Jun 1, 2023

Alumni share their tips for career planning and following diverse career paths

Programs: Graduate, Programs: TRP, Programs: Undergraduate, Agile education, Alumni, Inclusive community
Three people sitting at a table in front of an audience
By Jenni Bozec

Earlier this month, alumni from the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology returned to share their experiences as part of a series of Alumni Career Panel events.

Designed to give current learners in LMP insights into the vast spectrum of career opportunities available to them, the series has covered becoming a clinician-scientist, a pathologist, and in this last session; career paths that lie outside direct healthcare or biomedical research.

Three alumni shared their stories with an audience spanning undergraduate, graduate research stream, and professional masters programs:

  • Lauren Phillips is the Chief Product Officer of BioBox Analytics, a techbio start-up company for biological data analysis. She completed an MSc in the lab of Dr. Cynthia Hawkins.
  • Shivalika Handa is a Partner and Managing Director of Corporate Finance at PwC. She completed an MSc in the lab of Dr. Mansoor Husain, started a PhD but realized it wasn’t for her and began a different career trajectory after obtaining an MBA.
  • Matthew Taylor is an Associate Lawyer at litigation law firm Rochon Genova where he focuses on complex class action and multi-plaintiff litigation, often in the pharmaceutical field. He completed an MSc with Dr. Jeff Lee.

Even though they went into non-scientific careers, they all agreed that having scientific training has been a real asset: “What always stuck with me is the way you’re trained to think as a scientist. You’re trained to peel back layers and have an opinion. That ability to think in a very structed manner is a great advantage”, explained Shivalika. 

Lauren added, “Running a thesis project is like running a mini business with the planning, funding, and project management. Telling a story about your data and defending your thesis is just like going up in front of venture capitalists and asking for funding – I felt I had an advantage over people who didn’t have that experience.” 

Matthew agreed, “Going up in front of a judge felt like a committee meeting – that training is extremely useful – presenting your argument to intelligent people, but those who are not necessarily experts in what you are talking about. Having scientific training helps you run down the facts and do research in a more thorough way”.

The biggest challenges they had were around communication and uncertainty which are very different in the business compared to the scientific environment. With communication, it’s learning to be more succinct. “In the business world, people often don’t want so much of the detail. They want the bottom line. That style of communication was a big adjustment,” said Matthew. Lauren agreed “You need to start with the point and then wait to be asked the reasons, not the other way round”. Lauren also explained how, when managing a business, she has to make decisions based on very little data and can sometimes not know if it was the right decision until months later. 

Their biggest pieces of advice for the students revolved around making the most of their experience at university.

The alumni all emphasized how current learners should take advantage of their time at LMP: from having access to free resources and support, to being able to network between labs, programs, and areas of interest. “As a student you have way more doors open. Think outside the box and use it. There’s so much happening here and lots of career events. Once you leave university these opportunities will be gone,” advised Shivalika.

“Keep an open mind,” said Matthew, “I had such a narrow view of what the job market was. Meet people and explore - take full advantage of the flexibility of your schedule”. Meeting others was a strong thread throughout – networking one-on-one, showing a genuine interest, and gathering many opinions of roles and employers.

Finally, Shivalika had words of encouragement, “I was terrified when I left LMP and moved away from a pure scientific path, but it was the best thing for me. Don’t be afraid to make lateral moves – your career does not have to be linear. You have to see it as more of a tree: sometimes your career will be in bloom, sometimes the leaves will fall off, sometimes the branches grow sideways and sometimes straight up. Do what you’re passionate about and make the best decisions for you.”

Feedback from attendees included:

“This was a great seminar and was great for highlighting diverse career paths and how to apply what we learn in grad school to other avenues. The format was great!”

“The panelists did a great job of making it conversational and relating to students, they were super genuine and down to earth”.

“Thank you for hosting this event! So glad to see more of these career-oriented events at LMP, very much needed and appreciated”

Find out more about previous Alumni career events

If you are a current undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate learner and want to suggest a topic for LMP alumni to cover next season, or you are an alumni and want to volunteer to share your experiences, email lmp.communications@utoronto.ca with your suggestions!