After finishing a PhD and postdoc studying the cellular mechanisms behind cardiovascular disease, Shikha Mishra decided not to continue in academia.
She found she could still do the work she loved at the bench by doing product development research at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Why did you decide to go into research?
I decided as a very young girl that I would be a scientist. I chose Johns Hopkins for college because I knew it gave undergraduates research opportunities. The question wasn’t whether I was going to graduate school, it was what I wanted to do and what I wanted to study.
What do you do now?
I design experiments, I set up experiments, I analyze the data, I present the data. We are doing work that is on par with academia. I have to be on top of the field, to understand what people are doing and what they want to do.
Did you consider academia?
My postdoc advisors at Harvard Medical School wanted me to be happy ultimately, but they were encouraging me to stay within the academic realm. They had volunteered to be my mentor on a grant. My fiancé and I did have discussions about whether I should stay in Boston to work toward junior faculty, but he had a steady job in San Diego. It didn’t make sense to have one unemployed person and one (salary-wise) half employed person. It would be hard to support and start a family.
How did you find the job you have now?
One of the ways that I got my resume floated was that I knew someone who knew someone and people would offer to send it on. But in the Thermo case, that’s not how it happened. I applied for the position when I saw it on LinkedIn, and then I followed up by emailing a contact on LinkedIn, a senior manager that popped up on my feed. looked up his actual email and sent him a note.
Tell me about your job interviews.
One place wanted someone with my qualifications and skill set, but they wanted a technical person who would run a core facility, to do the same experiment every day. It was clear that I would get bored the first week. I told them what I was proud of in my post doc. It wasn’t the papers, it was problem solving, and being able to push myself outside the box. They immediately asked me if I would I be okay doing the same thing every day, and I thought ‘no, absolutely not’. I could have said that I would love that, but that would have ended up with them having a disgruntled employee.
An interview is really about you. If you misrepresent what you like to do and what’s important to you, you will not get a job that’s right for you.
I learned not just to go and stand in front of people and say ‘I know how to do this experiment.’ At my job talk at Thermo Fisher, I explained what problems I ran into in my research and how I got around them. That’s what industry is all about, knowing when to move forward and when to change direction. I showed that I was happy to work on any problem I was confronted with and could innovate. I think my manager responded well to that.
What advice do you have for other trainees looking for jobs and getting discouraged?
For every scientist, 70% of your experiments are nonproductive and you just struggle through it. A job search is similar. Making sure that you don’t lose your confidence is really important. And several colleagues said doing anything worthwhile takes time. Finding the next step to your career is not going to happen overnight. And if it does, it may not be the thing that is right for you.
You can see more of this interview here.