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Career blogs

20 Career paths interviews over 20 years

It is important to consider your career path carefully. You have made the choice to study science, whether that is biological, biomedical, pharmacological, chemical, or nutritional. Maybe you are just starting out, or maybe you already have plenty of work experience. With a scientific background there are many career options open to you, for example to go into academia or work in industry. To help you reach a decision, we have interviewed dozens of professionals over the past 20 years, both researchers and managers, project leaders, business developers and more. Read on to learn what these jobs entail and what you need to have to be successful.

List of interviews:
1.    Adriaan Verhage - Phytopathology Research Manager – Rijk Zwaan
2.    Guy de Roo - Project leader - Synthon Biopharmaceuticals
3.    An Cerdobbel - Global Market Access Manager – Ablynx
4.    Frederique Backaert - Business Developer - pi life sciences consultancy
5.    Maarten Vliegen - Associate Director - Janssen Pharmaceutica
6.    Pieter Cremelie - Research Technician – ILVO
7.    Gert Smans - Senior Process Technologist – Evonik
8.    Alain Collas – Scientist - Janssen Pharmaceutica
9.    Sandy Broere-Lee - grant consultant – Catalyze
10.    Barend Bouma - Patent Attorney – NLO
11.    Cathy Sorbara - Programme Developer - Project Fearless
12.    Mark Mizee - Business Developer - KNAW/IXA
13.    Nardy Robben - Global Product Manager - Thermo Fisher Scientific
14.    Janneke Boere - Program Manager – lygature
15.    Teun Guichelaar - Research scientist – RIVM
16.    Tania Morán Luengo - Research Project Coordinator & Policy Officer - Utrecht University / UCMU
17.    Weidong Zhang - Senior Specialist Global Regulatory Affairs - MSD Animal Health
18.    Camilla De Nardis - Manager Communication & Sustainability – Merus
19.    Erik Ensing - Associate Director Project and Alliance Management – Genmab
20.    Prashant Deshmukh - Talent resourcer for Research and Development - BASF

1. Adriaan Verhage
Job Title: Phytopathology Research Manager
Company: Rijk Zwaan
Year of interview: 2015

“When I started my study of Biology at Utrecht University I was mainly interested in health and animal behavior, but during my studies my curiosity towards plants increased. Both interests came together in phytopathology, the interaction between plants and pathogens. During an internship at Utrecht University, I investigated the role of hormones in plant defenses. The subject the group was working on was fascinating, and the group had a good reputation internationally.

When I finished my internship, my professor asked me whether I was interested in doing a PhD there. If you want to become successful in biological research, a PhD has true added value. As I was really into science and loved doing research, I took the offer! My PhD project focused on hormonal pathways involved in protection against insect attack.

Having temporary contracts during different postdocs didn’t appeal to me, and with applied research I saw my future in industry. I applied at Rijk Zwaan for a position that didn’t really match my profile, but they kept my application on file. They contacted me soon thereafter when they were looking for a researcher in phytopathology, which fitted my profile perfectly. The application procedure was very elaborate, including two interviews and an assessment, but it did result in a permanent contract immediately. I started working in December 2010.

I was very happy doing research on plant resistance against nematodes. I already had one technician working for me when a colleague researcher moved back to her country of birth. I took on her responsibilities and two-headed team. I led this group until halfway through 2013, and when there was a vacancy for Research Manager Phytopathology I applied internally. This was a position that I would want to do in the future but given the fact that it became available at that moment I decided to go for this opportunity. The assessments that followed resulted in a positive advice, so starting October 2013 I became Research Manager Phytopathology

What I really like about doing research in industry is the number of projects you work on simultaneously. I typically work on 10 to 15 crops and 5 different pathogens. You answer research questions on one project and then move on to the next one. There are many possibilities. If you have ideas that benefit the company, funding isn't a restricting factor.
At the start, I had to get used to the plethora of projects going on within a company. However, in a company as large as Rijk Zwaan you do still get the opportunity to specialize. In my current position combining (project) management within depth research is still a challenge, but I really want to stay in touch with research. That is still what makes my heartbeat faster.

