Natalia Vtyurina, Ph.D

My Career Journey from Laboratory Bench to Industry

In this blog, I write about a journey from academia to my first job in industry. It was full of hopes and disillusioning, ups and downs, success and failures, joy and sorrow. Read my personal story below and I share with you the turning moments during my career transition. 

From the very beginning of my Ph.D., I knew that most likely I would leave academia after my graduation. Nevertheless, my transition to the industry was still quite a long journey. It had started 1.5 years before my Ph.D. graduation in biophysics from TU Delft (2016). During this time, in addition to my routine scientific research, I attended all possible courses offered by the university to boost my employability on a job market. I was the first in my department by scoring in credits I collected by attending the transferable sills trainings offered by Graduate School. I was also the first Ph.D. in my department, who managed to arrange an industrial internship at Philips (2016) within the contract boundaries with the university. This experience was inspiring, but after receiving my Ph.D. degree, I had numerous attempts to find a job. Still all of them were ending up with rejection resulting in seven months of unemployment. 

Mainly, I attribute these rejections to the fact that the year of my graduation was a challenging year for the economy. This reflected in the limited job openings. Also, a sudden increase in the number of Ph.D. students who graduated this year, in comparison with the previous years, created enormous competition on the Dutch job market. On top of that, my fundamental scientific background in biophysics did not sound applied enough to the pharma industries where I wanted a job. Those external factors I just recognize now, but back then I did not know much about their existence. 

As most of these external factors played a big role in landing me a job, they were not under my control. The only way out was to step back and switch the field of expertise. Thus, with an ultimate goal of gaining essential knowledge and becoming more attractive to pharma industries, I have chosen to move towards drug delivery field. In 2017 I started a postdoc in the group of Dr. Anna Salvati in Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy, Groningen University. For the next two years I was sure to have a job carrying out an exciting project in the new for me but forefront field of nanomedicine. 

While attending my first conference in this field, I was delighted to realize that finally, I was in the right place! I was already a mature scientist with a Ph.D. degree who is aware of the value of networking and who could easily meet representatives from the pharma industries. To facilitate this, I started joining different communities and societies in the field of drug delivery while looking for volunteering opportunities to practice transferable skills. By coincidence, at 15th European Symposium of Controlled Drug Delivery (ESCDD), in 2018 I had a chance to talk to María José Alonso, who was currently the president of the Controlled Release Society Inc., USA (CRS), a worldwide association in the field of nanomedicine, drug delivery, and release. That day turned my life upside down.

Shortly after this symposium, I became a new member of the CRS and looked up for the opportunities where I could contribute. I sent my request and was accepted to be on the board of the CRS Young Scientists Committee as a Social Media Coordinator. That prompted me to integrate into this society faster and connect with many different key members.

Further, I surprisingly found out that even though CRS has over 15 Local Chapters all over the world, there were none in the Netherlands. That moment I felt like there is an opportunity waiting for me: why could not I create the missing Local Chapter? Using my previously established network, just in a few months, I was able to collect the first required 15 signatures in support of my initiative.

Later it was more like a rolling ball: Belgium, Luxembourg, and France joined on the way reaching by now to 160+ members. In February 2019 we officially registered the CRS BeNeLux & France (BNLF) Local Chapter as an offspring of the CRS.  In April 2019 during our first board meeting hosted by Utrecht University, I was elected to become a president of this Local Chapter. 

As a president I have two objectives that I hope to achieve during my term:

·  Establish a bridge between academic and industrial sectors by creating more opportunities for the experts in nanomedicine, drug delivery and release fields to meet each other. I believe that facilitation of the knowledge exchange, collaborations and mobility-exchange of researchers between these sectors among European countries and worldwide can substantially accelerate drug development.

·  Support early-career researchers in climbing their career ladders in both academia and industry by facilitating their transition between these sectors. I believe that creation of mentorship and mobility-exchange programs, opportunities to boost their network and professional development can have a positive impact on acceleration of appearance of the new high-quality drugs on the market.

Overall, the activities I have done while establishing this Local Chapter were great assets for my professional development and trainers of my transferable skills. After my postdoctoral project ended in May 2019, my presidential duties still kept me in shape supporting the right mindset and confidence during the interviews. 

Thus, for this job search period I was way more prepared than after my Ph.D. graduation because I had a solid proof that I am a self-starter who is initiative, able to form efficiently functioning teams and lead big projects. This Local Chapter gave me real-time problems to solve and provided with opportunities to realize my ambitions. Most importantly, it helped me to find my passion in initiating, planning, coordinating, managing and executing projects. This example was the most crucial part of my CV for the interviewers and was always on top of the discussions. 

Now, after three years journey from the laboratory bench to my first job in industry, I am excited and proud to share with you that I have just started to work as an Associate Consultant at ProPharma Group in Leiden. Thanks to the Cheeky Scientist Association (CSA) for guiding me through this transition.

To conclude, I must admit that my extracurricular activities became essential for my transition. They boosted my courage and kept me motivated to move forward even during the most difficult moments that happened to me during the job search.

Lessons learnt:

·  External factors may influence job market without you knowing it but making you vulnerable and uncompetitive at any stage of your career regardless your achievements. Be prepared and adjust your strategy in job search accordingly. 

·  Look beforehand for volunteering opportunities that can help you to advance or train the skills that you need in your next career step.

·  Always keep yourself in a professional shape: never stop networking, stay motivated, keep learning, know your strengths and weaknesses, be confident about your achievements.