After completing his PhD and postdoc at The University of California, Berkeley in the biophysics of cancer cell growth, Gautham Venugopalan completed a science policy fellowship sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He describes how that experience led him to a job as an analyst at Gryphon Scientific, a consultancy focused on public health and national security.
Tell me how you planned your career path.
I could tell you a story that I thought I should do this, and then I thought I should do that, and it all prepared me for this grand thing. But let’s be real. That’s not how that works.
Why did you get a PhD?
I have a history of just jumping off and doing things that I’ve never done before. I went into the biology program in my senior year. And I decided to try grad school. At the time I was thinking, all these programs that I’m applying to are really solid, I’ll have an interesting skill set that I can use to do something, and I’ll work that out.
Did you do much outside the lab during your training?
I ended up starting a nonprofit in grad school with a few of my friends. I spent time at the career center at UCSF; I did a fellowship at the U.S. State Department.
And when did you decide you wanted to be a consultant?
I didn’t sit there thinking I want to go for a consulting job as much as I found a job that had a lot of the mix of things that I wanted professionally and personally.
What does it take to do your job?
In any consulting role, you have to be comfortable with ambiguity. If there wasn’t ambiguity, they wouldn’t be hiring you.
They want people who can understand complex scientific concepts. They want someone who can understand both the big picture and the details, and communicate that strongly to other people who don’t have the same expertise. Can you explain biology to someone who is setting policy, or to someone who is using that to make a decision? Can you distil things down and make evidence-based recommendations?
You said planning for interviews guided how you wrote your resume. What did you mean?
I went to an interviewing workshop, and the thing that they really emphasised was being able to tell stories in interviews. You think about it from this perspective: what is the story you would tell someone who wants to hire you? You want to make sure that the things you are focusing on are the things that people want to hire you for. No one cares in my current job if I can run PCR or do sterile cell culture, but that was a big chunk of what I was doing.
It’s very different if someone is going to hire you for your hands than for your perspective.
Instead of writing a resume, I wrote stories about how I would answer the questions in the interviews, and that helped me think how I should write those bullet points on my resume. It was a lot easier for me to go from storytelling to bullet points than to think “these are the most important things I’ve done.”
You can read more from Gautham here.