2. Guy de Roo
Job title: Project leader
Company: Synthon Biopharmaceuticals
Year of interview: 2015

“During my Masters in Bioprocess Technology at Wageningen University I did an internship at Roche in Basel. There I met a professor who offered me a PhD position at the ETH in Zurich. I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to do research at such a renowned institute, with access to the latest equipment and technologies. My research focused on purification and characterization of enzymes involved in the production of biodegradable plastics in microorganisms. Although living abroad was a great experience, I decided to move back to the Netherlands after my PhD. I started working for Catchmabs BV, a biotech start-up company focusing on industrial affinity chromatography using specially designed mini-antibodies. The good thing about working in a start-up company is that you can make it your own thing. You get a lot of freedom to direct your research and can make a change instead of being just another cog in the system. In the five years I worked for CatchMabs BV the company grew from 5 to 25 employees. As a consequence, I became one of the senior employees and a team leader to manage those who came in after me. Although the technology was promising, the investors thought otherwise and stopped financing the company after five years, which led to the bankruptcy of CatchMabs BV

Being forced to take another job gave me the opportunity to work for a different organisation, and to broaden my horizon. Since I was always interested in biopharmaceuticals, I started working for SynCo Bio Partners. This Contract Manufacturer produces clinical material for customers and provides support in the entire range from R&D to quality assurance. SynCo gave me a great amount of responsibility, and I learned a lot about process development, up-scaling and transfer to a GMP environment. The pressure to meet the clients’ wishes was high, and I sometimes had to ask people to work nights to satisfy the customer. Combining this with a great commuting distance made for very long days. Therefore, after 1.5 years I decided to look for a job closer to home.

I continued my career as Project Leader in Downstream Processing at Synthon, a producer of generic medicines. Since the market of generic medicines is changing rapidly, Synthon chose biotechnology as a new line of business. When I started in 2008 the biotechnology department had less than 20 employees, and now it has more than 120. It is great to experience the dynamics of growth. Of course, the organisation has also become more hierarchical and bureaucratic, but not to a great extent. The great thing about Synthon is that there is a large budget for R&D which greatly facilitates good and solid research. In a start-up you have to carefully consider every euro you spend.

Pioneering in new situations still suits me, and there is plenty of opportunity at Synthon to keep me busy for the next few years.”

3. An Cerdobbel
Job title: Global Market Access Manager
Company: Ablynx
Year of interview: 2018

Ablynx is a biopharmaceutical company engaged in the development of Nanobodies , proprietary therapeutic proteins based on single-domain antibody fragments, which combine the advantages of conventional antibody drugs with some of the features of small-molecule drugs. Ablynx is dedicated to creating new medicines that will make a real difference to society. Today, the company has more than 45 proprietary and partnered programmes in development in various therapeutic areas including inflammation, haematology, immuno-oncology, oncology, and respiratory disease. The company has collaborations with multiple pharmaceutical companies including AbbVie, Merck, Sanofi, Eddingpharm, and more. Ablynx is headquartered in Ghent, Belgium. My main responsibility is the drug Caplacizumab, for which I conduct pricing and reimbursement activities and research market access. Before this I was a senior scientist leading a R&D team specialised in the characterisation of the Nanobodies . Currently, I am part of the Caplicizumab business unit, which is preparing the first launch of Ablynx. Ablynx is also moving from a R&D company towards a commercial company, resulting in many challenges. What I enjoy the most is that I can broaden my horizon by moving from a R&D function to a business function. Important skills to succeed in this field are: strategic and tactical thinking, excellent communication skills, thoroughness and organisation, understanding statistics and science-based research and industry awareness. My advice for career seekers is: don’t underestimate what you know.

4. Frederique Backaert
Job title: Business Developer
Company: pi life sciences consultancy
Year of interview: 2018

pi is the strategic partner of choice to some of the world’s leading Life Science companies. We offer our clients unique expertise and strategic consultancy of the highest quality. The knowledge, experience and understanding of our consultants allows our clients to trust in our excellence. It is this trust that enables us to grow our business in a culture of honesty. As a business developer, my main responsibility is developing new business for pi in the Benelux market. I establish executive level relationships with new clients and promote our corporate value proposition. Furthermore, I keep track of current and future evolutions in the Life Sciences landscape. Having my finger on the industry’s pulse allows me to detect opportunities and convert them into effective added value for our customers. I find it extremely rewarding when I can offer our clients a complete concept and accurate solution to their questions or demands. We consistently focus on project quality, on-time delivery and client satisfaction whilst keeping our employees at the center of our organisation. Some of the skills I think are key to my job: project management, technical understanding of the Life Sciences industry and communication skills. I would advise career seekers to thoroughly evaluate their potential future employer. Seek out an employer that is willing to invest in your career and that coaches you to reveal your better self.

