GSAS: Shuhui, thank you so much for being with us today. Tell us, what field did you do your PhD in, and what kind of research did you work on?
Shuhui: I have a PhD in chemistry, and more specifically in chemical biology. Most of my PhD work focuses on understanding the role of carbohydrates in human health. A recent example of my research would be studying the significance of carbohydrates in SARS-CoV-2. The way this virus gets into our bodies is actually through interactions with carbohydrates, so that’s just one example of how important this field of research is to our everyday life.
GSAS: Can you tell us more about the company you work for now, and what you do on a day to day basis in your current role?
Shuhui: Currently, I am a scientist at Vector Labs. We develop products that help researchers solve problems. We are like Staples in a way. Instead of developing drugs that target patients’ health problems like pharmaceutical companies, we provide the science version of ‘office supplies’ for them do their jobs. Our most well-known product is VECTAMOUNT and ABC Kits for tissue-based histology, AKA reagent kits for tissues.
My day-to-day is a bit similar to my PhD workflow in that I design experiments and analyze data and troubleshoot any problems. At the same time, I also support cross functional teams—product design and manufacturing, tech support, marketing teams, etc. When customers have questions regarding products—for instance, figuring out if a product would be a right fit for their research on cutting-edge biology discoveries—and they need special expertise in that field, they reach out to me, and I will try to find the best solutions for them.
GSAS: It sounds like you are still putting a lot of the skills you practiced in your PhD to use. When you were exploring your options post-PhD, what was your sense of the paths available? Did you also apply to postdocs?
Shuhui: I found my PhD experience brings in a lot of expertise to the teams at Vector. For example, the marketing team may need to create content for the target audience. As attending conferences and seminars, and keeping up with journals is a daily routine learnt from grad school, I became familiar with the common research topics and trending technology that academic professors and industrial researchers are following. These topics and discussion can then be translated and shared with the marketing team to help them with their work.
Before my current position, I knew that I could go into either academia to be a postdoc or industry to be a scientist. I thought about applying for a postdoc position, and postdocs are great opportunities that allow you continue developing specialized expertise. However, I would like to be more versatile in the field of research. I wanted to go to industry as I would like to apply what I have learnt from graduate school to develop products for the research community.
GSAS: How were you able to confidently prepare yourself for an industry career path?
Shuhui: GSAS and Wasserman webinars and workshops! They’re a great starting point to learn about the how-to’s of transitioning to industry.
Besides that, I also connected with alumni and other people on LinkedIn for virtual coffee chats. Not everyone responds, but those who do respond, they are willing to share their story. Keep in mind, before you talk to people or do your elevator pitch, make sure you do your research beforehand. Know the industry you’re learning about and know the background of whom you’re going to talk to. Think about what you’d like to learn about the position and company. Please value everyone’s time, so come prepared.
GSAS: I love how you really put yourself out there, and how you were so open to learning new skills. Is there any other advice you would share with other graduate students? Either about career paths or the PhD program in general.
Shuhui: I’ll give advice on choosing an advisor. This may sound weird, but it is similar to choosing a partner in a relationship, you and your PI need to get along with each other. I say this because I had a wonderful PI, and this really made a great difference in grad school as he or she is going to work with you for five or more years. I am so grateful that my PI has always been a cheerleader in my PhD journey because most of the time your experiments don’t work (laughs). Having a supportive advisor goes a long way in smoothly overcoming the challenges of your degree.
GSAS: Thank you, that’s helpful advice! Are there any last words you want to share?
Shuhui: Be open-minded because there are always new opportunities out there that we don’t know about now, but that may come up in the future. There are a lot of hardships during the PhD, but in some ways we have to go through this for our growth. That’s what makes the PhD journey so unique. But don’t stress out too much. It’s just a PhD (laughs), don’t stress out! You got this!