processes for protein purification, and thinking of ways to make a protocol more streamlined and efficient. It’s challenging to make protein purification a high-throughput process at larger scale and I’m fascinated by ways I can incorporate different ideas or technologies. I have the support to demo different pieces of equipment that might help these initiatives, and I love playing with new toys.

What would you change about it if you could?

I much prefer performing experiments at the bench so I’d love to decrease the time I spend doing data entry. We have an internal system that I’m always thinking of ways to make more efficient, particularly to support data-sharing across our internal groups.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

I am interested in developing management skills. I discussed this with my manager and we incorporated it into my development plan. I’m happy to say I just received approval to hire my first direct report, starting with a co-op student. I’m eager to start designing experiments for the 6-month contract period and to train a young scientist. Additionally, now that I feel more settled in my role, I am excited to expand my science outreach career goals by volunteering for internal programs: I mentor undergraduates at a local community college, and I volunteer once a month at a local middle school. Both programs are sponsored by Sanofi-Genzyme, and employees can use up to 2 days to participate in company-approved volunteer activities.

What advice or thoughts do you have for PhDs in career transition now?

Don’t underestimate individual development plans! By setting goals, you become more in charge of your career and comparing where you are versus where you want to be. If you are considering a field change, seek out and talk to people in those fields and maintain those connections. Finally, remember that no one is going to advocate for your career better than you are.

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Caroline earned her PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA. She now works as a scientist in biologics discovery at Sanofi-Genzyme.

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