5. Maarten Vliegen
Job title: Associate Director, Scientific Integrator Analytical Development
Company: Janssen Pharmaceutica
Year of interview: 2018

I work for Janssen Pharmaceutica. We cover all aspects of drug development, from making the active compound, right up to manufacturing and packaging of the final drugs. I represent the Analytical Development department in several teams which develop new drugs against RSV (viral indication). I have to manage these projects by setting and overseeing the analytical strategy (e.g. specification setting for quality control, stability testing…). What I like most about my work is that that I have an impact on the development track of life changing drugs. I never have a dull or predictable day and I am constantly learning new aspects of drug development. Also, the environment around my work (infrastructure, company culture etc.,) is highly stimulating. It is important that you get the right scientific and managerial skill sets. But just as important are the interpersonal skills you should master. As a matrix leader, I have to work constantly with and in very diverse teams across many different cultures. I have to be able to collaborate, influence and drive decisions to achieve team goals. This can only be done by having 100% connection with all your team members. My advice for career seekers is to follow your passion and don’t hold yourself back by imaginary roadblocks. Take your development in your own hands and make sure you are connected to your environment. Building strong networks will open many doors for you.

6. Pieter Cremelie
Job title: Research Technician
Company: ILVO
Year of interview: 2018

ILVO stands for multidisciplinary, independent research and specialised service provision in all fields related to agriculture, fisheries and food in Flanders. ILVO is an internationally recognised scientific institute, and part of the Government of Flanders. Everyday there are over 600 employees working to realise the mission of ILVO: to accumulate vital knowledge for improvement of products, production methods and the amelioration of policy instruments. I work at ILVO as a Research Technician, where my main responsibilities are the start-up, follow up and sampling of greenhouse- and field trials. When the trials are finished, I do the chemical analyses of the soil (ion chromatography) and the microbial analyses of the rhizosphere. This consists of molecular analyses, bio-informatics, statistics and fatty acid analyses using gas chromatography. What I like most about my work is the great variation of my tasks and the challenges that I face daily. There are various important skills you should have if you want to succeed as a Research Technician, it is most important that you are both reliable and well-organised so the team can count on you. Next to that it is also important to be flexible. My advice for career seekers is to show eagerness to learn new things, be enthusiastic, and also know the company you are applying to.

7. Gert Smans
Job title: Senior Process Technologist
Company: Evonik
Year of interview: 2018

Evonik is one of the world’s leaders in specialty chemicals, active in over 100 countries. We concentrate on high-growth megatrends. It is my responsibility to analyse investments and provide either a positive or negative judgement. When I am convinced, an investment will lead to process optimisation I will drive forward the approval and stay involved with the implementation of the project. Next to that I work both at the head office and the Antwerp production plant of our segment. What I really enjoy about my job is being the link between the production plant and the head office. I enjoy focusing on different things and the broadness of the field. Important skills to succeed in this function are being able to connect with both the workers in the production plant and employees in the office. As Project Responsible it is important to have a good intuition for chemistry, and technological insight, you have to be able to make decisions without having all the information. My advice for career seekers: I see a lot of university students who think that after 10 years of education they know best, in my experience someone who has spent years working with installations knows more. It is very important that you don’t think of yourself as being better but as a small link in the whole chain. Take the advice of everyone, above and below you.

8. Alain Collas
Job title: Scientist
Company: Janssen Pharmaceutica
Year of interview: 2018

Janssen, Pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson is headquartered in Beerse, Belgium. After the synthesis of the chemical entity, a drug substance needs to be formulated to a drug product. The way the material is prepared and presented to the patient strongly influences its efficacy and, therefore, the “survival” of a newly discovered active substance. My daily occupation encompasses the design and development of crystallization processes of late-phase active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) with respect to chemical and physical quality, yield, biopharmaceutical performance and manufacturability taking into account Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS and current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) regulations. Crystallization and isolation unit operations form the bridge between chemical manufacturing and drug formulation. What I like the most is creative problem solving and innovative approaches which are balanced with risk management, stringent regulations, and challenging timelines. The interdisciplinary nature of the complex work assures that no day goes by without learning new aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. Important skills to succeed are, besides scientific knowledge in different disciplines, teamwork, and entrepreneurship (or intrapreneurship as it is called within a company), these are vital to forge successful collaborations. My advice for career seekers is that opportunities are mostly created and not accidentally stumbled upon. It is therefore advisable to start developing the habit of always looking for opportunities as soon as possible.

