|Joshua Boger ‘73,
P’06 P’09 speaks about “Building a 21st Century Pharmaceutical Company”
during the student-organized Graduate Student Career Retreat March 29.
Graduate Students, Alumni Discuss Science Careers at First-Ever Retreat
Students pursuing degrees in biology, molecular biology and biochemistry
fields had the opportunity to discuss their future careers with Wesleyan
alumni during the Graduate Student Career Retreat March 29.
The first-ever event, held at the Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown, allowed
alumni to deliver a series of brief talks on their own careers and
participate in panel discussions. In addition, graduate students held a
poster session to share their own research with the invited guests.
“I consider this a ‘career banquet’ for our graduate students,” said Jan
Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior and
chair of the Biology Department. “There’s a diversity of career
opportunities awaiting our graduates, and our alumni were eager to come back
and speak about their careers.”
Wesleyan alumnus and trustee Josh Boger ‘73, P’06 P’09 was the retreat’s
keynote speaker, and presented “Building a 21st Century Pharmaceutical
Company” and “Building Your Future.” In the talks, Boger, the founder and
CEO of biotechnology company Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass.
discussed his company’s current research on developing an antiviral drug for
Hepatitis C and increasing lung function in cystic fibrosis patients.
“To work in pharmaceuticals, you have to be passionately excited about it,
and know that 99 out of 100 times you’re going to be wrong,” Boger said
during his presentation. “You have to be science-driven and focus on unmet
Boger urged graduate students take chances to tackle the unknown and stay
true to their personal values.
“Deciding what you’ll want to do is an individual decision and don’t let
anyone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t do,” Boger advised. “I
come into work every day smiling because I love what I do. I am happy. It is
very important to work in a career that makes you happy.”
An additional 19 guests spoke on science-related careers in one of three
sessions: academia, industry and alternative careers. Many of these speakers
were Wesleyan alumni.
Jacek Majewski Ph.D ’99, assistant professor of human genetics at McGill
University and the Genome Quebec Innovation Centre in Montreal, Canada,
currently studies pre-mRNA processing among individuals and tissues. Fifteen
years prior, Majewski was pursuing a completely different career path.
“I had degrees in physics and electrical engineering, and I really loved
physics, but I didn’t like working, and I got confused about what to do
next,” Majewski explained during the academia session. “I had a vision. I
began thinking about things I liked. Nature, the environment, hiking and
biology. And I ended up at Wesleyan working on a Ph.D in biology. Life is so
undefined. You don’t always know what your goal is, but when you make a
decision, make the most of it.”
No two alumni had similar career paths or current positions. Kristen
Martins-Taylor, who received a Ph.D in molecular biology and biochemistry in
2007, is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Connecticut Health
Center, where she studies embryonic stem cells. Judy Dunn, who received a
Ph.D in biology in 1997, is a medical director at researched-based
pharmaceutical company Sepracor in Marlborough, Mass., where she provides
scientific input for therapeutic product development. Roopashree
Narasimhaiah, who earned a Ph.D in biology in 2005, is an assistant director
of development, corporate and foundation relations at Yale University and
works as a liaison between the Yale School of Medicine and several
Stephen Saxe, who earned his Ph.D in molecular biology and biochemistry in
1985, spoke on alternative careers in the science. After working for the
National Institutes of Health and teaching pharmacy classes as an assistant
professor at Albany College, Saxe went on to obtain a law degree and now
serves as associate general counsel in intellectual property at Alexion
Pharmaceuticals in Cheshire, Conn.
“I decided to get out of the lab and into law,” Saxe explained.
“Pharmaceutical companies need lawyers who can understand the science and
write patents. It’s becoming more and more common for Ph.Ds to go off and
become patent attorneys.”
15 graduate students made poster presentations at the event, sharing their
research on topics such as budding yeast telomeres, interneuron death in
epilepsy patients, neurons role in finch song production, and cell
differentiation in chick and mouse embryonic development. (Pictured at left,
Zainab Mithaiwala ’08, a prospective graduate student, examines a poster
displaying graduate student research at the retreat.)
The event was funded by the Joseph and Matilda Melnick Research and
Endowment Fund and organized by graduate students Noelle Ammon and Tina
Motwani. Several other graduate students, faculty and staff helped plan and
create the event.
About 70 students, faculty, alumni and guests attended the retreat.
“The event helped all of us feel reassured and inspired having heard about
the paths the alumni took to reach their current occupations.” Ammon said.
“Also, many students were able to set up network connections with alumni who
are professors at various universities and scientists at several
pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Overall, the retreat was a huge
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection