PhD in Oncology and Cancer Biology, Institute of Cancer Research and Royal Cancer Hospital, 2019
Year entered into a non-academic position: 2021
Experience since PhD:
- PhD, 2015 – 2019
- Post-doc, Jan – March 2020
- UCLH Trust Grade Doctor, Apr – Aug 2020
- Innovate UK sponsored early career investigator, Sep 2020 – Apr 2021
- CEO of Cansor Ltd, May 2021 – present
What’s your background?
I am trained as a medical doctor. My interest in circulating tumour DNA as a multi-purpose cancer biomarker has brought me to pursue my PhD at the Institute of Cancer Research, University of London.
Why did you move away from academia?
My goal of entering academia is always about making real-world impacts. I have always been looking for opportunities to translate ideas and research outputs into true innovations.
Is there anything you miss about academia?
I miss the flexibility and the fact that people can focus on pure science without thinking too much of actual financial or economic impacts.
How did you get this job?
I have applied to the iCURe Innovate UK programme which was a public-funded accelerator designed for early career investigators to commercialise technologies. After rounds of competitions, I have been awarded non-dilutive seed funding from Innovate UK to spin out the company.
What motivated you to/why did you choose the sector you transitioned into?
I have always wanted to work on the field of circulating tumour DNA biomarker and commercialise an assay for early cancer detection.
I want to see our research outputs eventually translated to help our patients.
Did you think you had the skills required for your current position before you started? Were you right?
Great determination, perseverance, and trial-and-error mentality.
Yes, I was correct!
How did your PhD prepare you for your current job? For example, what were the transferable skills that you developed during your PhD that are most relevant to your current job?
My PhD was entirely on circulating tumour DNA analysis of prostate cancer, which is directly linked with my startup. Soft skills such as goal-oriented project management and team building are also essential to make a successful start-up. I also worked at startup and management consulting environments before, and these experiences are truly invaluable.
Can you describe a typical week in your job?
Weekly morning meetings to start my week. Review team progress (both wet lab and dry lab). Joining or dialling in different events and conferences. I also arrange regular morning meetings and scientific meetings to bring the team altogether, as well as regular one-to-one team catchup sessions to understand the progress and challenges of individual team members.
Do people with a PhD frequently get hired in the company/sector?
I think so – the biotech market is booming in the UK and people in my field can get decent jobs, mostly in big pharmaceutical or biotech companies, some in startups.
What are your favourite parts of your job?
Flexibility. A constantly changing environment which can always bring new challenges.
What are your reflections on your career path?
There is always a risk pursuing an alternative career. Before making any decision, what you have to ask yourself is how much risk you are willing to take. Most people would have thought a medical career is very stable; however, for me, not taking some risks and pursuing what you aspire to is also a risk itself. I always tell myself while being young, it is worthwhile to go for your dream while always keeping in mind that there is always another career to fall back to.
Do you have any advice for current graduate students and postdocs considering a career outside of academia?
Follow your instinct – there are a lot more great opportunities outside of academia than you think. Running or joining a start-up is obviously the riskiest option. One could also join big biotech or pharmaceutical firms to conduct industrial or commercial research. Consulting firms, either international big brands (such as McKinsey or BCG) or smaller boutique firms, can also provide good training.
A good way of thinking about your career is where you will be the step after your current role, i.e., does your current job provide you enough training or exposure for you to move onto the next one?
For example, if you ultimately want to be an investor and you understand you might want to learn how a start-up team works. In this case, joining a start-up may be a good option. Another example is if you want to be working as a senior bioinformatician lead in Illumina or PacBio, then getting a post-doc job under a well-structured academic research lab in a prestigious institute may be very helpful. People commonly make the mistakes of thinking only one step ahead, not the steps after that. People sometimes also ignore essential skills required for their career (for this I’d highly recommend a book by Cal Newport called “So good They Can’t Ignore You”).
Can you recommend any relevant resources, organisations or events that might help somebody new to the sector find out more about it?
Go to more career fairs organised by different companies where you can meet like-minded peers to explore other opportunities together.