S2BN Ottawa: Impact through Immunization - A Closer Look at Opportunities of Infectious Disease Prev

The Ottawa chapter of the Science to Business Network (S2BN) ended 2019 with a panel discussion and networking event which was held on December 11th. We hosted a panel of industry experts, who also sit on BIOTECanada’s Vaccine Industry Committee, with the goal of providing insights in the field of immunization and public health as well as share advice around career development. The evening was moderated by Dr. Bruce Seet, CEO and Founder of the S2BN Canada who also serves as Director of Medical Affairs at the vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur. Each panelist provided an overview of their career paths and shared their diverse perspectives stemming from their unique backgrounds and roles.

Our panelists included:

1. Catherine Paquette, BSc, RN

National Vaccines, Access and Government Relations, Pfizer

2. Jacqueline McCarles, BSc National Associate Director Public Health Policy, Merck

3. Fabien Paquette, BBA General Manager/Vaccines Lead, Pfizer

Dr. Seet opened up by emphasizing the importance of immunization in public health. He provided staggering statistics that drive home the fact that vaccination is one of the most cost-effective public health investments. Despite this, vaccines represent a mere 0.3% of the total Canadian healthcare expenditure. In addition, he outlined a wide variety of career opportunities that are available within industry, public health/government, and research, opening the floor to our panelists. Here is a brief recap of the evening’s discussions:

Thoughts on working in the area of immunizations and vaccines?

The general consensus within the panel is that despite heavy competition between individual companies, the industry, government and public health are collectively working together towards the same goals of disease prevention and improved public health. It was particularly eye opening to hear examples of how the private and public sectors work collaboratively and even synergistically.

The need for disease prevention to promote healthcare sustainability was echoed by all panelists. It was clear that there is a need for greater focus and resources going towards immunization, prevention and public health in Canada and around the world.

I’m interested in a career in biopharmaceuticals, but what if I don’t have any experience?

Don’t panic, says the panel. A significant portion of the evening was spent discussing how you can leverage current transferrable skills as well as build towards the right set of skills to give yourself the best chance to succeed in this or any field. Whether you realize it or not, you are already honing relevant skills, such as communication, leadership, and teamwork skills, as you work your way through grad school and early career opportunities. These skills are malleable and they move along a spectrum as your career evolves. Knowing how to identify and communicate these skills effectively are important considerations. Don’t let a perceived lack of skills stop you!

All three panelists noted that companies often look for graduates with an interest in solving problems that have impact. Thus, even without specific experience in business, these experiences in solving problems can be used to demonstrate aptitudes, skills and behaviours that employers are looking for. Exposure to many different types of experiences outside of the scientific community can go a long way in this regard. Everybody needs to start somewhere. This is evidenced by the panel itself, whose backgrounds ranged from nursing to science and business.

The panel also noted that scientists should keep an open mind in considering different types of roles that could expand their skill set or use their current skills in different settings. For examples, roles in sales can be the starting point in industry and can provide an opportunity to learn a variety of skills that will have broad applicability. There are also roles in government and industry that combine science with policy or health economics. Be open to the options that are available to you and don’t be afraid to try something new.

Interviewing and job hunting advice:

Companies are looking not only looking for the right person for the role, but also that person’s fit into the culture of the organization, which can override the need to immediately have certain skills listed in posted job descriptions. The requirements outlined in job descriptions are usually a starting point which almost never fully align with the actual hire as much more goes into finding the right candidate. What is most important is that you show an ability to adapt your skills to fit within your new role and team and to demonstrate how your past experiences provide evidence of your ability to deploy those skills in real situations. Furthermore, by doing your research ahead of time to understand the employer’s organization and issues, you can discuss during interviews how you can help solve the company’s needs, rather than how the company will help you. Keep this in mind when building your resume and cover letter!

Catherine Paquette also shared an acronym that she learned as a former nurse, but that she’s used in her own career and life, when it comes to project management, problem-solving and planning. The acronym is “ADPIE”. It stands for: Assessment, Diagnosis, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation. Assessing a situation involves gathering information and reviewing its significance which leads to a Diagnosis of a problem. Planning involves setting goals to solve the problem while Implementing involves executing the plan through action. Evaluation involves determining the outcomes and how things could be done differently next time. Bruce Seet noted the similarity of ADPIE to the CAR framework (Context/Conflict, Action, Results/Reflection) which can be used in resume bullets or during interviews to frame the answer to behavioural questions. Regardless of whether you use ADPIE or CAR in framing your problem-solving experiences, understanding how to approach problems and how to communicate those experiences during the job search process are critical skills to master.

Finally, one last set of points that were discussed related to self-awareness. Candidates should take time to understand their own backgrounds, values, strengths/weaknesses, experiences, and skill sets to be able to tailor their resumes, cover letters and answers to interview questions. Being self-aware will help in the job search process by helping to focus on roles you’ll be competitive for and will help hone how you communicate the value you bring to the role. One online tool to help scientists to plan their careers was suggested as a starting point which includes some self-assessment surveys. Check out https://myidp.sciencecareers.org/ for more information.

Final note:

Overall, the event was successful and there was a great turn out from the Ottawa community of scientists. While the event’s focus outlined the value of immunization and prevention to help promote better health and healthcare system sustainability, participants also came away with value career insights and advice. Keep a look out for other S2BN events in Ottawa in 2020!

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