9. Sandy Broere-Lee
Job title: Consultant
Company: Catalyze
Year of interview: 2021

Catalyze is a life science consultancy company, specialized in writing non-dilutive funding applications for innovative companies and leading academic researchers, within the area of life sciences, medical technology and health. With our services we support our clients in accelerating the development and commercialisation of new research, products, and applications. My main responsibilities as a consultant are to prepare complex funding applications, take lead and manage the application process in collaboration with clients and colleagues, design project ideas towards a successful project proposal, establish high quality consortia, organise and chair project meetings, serve as main contact point for internal and external stakeholders, and manage timelines for efficient and timely submission of funding applications.

How did you encounter this job?
Through networking.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
Initial screening (CV and motivation letter) – phone interview with the recruiter– face to face meeting with the recruiter – writing test – assessment day (half a day)

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
I found it challenging but fun to adapt to the fast-paced work environment, work with different departments within the company, deal with clients, and learn about the business and operations.
What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role? / What helped you to achieve your position?
Networking is so important. Always reach out to the people who are already in the position that you are interested in. Surprisingly many of these people will be willing to share their stories, tell you more about the job and give you tips.

10. Barend Bouma
Job title: Patent Attorney
Company: NLO
Year of interview: 2021

Protecting and reinforcing clients’ ideas, innovations and trademarks, and keeping a sharp eye on the market in which they operate. This has been NLO’s promise to clients for more than 130 years. NLO has more than 90 patent attorneys, trademark attorneys, and design attorneys and is one of the largest full-service IP consultancies in Europe. You will find our offices in The Hague, Amsterdam, Ede, Eindhoven, Ghent and Mechelen, making us the number one IP firm in the Netherlands and Belgium. Patent attorneys at NLO work at the cutting edge of innovation. They are one of the first to learn about potentially world-changing inventions. It is their task to secure patent protection for these inventions, so they can be commercialised successfully. This requires an investigative mind, creativity, and passion. Our patent attorneys often have a background as researcher at a pharma company or research institute and are specialised in biochemistry, polymer chemistry, drug discovery, drug development, protein chemistry, immunology, vaccines, and antibody technology. NLO’s client list includes multinationals, SMEs, universities, R&D, and governmental organisations.

How did you encounter this job?
As an inventor, researcher, and co-founder of a biotech company, I got involved in patenting and later I became responsible for the management of the patent portfolio, to the benefit of the business strategy and the R&D strategy of my company.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
Cold acquisition: I called the patent law firm and asked whether there was a job opening. There was. I was invited for an interview with two NLO partners, and with an HR colleague. We agreed upon the terms. Nowadays, potential colleagues will be subjected to a more thorough selection procedure.

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
Being aware that the next three years would be focused on passing 11 exams for which, for at least some of them, it is already common knowledge that these are very hard to pass.

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role?
Connect with patent attorneys, call a patent attorney in your network and an HR person of a patent law firm. Discuss and ask any question you may have. Be aware that the first 3-4 years will have to be devoted to learning, studying, taking courses, and passing exams, apart from the day-to-day job as trainee patent attorney (learning on the job). If you are interested in working on the edge of science and law, and even better: in the middle of their overlap, then perhaps you are the right candidate for patent attorney. If this sounds like fun to you, indeed, the life of a patent attorney in pharma, life sciences and biotech could hardly be called a job. Never a dull moment.

11. Cathy Sorbara
Job title: Programme Developer
Company: Project Fearless
Year of interview: 2021

Project Fearless is a space for any girl aged 9-14 to get hands-on, break stereotypes, find her voice and create an impact. We host 8-week courses in Amsterdam. All of our activities are based on outcomes, and our programmes have been specifically designed to future-proof the interests, activities, passions and skills of our girls, giving them the tools and the confidence to discover who they are, and what they want to do with their lives. As Programme Developer, I created and launched a programme called Climate Science Meets Art. I also developed a self-perception profile for girls to measure our impact, collect and analyse subsequent data to distribute to stakeholders and aid in improving future programming. I am also establishing key project management methodologies to accelerate growth including risk management, resource scheduling, communication plans and budget schedules.

How did you encounter this job?
I came across an interview featuring the Founder of Project Fearless online.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
There were no open positions at the time. I reached out to the Founder and expressed my interest in the company and how it aligned with my values and motivation. We had a phone call and hit it off. She asked me to join the first team meeting and I have been working for them ever since.

