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Two Important Events

IMG_7264-1I thought I should share two events that I attended recently, courtesy my work at NCI. The first one was the South East Biomedical Engineering Career Conference which was held on October 30th at Washington DC.  Many Biomedical Engineering students from the east coast of US attended the conference and presented posters and listened to expert speakers present their views during the panel discussions on several topics – with the idea of providing exposure on all these topics to students.  One of the conference organizers invited me to be a panelist on the Entrepreneurial Activities in Biomedical Engg Panel.  As we chatted about the goal of the panel & my potential contribution to the discussion, I mentioned my convoluted career path to reach this job.  The organizer was quite fascinated and suggested that I join yet another panel—this time about Careers in Biomedical Engineering to share my career graph with the students.

As it turned out, the BME career panel was the first panel.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because this was the first panel I had attended. The room was packed with undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D students. After all of the panelists had completed their own career stories—the questions started trickling in. Most of them were regular questions regarding job applications : “Should we apply to a company that does not focus on your area of specialization”. “How do we handle experience requirements when it is your first job”, “Difference between corporate, university and other research institution with respect to performing research”, “What advantages did a BME education provide you” and so on.

After all the general questions were answered, I volunteered the story of how I got my first job after my graduation from U.Va. Which is this: While writing up the references for my Master’s thesis, I noticed that one of the papers I was referencing was by an author who had a company in Maryland. I was graduating soon, desperate to have a job to maintain my visa status and so I googled the company. They did not  have a working website—merely a placeholder page with an email at the bottom of the page – info at pemtechnologies.  I wrote to that email address asking for a job. The email reached the President of the company (it had only 5 employees so that wasn’t a big deal) and he was so impressed by my initiative at emailing him that he carved out a job position for me at his company. The tension with F1 status struck a chord with all of the international students.  As the panel finished, a lot of these students (mainly Indians) stopped by wanting to know how to get a job with an F1 status— I gave them all the same advice. Keep applying, take the job you get and then worry about the next one!

I was feeling a little more confident as I moved to the room where the Entrepreneurship Panel was being held. However, this panel was tough for another reason, one of my co-panelists was an Professor from U.Virginia—and he had handed my first and only C grade. It felt kind of odd now sitting on same side of the table with him. There were fewer people in the audience  but we discussed funding, IP status, dilution, exit strategy, risk taking & the need for knowing the market to convert ideas into a product. I talked about how the SBIR program at NIH provides early stage financing to kick-start new ideas & the need to know your market and your customers. All in all I came away feeling good about giving advice to a whole bunch of students about jobs, future education & careers— something which I really know nothing about. But giving free advice is so much fun. I just hope the students were wise enough not to take my advice!!

IMG_7267The second major event was the first Investor Forum conducted by NCI SBIR Development Center aka my department. The idea behind this forum was to kind of provide matchmaking services between selected companies in our portfolio and potential investors. This was a major undertaking and especially important to me as it was my very first project at the NCI. It got a lot of press mileage, see this, this and this. This was held in Boston University on November 5th . We had a great attendance from top VCs and device and pharma companies in US—and the meeting was termed a success. It was a different crowd from my usual scientific conferences so I had to learn how to speak the talk and learn the new language.

Now that I have these couple of events behind, I’ll feel a little less of a fraud when I walk into the office tomorrow. Even if I still don’t know what I am talking about, I can atleast confidently state that I can bluff my way through it!

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