Making the jump from PhD to CRA


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Making the jump from PhD to CRA

I received my undergraduate degree in biology from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After, I completed my doctoral work at University of Michigan: Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.

During my graduate work, I volunteered at a consulting firm run by graduate students, where I was exposed to business development and consulting career opportunities. Additionally, I attended the American Society for Cell Biology-Keck Graduate Institute Summer Biotech Course, which was an invaluable opportunity to gain insight about different career paths appropriate for recent PhD graduates. I learned about my current position at Charles River Associates through ASCB-KGI alumni connections when a peer from my cohort was hired by CRA.

I started looking for jobs roughly a year and a half before my planned start date. However, I began to seek job-specific résumé building opportunities two and a half years prior to when I went on job interviews.

The interview process at CRA is typical of consulting firm interview styles with both qualitative questions and quantitative, case-study interview topics. I prepared for my interview by practicing case studies and roleplaying qualitative mock interviews with friends.

As a Life Sciences Consulting Associate, I use both quantitative and qualitative market research. I also apply structured analytics to deliver insights that help pharmaceutical and biotech clients value and prioritize market opportunities and launch new brands. I work with multiple teams across CRA’s Life Sciences Practice to help companies with their most challenging business decisions in the rare disease, oncology, immunology, and neuroscience sectors. My PhD helped me develop several important skills necessary for a career in life sciences consulting including hypothesis generating and testing, scientific literature proficiency, and general scientific/medical knowledge, which I acquired during my studies.

On an average day at CRA, I am typically staffed on 2-3 projects at any given time. My days are spent working with those project teams (typically 3-5 people per team) and fulfilling the deliverable objectives of each project. For instance, I may spend my morning working on a market research survey, switch in the afternoon to analyzing a dataset using Microsoft Power BI, then jump to performing market research interviews in the late afternoon/evening depending on the time-zone of the research subject.

In my role, it is essential to possess the skills of critical thinking, communication (both written and verbal), dataset manipulation/data mining, and hypothesis testing. If I were to give advice to someone looking for a position like mine, I would suggest demonstrating – on your résumé and in-person – that you understand the job and have sought out experiences that are similar to the job description. You should also be concerted and tactical in your application – perform informational interviews, understand the job application cycle, and prepare appropriately for interviews.

There were several factors leading to my ultimate decision to join CRA: the culture is great; the work-life balance is nice for a consulting firm; the work is stimulating and still science-oriented; I travel enough to keep it interesting, but I am not a road-warrior; and the compensation and benefits are appropriate. I also enjoy the teamwork, fast-paced environment, and caliber of clients and projects I get to work on. Further, the CRA on-boarding process coupled with my PhD background allowed for a seamless integration into the firm. At CRA, I feel like I have challenging projects, which I’ve been capable of executing from day one.