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
Working in a start-up company means you must wear many hats. Sometimes the work you do is challenging and other times the work you do simply needs to be done because there is no one else do it. You must be prepared to take on all tasks with equal motivation, keeping the end goal and mission of the company in mind.

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role? / What helped you to achieve your position?
If you are interested in working for a start-up company, it’s important to show your flexibility and ability to learn new tasks quickly. There is less certainty, as in the early stages you are fighting for funding and getting ideas off the ground, but you can gain experience in areas that would take years in larger companies. Be curious, ask questions and don’t be afraid to put yourself forward for something new.

12. Mark Mizee
Job title: Business Developer Neuroscience
Company: KNAW/IXA
Year of interview: 2021

As business developer I represent two KNAW-governed organisations: the Netherlands Brain Bank and the Spinoza Centre for Neuroimaging. Both offer services and expertise that have value in academic and commercial research projects. My job is to find projects and organisations that can benefit from that value and partner with us, thereby generating societal and economic impact. Discussion partners are biotech and pharma company representatives, academic scientists, and clinicians. I am embedded in Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA), the valorisation centre of Amsterdam UMC, VU, UvA, and HvA, allowing me to work closely together with business developers representing the academic life sciences cluster in Amsterdam. A shared goal of those working at IXA is to bridge academia and industry, by assisting academics to bring their idea to market, and assisting companies in making use of academic knowledge and knowhow. Before starting this role I was an academic neuroscientist for 10 years, and had previously worked with the Netherlands Brain Bank as a lead scientist. I was looking for a more diverse role where I could still apply my academic background, but also interact with the commercial side of neuroscience.

How did you encounter this job?
I was contacted by the Spinoza Centre regarding a part-time business development role through a network connection. By proposing a combined position with the Netherlands Brain Bank, and embedding the role in IXA, we developed a full-time position over time.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
The process mostly consisted of my efforts in aligning the interests of all three organisations and shaping an agreement. Drafting an initial work plan stating the goals and interests of all three parties was part of this process.

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
I had to switch from a very independent role where people would approach me for my expertise, to being a relative newcomer in the field of the life science industry and spending a lot of time reaching out to people. It was a good way for me to get acquainted in the field and expand my network

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role? / What helped you to achieve your position?
Be bold and reach out to people in related fields using LinkedIn or a shared connection. Set up a phone call or coffee date and ask them about their successes and challenges. Make sure that your network knows that you’re interested in a certain role. Try to widen your knowledge of the sector in programmes like the BioBusiness Summer School or other courses. It helped me to start exploring options outside academia.

13. Nardy Robben
Job title: Global Market Development Manager, Global Product Manager
Company: Thermo Fisher Scientific
Year of interview: 2021

I worked in one of the marketing teams at Thermo Fisher Scientific, which focuses on agricultural business customers. Thermo Fisher Scientific’s mission is to enable the customers to make the world healthier, safer and cleaner. I developed and marketed products and services, which have been developed for agricultural business customers. Marketing has many definitions and for me marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. This leads to my very diverse role: investigating customer needs and future wishes and translating these into products and new developments, as well as working on “on market” strategies for products, technical training development, content creation, communication, digital strategy development… I worked with scientists in product development teams, building business cases around new products. Another part is responsibility for training of internal teams, third parties / external partners and customers

How did you encounter this job?
I worked for one of the customers of Thermo Fisher Scientific and my counterpart in that cooperation with the company contacted me about a job vacancy and if I would be interested.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
It was a short application process, because of my connection. I had 2 interviews by phone and one onsite meeting about terms and conditions.

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
One of the main challenges was remote working in an international team. I worked from home and everything was done by phone and in the evening, because of time differences. It took a while to get a rhythm and be around people during the day. Another challenge was language and different meanings and definitions of terms and words based on each different cultural background. That could cause confusion in meetings at times

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role? / What helped you to achieve your position?
Don’t be afraid to connect with salespeople visiting your academic lab or institute. Talk to them and ask them about their role and other roles in the company. Sure, these people are responsible for growing the relationship with you, but they are also your entrance and entry point to a company. Share your longer-term idea or plans with people. Another tip is to be flexible, open for changes, and to take initiative. Things can change quickly, and you can use those changes to create your own role or get interesting new projects.

