Written by Andreas Geissner from the Withers lab, Michael Smith Laboratories
Does continuing research after the (academic) lab sound like the right career move? Industry labs work towards a specific goal or application that may seem to have a more immediate effect on society than basic research labs. If working in a fast-paced lab environment sounds interesting, then perhaps applied research at a biotech company may be the answer. Dr. Stefanie Vogt, formerly a member of the Finlay lab, kindly agreed to answer some questions about her move from the academic bench to the local biotech company, AbCellera.
Q. Can you please give a short description of your position?
Dr. Vogt: I work as a Research Scientist in the Cell Screening Group at AbCellera, a Vancouver biotech company focused on therapeutic antibody discovery. In this role, I work with major biotech and pharma partner companies to advance their antibody discovery projects. I am also involved with R&D efforts to optimize our cell culture and high-throughput screening processes.
Q. At which stage of your career did you decide to pursue this path as a research scientist in industry? Was this decision planned or did the opportunity arise spontaneously?
Dr. Vogt: Through most of my post-doc, I was intending to pursue a career in academia. However, I eventually realized that, as an industry scientist, I would be able to spend more time on the parts of my work that I enjoyed (benchwork, data analysis, learning about new technologies and approaches) and less time on the parts that I didn’t enjoy (applying for funding!), while the reverse would be true as an academic Principal Investigator (PI).
Q. Did you do any special training/volunteering during your graduate/postgraduate research time to prepare for that career?
Dr. Vogt: I did not do any training specifically for a career in the biotech industry during my post-doc, but I was a member of the executive team of the UBC Postdoctoral Association for several years. As part of this role, I was involved in organizing several career panels and other networking events, which were valuable opportunities to learn more about the local biotech industry and make contacts at different companies.
Q. What advice would you give to trainees who want to apply for a position in your field?
Dr. Vogt: I would suggest that trainees who are interested in a position in the biotech industry look for ways to make meaningful contacts in industry during their graduate or post-doc work. There are many different ways to accomplish this, such as industry internships (e.g. those offered through Mitacs), research collaborations with industry partners, or shorter-term events such organizing a career night or networking event for a student or post-doc association. Having appropriate technical skills for the job is important, but your application will really stand out from the crowd if someone at the company knows you and has had a positive experience working with you.
Q. How did you first enter this field after training at the Michael Smith Laboratories/UBC? How did you learn about the job (i.e. Job board, word-of-mouth, networking, etc.)?
Dr. Vogt: I first learned about AbCellera (which started as a spin-out from Carl Hansen’s lab at UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories) during my post-doc. I had the opportunity to do some contract work for AbCellera while I was still a post-doc, which allowed me to get to know a few people at the company. I reached out to these contacts again when I was nearing the end of my post-doc to see if there might be any opportunities for me at AbCellera (rather than applying to a posted job ad).
Q. How much of the work you are doing correlates with what you expected when you signed up? Are there tasks you did not expect at all?
Dr. Vogt: The lab techniques that I use in my work at AbCellera are pretty different from the ones I used during my post-doc. It is useful to know that it is not necessary to be an expert at every technique the company uses when applying to an industry job – many companies are willing to provide training, as long as you can demonstrate that you have a strong scientific background and are a quick learner.
Q. Is there anything like a typical day in your job? What does it look like?
Dr. Vogt: Most days, I spend part of my time at the bench and part at my computer (planning projects, analyzing data, preparing slide decks for partners, etc.). I usually also attend a few meetings per week (internal team or project group meetings or teleconferences with partners). We occasionally have professional development events in-house as well (presentations on scientific or business topics, technical training). My hours can vary a bit depending on what is happening in the lab on a given day, but I rarely work outside of normal business hours.
Q. How much do you have to travel for your job? How does this suit your lifestyle?
Dr. Vogt: AbCellera provides professional development support for scientists to travel to scientific conferences. Most of our meetings with partners are conducted via teleconference, so I don’t have to travel often for work. However, the amount of travel depends on your role within the company – the Business Development team travels much more frequently, for example.
This is part of the #LabLifeLessons blog series, a series that highlights the adventures of the PhD experience and beyond. Written by Postdoctoral Fellows at the Michael Smith Laboratories, this series includes a number of posts ranging from personal experiences, interviews, and stories, reflecting on the journey and extracting the learned lessons in the process. #LabLifeLessons focuses on these challenges and aims to bring an authentic voice to the story. If you enjoyed this story, check out the other stories in this series below.