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107: Industry Insights – Career Evolution at 23andMe

When you’re a graduate student, your conception of ‘industry’ has a lot in common with your understanding of a black-hole.

First, you’ve been told it’s a scary and unpredictable place. (“Did you know they can just change your project or fire you at will?”)

Second, it’s a one-way trip. (“Once you step off the tenure track, there’s no going back!”)

And finally, information doesn’t escape its gravitational pull. You get plenty of visits and seminars from academic postdocs and PIs, but how many times has your department invited an industry scientist?

This week on the show, we escape the industry event-horizon by interviewing three very real, and very successful PhDs currently working at 23andMe.


Let’s meet the PhDs!

Jennifer McCreight is a Scientist, Research Communications and joined 23andMe in 2017. She communicates their research studies to broader scientific audiences via social media and blog posts and oversees their conference attendance strategy.

Previously she ran a science blog and gave 50+ lectures on genetics and evolution for the general public. Jennifer earned her PhD in Genome Sciences from the University of Washington, where she studied the evolution of microRNA in primates and was a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow.

Fah Sathirapongsasuti is a Senior Scientist, Computational Biology and joined 23andMe in 2013. He analyzes research participant data to identify new therapeutic targets through the integration of genomic and biomedical data with the goal of realizing precision medicine.

Research Fah conducted for his PhD studies at Harvard – developing the first method to detect copy number variations from exome sequencing data – has been cited more than 100 times. As an undergraduate at Stanford University, he earned the President’s Award for Academic Excellence.

Janie Shelton is a Senior Scientist, Data Collection and joined 23andMe in 2015. She is responsible for developing novel areas of online data collection and analyzing data on a wide-range of phenotypes.

Prior to 23andMe, she worked at the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime where she focused on survey methods and analytical techniques to estimate the number of people among various hidden populations. Janie has also worked at the University of California, Davis, investigating environmental causes for the increase in autism spectrum disorders observed in California.

Janie earned her PhD in Epidemiology at University of California, Davis and her Masters in Public Health, Biostatistics & Epidemiology from the University of Southern California.

We asked Jennifer, Fah, and Janie to reflect on their graduate school journeys, and how their training prepared them for industry.

In our interview, they talk about the importance of extra-curricular activities to career success, ways to learn more about industry jobs through internships and informational interviews, and why academia needs to improve its policies for student work-life balance and mental health.

Whether you’re committed to the tenure track or are thinking about exploring an industry career, these three successful scientists will give you valuable insights to help you navigate your own path.

You may also like:

079: The Insider’s Guide to Industry – with Randall Ribaudo, PhD

046: Do I need a PhD to advance in my industry job?

A Tale of Two -myces

You’ve no doubt heard of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the happy little yeast and friend of brewers and bakers everywhere. Well, there’s another fermenter on the block: Brettanomyces sp.

Brettanomyces was discovered in Britain when brewers were investigating spoiled English Ales, and some beers incorporate it intentionally for the unique flavors it can impart.

This week we sample two related beers, one with Brett and one without. From Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA, we try the Golden Monkey Belgian Style Tripel and the Sour Monkey Sour Brett Tripel.

What a difference a microbe makes!

One thought to “107: Industry Insights – Career Evolution at 23andMe”

  1. Hello Ph.D.,
    I am a Ph.D. student and part-time (20%) teacher at a university located in Sweden at the electronic design department. Interesting question on the differences regardless Parental Leave (PL) from academia and industry.

    In Sweden, Ph.D. students and workers employed at industry are not differentiated under Swedish law. This means 480 days of paid and shared parental leave for each kid until they are 12 years old (and more little details you can read on the law). Parental leave is one of the most protected laws in Sweden, which its importance in securing jobs during the periods of PL, paid compensation based on your salary (80% as common rule, 90% for governmental employees and up to 100% in the private sector depending on the company benefits), most important cannot be denied by any employer (unless those working in critical job circumstances).
    On all the beauty of the system and so on there is still rising debates on the topic you lifted up: how can we improve Ph.D. experiences as being away from work?
    One of our main problems lies on the issue that at some universities, foundings come from industrial partners. These foundings are time-limited and discussions on how to secure the money for project and resources are the focus. Problem occurs when participants or facilities are no longer available, .e.g. an experiment requires the facilities of company affiliated to the project but if the project needs to be freeze for one year due to PL of the Ph.D. student, it is more likely that the company close the project before even if the money has not been used. The problem then is to the Ph.D. to find solutions or even change directions in the project.

    As in the podcast you mentioned, this collaborative nature of most industries can hardly be replicated at university level, where your supervisor require to have sticky notes to remember his Ph.D. student’s names.

    Next year at this time I will be using my PL for about six months since my partner will go to CALTECH to work as a visiting researcher, so I will be home-daddy. Unfortunately, child-care and brewing beer seems not to be rated E, so I will not be able to share one.

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