14. Janneke Boere
Job title: Program Manager
Company: Lygature
Year of interview: 2021

Lygature is a not-for-profit organisation based in Utrecht. Our motto is: “Pioneering Medicine. Together.” For addressing (unmet) medical needs of patients worldwide, collaboration is key: between academia, healthcare professionals, charities, patient groups, governments, regulators, insurers, as well as MedTech, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies. Such multi-stakeholder partnerships are often complex and their chances of success increase when they are managed by an independent, knowledgeable and experienced party. That is where Lygature comes in. As Program Manager, I coordinate European IMI projects and other multi-stakeholder public-private-partnerships. What I love about my job is that I can still be involved in science but can do what I am best at: planning, managing, organising and supporting scientists and project leaders in what they are best at, executing science. I studied Clinical Molecular Sciences (Maastricht, NL) and Wild Animal Biology (London, UK). I started my career as scientist in the Drug Discovery Team of Sepracor Inc. (currently Sunovion Inc.) in Marlborough, USA, where I investigated new targets for anti-depressant therapy. Later, I performed fundamental research in the fields of wild animal reproduction at the Zoological Society London (UK) and cancer biology at Maastro Lab (Maastricht, NL). In 2017, I obtained my PhD degree from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (Utrecht, NL)

How did you encounter this job?
Based on good connections. I was already applying for several other jobs when a friend forwarded the vacancy of ‘Program Manager at Lygature’ to me. He encouraged me to apply, because he knew the company and was convinced that this was a perfect match. He was right, this was exactly what I was looking for.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
I applied with a letter and CV. There were 2 rounds of interviews, the first round with two programme managers, the second round with the two directors.
What was challenging for you when you started in this position? All in all, I learned the management skills quite quickly, but in the meantime, I still had to finish my PhD thesis, so time-management was my biggest challenge in the first year.

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role? / What helped you to achieve your position?
You must be an organised person by nature and love tracking timelines and keeping lists. What you also need is a good sense of urgency and problem solving (knowing when and how to respond to issues), and not be afraid of working with deadlines. Communication skills are key for leading discussions with groups of people, including professors and directors of companies, as well as scientists, doctors and patients. A broad scientific background and work experience in the pharmaceutical industry can help you a lot in this job

15. Teun Guichelaar
Job title: Research scientist
Company: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)
Year of interview: 2021

At the RIVM, I do scientific research to understand immunity to infectious diseases. Experiments we do in the lab provide new conceptual insights in how our immune system works that may be useful for disease control. Such insights are required to provide directions on how we can better protect people against infectious diseases. They help defining answers to questions like: ‘Who is at risk for particular infectious diseases?’; ‘Which threats put our health at risk?’; or ‘What are better vaccination strategies to protect against current infectious diseases?’. As a biologist, I obtained my PhD at Utrecht University. There, I studied immune regulation of inflammation in the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis. After obtaining my PhD, I continued my research on immune regulation at the UMC Utrecht. As postdoc I studied regulation by FOXP3+ regulatory T cells of Graft-Versus-HostDisease occurring during immunotherapy of cancer. Since 2011, I have been leading a line of research on the effects of aging on immune regulation and immunity to respiratory viruses at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

How did you encounter this job?
I was looking for a position as researcher in academia on the subject I have loved for years. After asking around for postdoc positions in my network, I was notified by a professor from my network. He forwarded me a vacancy he had just received from one of his peers. I think that approach worked out well because the professor knew both my skills and the type of researcher requested for the vacancy.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
I sent an email stating why I was so enthusiastic about this particular vacancy and how my skills would meet the requirements of the project on offer. Then, things went really fast. I got invited for an interview and subsequently was offered the job. It was just a matter of hours after the interview when I received an informal message

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
It was challenging, and fun, to blend my personal knowledge and expertise with a subject that was rather new to me. I had been studying immunology in the setting of auto-immune diseases and cancer, but now I had to dive into the world of viruses and infectious diseases.

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role?
I think that doing scientific research as a PhD in an academic (i.e. independent) setting requires perseverance to bear all challenges that are intrinsic to the (competitive) world of science. My enthusiasm about the subjects I study is what brought me to where I am now, and I’m still happy with that. I would encourage people to find their own personal interest and opportunities to develop in the way they personally like.

