MIT Biotechnology Group

MIT Biotech Group kicks off undergraduate initiative

September 21 marked the launch of the The MIT Biotech Group Undergraduate Initiative! The team, led by Anika Gupta (Course 6-7) and Hao Xing (Course 20) aims to help students expand their network, find mentors, and broaden exposure to biotech careers. Just in time for the Fall career fair, we hosted speakers on ranging from high level career planning to the nuts and bolts of cover letters and interviewing.

To kick off the night, former Vertex Pharmaceuticals CTO Mark Murcko framed his vision for biotech careers in the coming decade. In reference to Kendall Square biotech, Mark quoted, “The center of the universe is wherever there is the least resistance to new ideas,” (Kevin Kelly, founding editor of WIRED). The changing landscape of biotech will create opportunities and career paths for talented people with almost any background or interest. The key is to identify what your talents are and what you’re passionate about, and match that with what the field needs. With rapid changes come career opportunities over diverse areas in basic science of discovery, manufacturing, intellectual property, drug delivery, public funding and policy, venture capital, and journalism.

Exciting disruptions to look for in biotech over the next 20 years will occur both in the ways patients are treated, and in the basic structure and business models of pharmaceutical companies. Mark forecasted a broad switch to prevention and early diagnosis, coupled with high resolution measurement of patient responses and better safety predictors. Future therapies will require a much higher diversity of targets, delivery methods, and therapy paradigms (e.g. mRNA therapies to human-machine interfacing). Mark also predicts that companies may embrace open source research, or even make dramatic changes to pricing models (e.g. low priced drugs, and reimbursement for results).

Mark emphasized the importance of staying informed. He recommended students regularly read blogs from Derek Lowe, Bruce Booth, John LaMattina, and Matthew Herper (also see our own recommendations) for an accurate profile of the biotech zeitgeist. Outside current news, Mark drew on many famous scientists for inspiration, such as Santiago Ramon y Cajal, Peter Medawar, E.O. Wilson, and Francis Crick. To Mark, the most important takeaway from these storied figures is to quickly recognize and cast out bad ideas. It’s easy to get attached to an idea, but innovation means iterating quickly.

To end his talk, Mark gave his advice on nailing job interviews. Look for his favorite interview questions below!

With the career fair around the corner, Jaime Goldstein from the BE Communication Lab also stopped by to share some advice on CV’s and cover letters. Drawing on Mark’s advice, Jaime suggested students think carefully about what jobs were right for them, and spend a lot of effort on a smaller number of applications. In writing cover letters, the goal is to show a mutual fit and a strong understanding of the company’s vision and mission. Spending time talking to current employees or even browsing the “About” section of a website can reveal key language and phrase to integrate into your application.

Jaime relayed that in writing resumes, students struggle most with concretely showing the impact they’ve had in previous roles. You might say you were treasurer for your sorority, but incorporating specific details on the amount of money you managed and strategies for fundraising can really strengthen your resume. Jaime also advised students to practice their “elevator pitch” with friends, and get comfortable talking about their work at a high level, emphasizing motivation and impact over details. See links to the BE Communication lab resources in our end notes!

The night concluded with a panel featuring graduate student/entrepreneur Vyas Ramanan and bioinformatician Kaushik Ghose from local biotech firm Seven Bridges Genomics. Students asked Vyas and Kaushik about the PhD experience and its utility towards biotech careers. Both Vyas and Kaushik emphasized that one should only do a PhD if they actually enjoy research.  The lack of structure can be very uncomfortable for many, though Vyas commented the opportunities to work on so many rich problems have been amazing. The key is to keep learning, and to never let the experience stagnate.

Keep on the lookout for more events from the undergraduate initiative throughout the fall!

End notes

Mark’s favorite interview questions:

  • Who in this field do you really look up to? Have you spoken with them about your project or their own research?
  • What makes your project or approach unique? Who else works on problems like yours?
  • IS your project more solo or group effort?
  • Have you collaborated with someone from your lab, dep, university, elsewhere? What motivated you to work with them? What did you get out of it?
  • Are there analogs of your project in other fields, what might you learn from them?
  • When things aren’t going well, how did you switch gears?
  • What do your friends who work in other fields think about your project?
  • Have you tried explaining your project to your mom? How did you help her understand why your project is important?
  • What kind of conferences and seminars do you attend, and why?
  • When you are not working, what do you enjoy doing?
  • Have you ever had your research directly criticized? What was the situation and how did you respond?
  • IF you worked where, who might you interact with?
  • What kind of situations stress you out and how do you deal with it?
  • How does your project relate to your broader discipline

BE communication lab: