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Students Learn Science of Job Search

Industry Leaders and Alumni Share Insight at Career Night

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Bob Corcoran ’94, vice president of quality at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, advises students during the networking portion of the Life Science Career Night at Olsen Hall.

04/13/2015
By Ed Brennen

Empirical evidence is essential in science. And as 75 students discovered at the recent Life Science Career Night and Networking Session at Olsen Hall, empirical evidence is also essential in finding a rewarding job.

“You’re going to find more value in ruling things out,” said panelist and alum Dr. Chris Ianelli ’89, founder and CEO of iSpecimen Inc., a supplier of clinical materials to research industries. “You’re going to have to test and just keep readjusting. You’ll realize very quickly if you don’t like doing something. Move on from that and find something you do like. You’re going to have to do it empirically.”

Co-sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences and the Career Services and Cooperative Education Center, the event provided students with an opportunity to hear from a dozen industry leaders — many of them alumni — from fields including pharmaceuticals, health care, biomedical sciences and biotechnology.

Following a panel discussion that included questions about everything from desired technical and interpersonal skills to interview techniques and résumé writing, students broke out into smaller networking sessions where they could meet one-on-one with the 13 invited experts.

“This is a good way to start building a foundation of what to expect for future interviews,” said junior Tong Li, a biology major with a bioinformatics option. “It’s helpful to try and understand what it’s like to go into their professional fields.”
 
Michael O’Leary, a first-year master’s student in biological sciences, saw the event as a way to help navigate an upcoming career change.

“Right now I’m in food quality assurance and I do a lot of basic chemistry, but I want to try to get into more advanced science in pharmaceuticals,” O’Leary said. “So I’m really trying to focus on getting some tips, network with people, and hopefully that will be the best thing for my career.”

One year after attending the event as a College of Sciences senior about to hit the job market, Rachel Paquette ’14 was back, this time as a panelist speaking about her research associate work at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“I think having recent alumni on the panel speaks to you directly because they just graduated last year and you’re going through the same process they just went through,” said Paquette, who encouraged students to seize internship and co-op opportunities as a means of exploring different fields.

Paquette added that while some may believe this generation of college graduates just “assumes that we’re going to get a job and assumes that we’re going to be good at it,” that doesn’t hold true from her experience. “UMass Lowell tends to not really be like that,” she said. “You learn to really work for what you want, and when you get there to work even harder to continue. I think that type of work ethic suits UMass Lowell.”

Another recent alum, Heather Merhi ’13, agreed. After earning her degree in biology with a concentration in ecology, Merhi landed a job as an energy analyst for Woodard & Curran, an Andover-based environmental engineering consulting firm that works with the university on climate and sustainability initiatives.

“They know how hard-working and driven UMass Lowell students are,” said Merhi, who added that her career path was proof that a biology degree can provide a wealth of professional options. “Just having the skills and that kind of major will make you very marketable no matter what kind of field you try to enter.”

Bob Corcoran ’94, vice president of quality at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, was making his second panelist appearance. With his company of 300 continuing to grow, he said recruiting was on his agenda.

“It’s nice to get back here,” said Corcoran, who earned his master’s in biological sciences from the College of Sciences. “The students are certainly well trained and the program is excellent. I know that for a fact because I came through it. It certainly prepares the students for the industry.”

Other panelists included Maria Giovino-Doherty ’89, quality systems manager at Provia Laboratories; Mike Morin ’76, chief security officer at Onkaido; Andrew Sanginario ’14, researcher at Pfizer Corp.; Lisa Thurston ’96, ’97, director of business development, sales and marketing at Base Pair Biotechnologies; and Martin Sanders, head of safety pharmacology at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Special guests included Brian Hagopian from the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering; Mary Ann Picard, associate director of the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center; Theresa Singleton, principal scientific writer at Singleton Science; and Robert Swain, clinical research consultant.