16. Tania Morán Luengo
Job title: Research Project Coordinator & Policy Officer
Company: Graduate School of Life Sciences, Utrecht University/UMCU
Year of interview: 2021

The Graduate School of Life Sciences (GSLS) organises all Utrecht University’s master’s and PhD programmes focused on micro-organisms, plants, animals, humans, the molecules of life, and health & disease. The School combines training and education for master’s students and PhD candidates, incorporating theory and practice and allowing quality control and consistency. Our mission is to improve life by providing an inspiring and innovative academic environment that enables our graduates to thrive in the dynamics of life sciences and society. I am responsible for the quality of Research Projects (RP) and Writing Assignments (WA) of the master programmes within biomedical sciences and therefore involved in everything that concerns initiating, reviewing, managing RPs and WAs. I provide students with support regarding actions and procedures. Additionally, I am involved in multidisciplinary projects to improve the quality of academic working at the interface of biomedical sciences, education and innovation in a highly motivating environment with plenty of room for personal and professional development.

How did you encounter this job?
During my PhD, I was part of the PhD Council of the Graduate School of Life Sciences and I was PhD representative of my PhD programme. At the time, I realised I enjoyed those tasks and even found them energizing. Before the defence of my PhD thesis, I temporarily covered a vacancy at the GSLS and that was a great opportunity to expand my network and get some more insights into the organisation. When I heard about the vacancy for my current job, I did not hesitate and immediately contacted the people in charge of the hiring process.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
I first contacted the people in charge of the recruiting, who were actually future teammates, then send my CV and motivation letter. I was soon contacted for a first interview, followed by a second. I received a call from my current boss with a job offer and I could not have been happier.

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
Everything in my job is really different than what I have done before and at the same time, I feel that I can apply everything I learned to it. We work as a self-organising team, which works perfectly but requires some adaptation compared to my previous working environments. Regarding the job itself, I keep learning new things every day: new ways of social approach, rules and regulations, legal language, new programs to work with, pragmatic approaches to complicated solutions and much more.

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role?
Networking is an important asset. Mention to the people around you what you are looking for and your main interest. I first heard about my job from a friend. In my case, it also really helped to have very clear ideas about wanting the job and going for it. Do reach out by phone, it adds personal value

17. Weidong Zhang
Job title: Senior Specialist, Global Regulatory Affairs
Company: MSD Animal Health
Year of interview: 2021

MSD is a global healthcare leader with a diversified portfolio of prescription medicines, vaccines, and animal health products. MSD Animal Health develops and produces vaccines and pharmaceutical specialities for livestock, companion animals and fish. Global Regulatory Affairs is a dynamic internationally orientated environment with dedicated specialists responsible for the worldwide registration of the MSD Animal Health range of products. My main role is to facilitate the registration of MSD products in the APAC region and China including new licensing and life-cycle management, setting up the registration strategy and ensuring product supply. From my experience in the global regulatory environment, it is crucial to accept and understand the differences between diverse stakeholders, communicate their needs, and be always ready for new challenges.

How did you encounter this job?
I got the job via my network and then followed up with the application procedure.
Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through? The process is more standardised. Firstly, online submission with my CV and motivation letter. Secondly, an interview with the hiring manager and HR manager. Thirdly, interviews with team members. Finally, receiving and negotiating the offer.

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
When I started in this role, the most challenging parts for me were understanding company-specific procedures and getting to know the functions of different people and organisations. In this diverse job you learn new things on a daily basis.

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role? / What helped you to achieve your position?
The best tip is to know yourself and consistently ask yourself questions. What would you like to do? What are you passionate about? What kind of person would you like to be? What strengths do you have? After you find the answers, do your best and never give up. It is important to learn to accept rejection and benefit from it.

18. Camilla De Nardis
Job title: Manager Communication & Sustainability
Company: Merus
Year of interview: 2018

Merus is a clinical-stage biotechnology company that develops innovative therapeutics to address serious unmet needs in oncology. After my PhD, I started to work as a scientific writer at Merus, where my main tasks were writing and editing scientific articles, posters, and presentations. During this period, I also had the opportunity to take on different tasks outside my main function, which allowed me to develop new skills. For example, I helped in the maintenance of the company’s website, took care of posting company news on our intranet, and started a working group of colleagues to improve the sustainability of the organisation’s operations. These initiatives have led to my promotion to Communication & Sustainability Manager at the end of last year.

How did you encounter this job?
I was already collaborating with Merus during my PhD.

Can you tell a little bit about the application process you went through?
I did not apply for the job. It was offered to me due to our earlier collaboration.

What was challenging for you when you started in this position?
I had to learn most of it from scratch.

