Tamar Aprahamian is an interesting study in the professional opportunities available for young scientists. She's worked in academia, industry, and most recently, founded a company of science writers called JetPub. She has been a contributor to our blog and was nice enough to share her story.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “What Color is your Parachute?” – taken from a book to guide you toward your career destiny by understanding who you are and what you value in life. I have always had a fascination with science – a need to understand the physiological mechanisms of the human body, and particularly, how to apply this knowledge to treat disease. We are all scientists, yet we have many different colored scientific parachutes. I’m not talking about whether you’re an immunologist or vascular biologist, but what type of career would make you happiest and allow you to flourish (PI in academia? Principal Scientist in industry? Patent Specialist at a law firm? Medical Writer? Entrepreneur?).
If you asked me thirteen years ago, as a freshly minted PhD, I would never have imagined taking the full entrepreneurial plunge and building my own medical writing business!
How did I arrive at being a small business owner? Let’s start from the beginning.
During my tenure as a graduate student, I developed a novel mouse model of systemic lupus erythematosus and accelerated atherosclerosis. Working in a lab studying predominantly cardiovascular diseases, analysis of this new mouse model required immunological expertise from beyond our laboratory. This demonstrated to me the importance of integrating diverse areas of biology in order to better understand the pathogenesis of complex diseases, and became the foundation on which I formulated my independent research program on the academic track. At the time, I had envisioned nothing other than being the PI of a bustling lab, writing grants, and publishing papers. Setting up a small lab and gaining independence was an achievement. I was awarded competitive NIH and foundation grants, published original research and review articles, mentored undergraduate and graduate students through thesis work, served as a reviewer for grant study sections and a variety of academic journals, and even tried my hand at teaching in the graduate school – giving lectures and grading exams.
Gaining all of this experience was a result of always thinking one step ahead of where I wanted to be – “Ok, now that I am a post-doc, what do I have to do to be assistant professor?; “Now that I have a grant and some lab space, how do I get students and start mentoring?” Each facet of life in academia has to be sought out – to teach, reach out to faculty members, course directors, or the graduate school directly. To begin mentoring, find medical students, undergraduates, and even high schoolers looking for an opportunity to work in a lab. Explore the opportunities offered by your university or reach out to the pre-med office of a local college – and wait for the deluge of applications! (Interviewing students is a skill that is worth practicing as well, so talk with many of the applicants in order to find the right fit for you and your budding lab!)
After 8 years as faculty, I was offered an exciting opportunity in industry in which I could use and further expand my skill set intellectually, technically, and socially. Leading preclinical development at a start-up company had me contacting key opinion leaders, writing portions of patent applications, and racing in every which direction to learn about disease pathologies and new technologies with which I had no prior experience. To me, it was invigorating to learn about non-union bone fractures, or – at a moment’s notice – execute experiments for in-house validation of animal models for acute liver toxicity or wound healing.
If you think that getting grants is difficult, and that industry is a way out – there is no guarantee that the grass is greener, or easier to attain… If the thought of working in start-up or large pharma is intriguing, call on your professional network and schedule informational interviews to learn more about different job functions in industry.
As a result of my experiences in academia and industry, I am accustomed to diversifying my knowledge base, and I learned that I can easily adapt to change, and that confidence, excitement, and excellence is paramount. I have also established a vast network of both domestic and international collaborations, fostering productivity and creativity across multiple biological systems and subsequently, the world.
I am a strong proponent of collaboration and networking, and was lucky to be guided into that frame of mind as a graduate student. Most people are more than happy to combine efforts toward a greater good. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest that every scientist make a concerted effort to start reaching out to foster fruitful research collaborations and build your professional network!
I had started JetPub Scientific Communications in 2015 as a passion project, and it has evolved into a full-time business to provide strategic support and high-quality writing services for the life sciences industries and academic institutions. Over my years in research, l observed the importance of disseminating basic and clinical research to the scientific community in order for the world to make greater strides in advancing research to develop novel disease therapies. The organic growth of JetPub Scientific Communications over the past 3 years has been eye-opening as a scientist, and more than exciting as an entrepreneur. It has allowed me to work full-time as a science writer and business owner, extending my knowledge not only through the diverse range of my client’s projects, but also by learning the ins and outs of business development and marketing.
If you think you might be interested in really asserting your independence and freelancing or starting your own business, explore the different facets of medical writing and reach out to your network to volunteer writing for different types of projects – you may find that you enjoy manuscript writing or editing more than writing scientific marketing copy, or that clinical regulatory documents are right up your alley. Whatever it may be, explore!
I can honestly ascribe the love for my job to each and every experience in academia and biotech – projects spanning across multiple disciplines, connecting with people at other organizations and across the world, mentoring, lecturing, managing a lab, all of which include writing and creative storytelling. It is safe to say that I have stitched together quite a multi-colored scientific parachute. I realize that all my academic and industry experiences in combination with my life values have primed me for this and I am in my happy place.
Some of you may have access to an office of professional development. This can be immensely helpful at any stage of your career. I encourage you to utilize those resources to learn about the possibilities to ensure the best possible you – making the best contribution to the scientific community and patients that eventually will benefit from your research.
What color is YOUR scientific parachute?