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NCBiotech: A Unique Treasure for North Carolina

Daina Zeng, Ph.D.

By Daina Zeng, Ph.D., NCBiotech Guest Blogger

I remember my first meeting at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center very clearly. I was a Ph.D. student in the fourth year of my graduate program at Duke School of Medicine.

Nine months earlier, my doctoral advisor had succumbed to cancer. I lost an incredible mentor, an extraordinary scientist who had always been there to guide me and open doors for me. Now it was becoming clear that I was on my own, and I had to finish my work at Duke and move on as soon as possible.

Initially I didn't know what to do. I knew the job market wasn't great. I was hearing that the economy was still down, and that there were plenty of graduate students who had been unable to find jobs. Some had been looking for years.

I talked to recruiters and HR managers, and they frankly told me that with no industry experience, I wasn't the most competitive candidate. I also learned that applying for jobs online had a very low success rate. Overall, it was a demoralizing time for me.

But along the way, I also met remarkable and highly accomplished industry professionals who were very generous with their time. One of them introduced me to Shobha Parthasarathi, who was the Biotech Center’s director of technology development. I set up a meeting with her at her Research Triangle Park office.

Welcoming support proved to be a turning point

I remember that experience vividly because it was the pivotal point in my career. Shobha greeted me with the most enthusiastic, warm smile. She listened to my story, and she shared her own. Like me, she was also a Ph.D. scientist who wanted to work in biotech. She took a very proactive approach in looking for opportunities. She identified specifically where she wanted to work and wrote a letter, introducing herself and expressing her interest.

After working for Millennium Pharmaceuticals as a post-doc and then as a staff scientist, she took a few years off to focus on family. When she was ready to get back into the workforce, she’d heard about the economic development impact of NCBiotech, and sent a letter introducing herself.

She said her scientific background fit well with the Center’s functions, and she was delighted to be hired to help biotech companies get their start across the state. She said one reason she especially loved her work there was that it gave her the opportunity to work with scientists such as myself. She concluded by telling me, "You’re such a wonderful person -- you can be whatever you want to be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Now let's form a plan and get started!"

From 600-plus companies, a significant opportunity emerges

She started by showing me the exhaustive listing of the state’s 600-plus life science companies on the NCBiotech website. She had personally worked with many of them, including one that she thought would be a good fit for me -- Agile Sciences.

Agile is a Raleigh-based spinout of North Carolina State University that works on developing novel antimicrobial therapeutics to treat multidrug resistant bacterial infections. Shobha explained that Agile had acquired a $30,000 NCBiotech startup loan and has since secured grant money to further develop its technology. Indeed, following her advice, I sent a letter to the company. I've been working as a scientist at the company for the past three years.

Participants in NCBiotech's monthly Jobs Network share experiences, ideas as part of the free support program.

Jobs Network, WIB open more doors

Shobha also invited me to events held at NCBiotech, including a Jobs Network meeting where I met Deborah Thompson and Cynthia Sollod, both Ph.D.s on the Center staff, who started the monthly forum to share career information, ideas, and opportunities.

It was a particularly insightful event. The guest speaker was a human resources manager and gave a presentation on how to write and format a resume. We also went around the room and each person delivered personal “elevator pitches,” followed by strategic networking in which we were matched to groups with similar interests, and introduced to recruiters.

Shobha also invited me to attend events held by an organization called Women in Bio (WIB), a closely knit network of women professionals in the life sciences that meets to promote career development, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Through these events, I found invaluable mentorship and received practical advice including how to network and leverage myself -- all of which were essential to landing my first job.

Exchange group provides a chance to stretch leadership skills

A year later, I had the opportunity to take a leadership role on the programs committee of WIB. Throughout my term, our most frequent venue was the Biotech Center. As one of the Center’s Intellectual Exchange Groups, WIB has complimentary access to all of the conference rooms and a significant discount on catering. The Center also awards its IEGs grants that give us the budgets we need to hold our first programs -- particularly important in the early stages of such groups, when they’re especially tight on funds.

Through WIB I was able to work very closely with the NCBiotech staff and leadership, including Shobha, Robin Deacle (vice president of corporate communications), Teresa Squire, Ph.D., Dr. Sollod, and Maria Rapoza, Ph.D. (vice president of science and business technology).

During that term, we increased our membership by 200 percent, and now have a mailing list of over 500 people. There is no doubt that none of this would have been possible without the support of NCBiotech. Most of all, it is especially rewarding when I hear feedback from other WIB members describing how the connections they made during events at the Biotech Center resulted in their current jobs and allowed them to stay in the area.

I now consider the Biotech Center a second home. Looking back on it, over the years, all the major opportunities that have allowed me to grow and develop have, in some way or another, originated from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. And I know that my story is not unique.

NCBiotech is truly a unique treasure -- the crux of my personal and professional development.


Hi Daina, Very well written blog, coming from the heart. You echoed the sentiments of several of us who have benefited through information gathering/sharing and networking provided by the staff of NC Biotech center. Shobha, Cynthia and Deborah are valuable resources for any student or post-doc in the triangle area looking for industry opportunities. My tenure in WIB also began with Shobha who I approached for volunteer opportunities. She gave me a small task to think of events that I'd like to see as being beneficial to women in early stages of their Biotech career. I was happy that my ideas materialized into events in 2013. The center has also been my way of introducing out of town job seekers looking to move into RTP. Through the centers activities, I have made wonderful connections with various founding CEOs, scientists and business men and women in the RTP area. Thanks for writing the blog. Sathya

Hello there Great page fantastic info!! You should also check out this video has Tons of tips a Landing that Job Interview

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