What are your tips for job seekers interested in this role? / What helped you to achieve your position?
Be proactive, show that you genuinely care about what you do and that you want to help improve things, even if they are outside the main scope of your job.

19. Erik Ensing
Job title: Associate Director Project and Alliance Management
Company: Genmab
Year of interview: 2015

“During the final months of my master’s in biology at Utrecht University I weighed the different options for my career. Although I was (and am) very interested in science, working on it in an academic setting was not my cup of tea. Progress was too slow, and I couldn’t keep focused on the details. What I really wanted was to solve complex issues and add meaning to society.

In the newspaper I read an advertisement of Genmab, a new kid on the biotechnology block developing therapeutic antibodies. It was well funded and is growing rapidly. My interest was raised immediately, and I decided to apply for one of the positions. With almost no expertise in immunology I decided to apply for the job of Research Associate, and to start with hands on work in the lab. Genmab appreciated my willingness to learn and offered me the job.

Starting in early 2002, I generated and functionally characterised antibodies in the lab, working in close collaboration with the scientifically responsible Scientists. Two years later I was promoted to Senior Research Associate. In my drive to solve complex issues I developed the ambition to become a Project Manager. Unfortunately, within Genmab this position was only available for Scientists, and required a PhD. Given the opportunity I therefore decided to take a Junior Scientist position, which is comparable to a PhD position.

That same year the organisation was restructured. The function of Project Manager no longer requires a PhD. This allowed me to pursue my ambition wholeheartedly. Because I had often expressed my interest with both my manager and our HR department they decided to give me the opportunity, and I became a Junior Project Manager in 2006. I started managing several projects in early preclinical development, focusing on the generation of panels and characterisation thereof. After a year I was promoted to Project Manager.

Over the years one of my projects developed from early to late stage preclinical development. More and more expert areas became involved, adding to the complexity of the project. This eventually resulted in me becoming Assistant Director Project Management.

Genmab developed a new bio-specific antibody format, DuoBody , and had licensed it to several companies. It was decided that management of these partnerships was required, so in 2013 I was asked to take the position of Alliance Manager. Since this role provided me with the opportunity to interact with and learn from both big pharma and small start-ups, I decided to take the offer. That’s how I eventually became Associate Director Project and Alliance Management.

Looking back, I'm happy with the choices I've made along the way. It's been a fantastic experience and learning curve thus far and I'm looking forward to all that lies ahead.

20. Prashant Deshmukh
Job title: Talent resourcer for Research and Development
Company: BASF
Year of interview: 2015

“I obtained both my MSc in Medicinal Chemistry and a PhD in Synthetic Organic Chemistry at Imperial College London. During my master’s I had an internship at Pfizer in the US, and it was important to me to go abroad again to further develop myself in a different cultural environment. I did a two-year postdoc as a Humboldt Fellow at the TU Berlin in methodology development, after which I intended to return to the UK. Doing a further postdoc was out of the question for me as I was hungry to work in the chemical industry.

The jobs situation in the UK was not looking good and I was therefore happy to have an interview with BASF in Germany, amongst others. Development opportunities were very important to me, and I was told BASF offered many. During a challenging but nevertheless interesting interview day I was overwhelmed by everyone’s passion for what they did and the interest they showed in me as a person. I started out as a Lab Team Leader in Crop Protection in 2007.

When I first started, I did some lab work to get to know the team, but most of my work as a lab team leader took place outside of the lab. With the help of my supervisor, my mentor, and a series of "Starter Seminars" I found my way in the huge company that is BASF. I enjoyed working in multidisciplinary teams and having contact with experts from all over the world. I was able to grow and develop within my interesting project work, and learn a lot about e.g. the market, competitors and patents.

After four years I decided I was ready for my next step. One of the reasons I chose BASF in the first place was the development possibilities. Although I am a researcher at heart, I knew I wanted to use science as a steppingstone to other things. After intensive discussions with my manager, I was offered a job in HR marketing in 2011, but I wasn’t sure at first. To be sure, I had lunch with the new supervisor, met other co-workers there and realised here was a unique opportunity. I took the job.

In my position as a Talent Resourcer for Research and Development I help position BASF for future needs in R&D employees. For instance, we decide which events to visit, what target universities there might be and where to post vacancies. The mix in strategy and marketing is really important. Going into HR isn’t a one-way street for me. I do a lot of analytical work and learn about customer orientation, marketing, and strategy. These skills can be used in numerous other positions. When I’m ready to move on, I can take my next step within BASF.”

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