FRI Hosts First Biotech Career Panel

On Thursday, February 19th , the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) hosted its first Biotech Career Panel. The panel featured six members of the Austin biotechnology community who talked to the students about their career choices and answered questions about the field. The event was sponsored by Thermofisher Scientific, Inc and BioAustin and organized by FRI Research Educators Dr. Josh Beckham and Dr. Gwen Stovall.

The panelists represent a diverse selection of the biotech industry, with varying levels of degrees, expertise, and scientific and business involvement. Together they answered questions posed by students with regard to the balance between science and business, finding the right internships, and the differences between academia and industry.

From left to right: Jeannette Hill, Nick Kosa, Jose Cienfuegos, Rob Burgess, Hillary Graham
From left to right: Jeannette Hill, Nick Kosa, Jose Cienfuegos, Rob Burgess and Hillary Graham

Dr. Rob Burgess, Vice President in Global Business Development at RayBiotech, discussed the scientific and business sides of the biotech industry by relating to his own experience. After starting out working on gene therapy in graduate school, Dr. Burgess moved into business by forming a start-up, Lexicon Genetics. Burgess stated that he “transitioned into a business development role over time,” and told attendees that “at some point you’ve got to take a risk in life, and see if it works out.”

When it comes to finding an internship, Dr. Jeannette Hill said that in her experience “the people we do end up hiring have really contacted us, really shown a specific interest.” She added that interested students should “show [they’re] willing to go a step above,” and joked that “a good intern will only take you twice as much work. A bad intern will take out a wall.” Dr. Hill is a founder of Spot On Sciences, an Austin start up that created the HemaSpot™, which can collect and store blood and other fluids for lab testing in practically any environment.

Dr. Hill explains her company's new device, the HemaSpot
Dr. Hill explains her company’s device, the HemaSpot

In deciding whether to go into academia or industry, Jose Cienfuegos, a technical scientist at Thermofisher Scientific, compared science to the real estate business. According to Cienfuegos, academia is “like you’re looking to buy a house; there’s all of these different options.” On the other hand, in industry “we have one house that we’re trying to sell to as many people as possible.”

Dr. Nick Kosa, a staff scientist at Bioo Scientific who received his PhD from UC San Diego, added that “it’s a completely different question when you’re approaching a product that uses scientific components than when you’re working with academic research.”

Hilary Graham is the Associate Director for Business Development at INC Research; her career has grown out of medical writing for universities and companies. She advised students to “interact as much as you can” and to “be bold and find mentors.”

After listening to the panelists, freshman Chemistry major Joshua McCauley said that “coming here gave me a good perspective on what there is to do past school.”

With access to the FRI program many UT students are becoming inspired to go into industries like biotechnology, and to change the world through their work.


Kate Thackrey

UT Journalism Student


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