An Interview with Tanja Jene
Written by Isabelle
Tanja Jene did her PhD in the research group of Translational Psychiatry (Müller group) at the University Medical Center Mainz. She successfully defended in December 2019 and made the transition from academia to industry, where she now works for AbbVie. Tanja was one of the first members of the NGC, as the treasurer and one of the NGC meetings’ organisers. In the following interview, she tells us more about her post-PhD life and her professional experiences, and shares some tips to pursue a career in industry.
Q: What was your career path after completing your PhD?
After my PhD, I started as a scientist in Neuroscience Discovery at AbbVie. Since January this year, I have been working as a Medical Science Liaison (MSL), building the bridge between our company and health care professionals in the clinic. I am the field-based contact person for medical-scientific requests, communicating and interacting with physicians in the therapeutic area of Parkinson’s disease. MSL responsibilities are versatile, including diverse research-related and education-related activities such as communicating scientific data to Key Opinion Leaders and other health care professionals, supporting clinical trials, gathering insights at medical conferences, supporting Advisory Board Meetings and providing clinical training to health care professionals as well as clinical staff.
Q: What was your motivation to leave academia?
The most exciting thing in science for me was always to study chronic diseases affecting a major part of the society and thus bearing the potential to improve many patients’ lives by developing new therapies or treatments.
Of course, this is quite idealistic and we all know that drug development from discovery to approval takes many years, during which there are lots of obstacles to tackle and overcome, in order to become reality. But I guess this was always my superior motivation – to be at least a small part in the lifecycle of the discovery and development of new medication to provide new therapeutic options for patients.
Throughout my scientific career so far, I was lucky to gain insights into (at least some) of the different stages in the development of new treatment options for patients. I started my journey in basic research at university, after which I became involved in preclinical research and development of a new drug in industry and am now currently supporting clinical trials and building relationships with health care providers, who are at the forefront of providing treatment for many patients. Being a part of a global research-driven pharmaceutical company is my way of staying connected to science on one hand and being closer to patients on the other hand.
Q: How difficult was it to find a job in the industry? Could you share some tips?
I was lucky to find a job in industry directly after my PhD. I actually started the new position after submitting my thesis and before I finally defended my PhD. Although it was quite a stressful time preparing for the PhD defense and diving into my new role in industry at the same time, I would always recommend to start applying for a new position after the PhD as soon as the end of the PhD time is in the (more or less) foreseeable future. The reason is that the process from application to interviews (often there are several interviews for one specific job) can take weeks to months.
In case you do not exactly know which career path you want to pursue, I would recommend listening to as many career talks as possible and connecting to people already doing a particular job you might be interested in - as a way to narrow down which job could fit your interest and character the most.
Q: What aspects of academia do you miss and not miss?
I always enjoyed being busy in the lab with peers, doing hands-on research and generating new data in a practical way. I am looking back on this time with joyful memories and sometimes miss these days. However, I think every career step bore some new aspects and new perspectives of science that I enjoy every day – being in a very dynamic environment in industry expanded my horizon and taught me that there are so many possibilities and different career steps outside of academia, which I didn't even know existed. Therefore, my second tip is that when searching for a new position after your PhD – be open minded to different jobs, including the ones with job titles that you might not even be familiar with at the beginning. Try to find out what the role is about, it might be your next perfect match.
Q: What did your NGC experience, as meeting organizer and treasurer, bring you that you can still use in your professional career?
During my time in the NGC community, I actually got my first experiences in organizing meetings and seminars, from which I draw on regularly in my current job. In addition, overseeing financial aspects was always a part of my different roles. However, the most important aspect which I enjoyed a lot in the NGC community and which is becoming increasingly meaningful in many career paths is networking, networking, networking…
Q: How do you see your future? What is your long-term goal?
Being open-minded for unexpected, new experiences and trusting in a natural development that fits my interests and personality.
Written by Isabelle Arnoux; Edited by Jie Shi. Featured image: NGC/Design.