Diana Di Paolo

Diana Di Paolo

DPhil in Biophysics
Associate Consultant
Cambridge Healthcare Research

Year entered into non-academic position: 2017

Job highlight: At CHR, my work was valued from day 1. I really like the variety of projects, the level of transparency and direct interaction both with colleagues and partners, and the fact that roles are not set in stone.

Postgraduate take-away:

  1. Go to as many career events as you can, talk to employers and University advisors, these are invaluable tools to understand what you want to do in your life as well as to help you making it become a reality.
  2. If you do leave academia, don’t see it as a failure. An academic background is useful in such a wide variety of sectors and we can feel rewarded and socially impactful in a range of roles other than academic.

What is your background?

Prior to CHR, I adapted a novel technique for internalization and imaging of dye-labelled proteins in live bacteria, worked as a student consultant for Nominet UK and served several leading roles in University Societies. I hold a BSc and an MSc in Physics from the University of Pisa, Italy, and a DPhil in Biophysics from the University of Oxford. I have also held a one-year postdoc role with a shared grant from the BBSRC between the departments of Physics and Biochemistry at Oxford.

Why did you move away from academia?

As much as I enjoyed my PhD, towards the end of it I started hearing a little voice in my head that made me doubt if my long-term career was going to be in academia. Mostly because I wanted to have a bigger impact on society than I could have had from the lab, interact with people more and most importantly, have economic stability for the future – which is quite difficult to find in science.

What is your current role like?

As an Associate Consultant at CHR, my role is to provide strategic decision support and action planning to global leaders in the life-sciences and healthcare spaces. Since I started at CHR a year ago, I have been exposed to several types of projects, from medical devices to rare diseases and generics, but I especially deep-dove into the oncology arm of CHR, gaining a thorough understanding of this therapeutic area, including drugs on the market and in development, as well as recent changes in the competitive landscape.

What is the work like?

In many cases people like me starting their first job do not have much commercial background straight out of academia, so the learning curve in consulting is obviously steep in the beginning. However, at CHR everyone is very friendly and willing to help, and you are given all the tools and the chance to learn. It sometimes happens that, especially when deadlines approach, hours can be long, but working in a team and coordinating tasks and timelines really helps share the workload and ensure that everybody gets a good work-life balance.

What is the company culture?

CHR was a great place for me to start my career straight out of academia. Since the very first day, the partners have invested in my capabilities and helped me developing a solid skill-set for the job despite my lack of previous experience in consultancy. There is clearly attention given to employees’ welfare and the management is very transparent and open to constructive comments and suggestions. The company structure is flat, with no imposing hierarchy, and if you show that you have the right capabilities you can progress and get great first-hand exposure to clients quite early on.

What were your transferable skills?

Presentation skills gained when speaking at conferences and scientific meetings (even internally to the department); synthesis and writing skills gained while writing my PhD thesis and science papers; communication to a specialist as well as to a non-specialist audience; time management; organization; analytical, logical and critical thinking; problem solving; leadership skills gained by covering several leading roles in University societies, as student representative and as demonstrator/supervisor of younger students.