Alumni Profiles Series: Anthony Geonnotti
Dr. Anthony Geonnotti is the head of future of self-care R&D at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health. He leads global product development for innovative consumer health products across early-stage ideation, technology scouting, prototype development, and commercialization. He received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University, where he specialized in HIV prevention under Dr. David Katz. He went on to a research scientist position at Duke Human Vaccine Institute before joining Johnson & Johnson (J&J) as a postdoctoral scientist.
Tell us about your career path. What professional or career plans did you have in mind as you were completing your graduate degree?
During my Ph.D. training, I did an internship with GSK. After graduation, I did a two-year postdoc in academia before deciding to go into industry. Focused on HIV prevention, my Ph.D. training was more engineering-based and provided me with a solid foundation in material science and mathematical modelling. My postdoctoral research revolved around understanding the human immune response to HIV vaccines. The scientific approach and experimental designs were very different between an engineering Ph.D. and biological sciences postdoc; I learned how to communicate with people from different disciplines and understand the benefits of having diverse perspectives on project teams. Entering industry, I found I had a broad, unique skillset that helped me land a position in an early-career development program at J&J. I have since been with J&J for 12 years. I started in a technical position and took on more and more managerial responsibility later on. The Duke BME Ph.D. degree really gives a breadth of skills to quickly absorb and communicate knowledge across different health sectors, which enables me to interact effectively with professionals in microbiology, immunology, engineering, optics, etc. in my current job.
Tell me more about your current job. What is your favorite thing about what you do?
Currently, I am the senior director of future self-care R&D [research & development] at J&J. We identify emergent technologies that enable at-home healthcare and pursue new business opportunities. From medical drugs to cosmetics to supplements and device diagnostics, my team works with academics or startups to address current health challenges. We either develop internal solutions to these problems or collaborate with others to bring early technologies to market. The solutions that we offer must be evidence-based and professionally endorsed to build trust with our consumers. At the same time, they need to stand out and provide business opportunities. We have to be considerate of what drives consumers to buy products as well. Balancing all these factors is a tricky process but is something that I really enjoy.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with current graduate students at Duke?
Many Ph.D. graduates do not realize that although they come from a very specialized field, there are many diverse job opportunities at companies that would benefit from their skillset. I think it is important to hold conversations with people either in your industry or other fields to find out what interests you the most. Oftentimes, new ideas come out of these small conversations. Communicating with peers helps to find new ways for collaboration and solve problems in your career. Take on opportunities that will teach you something new and explore your options fully after graduation.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Maintaining connections is very important. Early in my career, I asked around my network for industry contacts and took the sometimes uncomfortable step of reaching out to people who didn’t know me at all. It is important to be able to describe the types of work you are interested in so that your network can best assist and find the right job for you. Most people are very friendly, so don’t be shy about asking for help. Always try to get more contacts out of each phone conversation; do not hesitate to ask questions like “Who else may I talk to?” or “Do you know anyone in this field?” This is a great method to exponentially expand your network. Don’t worry if you hear that there is no open opportunity at the moment, there is a chance that people will get back to you when a new suitable position opens up months later. That is how I got my current job.
Do you have any interesting projects or professional plans in the works?
Recently, Covid has made a huge impact on the at-home healthcare industry. People have become much more receptive to telehealth services. They have become used to using diagnostics at home to avoid potential exposure at clinics. We have taken part in many different projects such as launching an at-home device that looks for ear infections. There has also been a lot of growth in the supplements market. We are interested in developing supplement products that are more grounded in science and meet consumer needs in disease prevention.
What is one of your favorite memories of Duke?
I really enjoyed my Ph.D. experience at Duke. Although there were challenges in the Ph.D. journey, my fellow graduate cohort was there to support and help me through. There was this team mentality that we were in this together. The BME professors were also very supportive and friendly.
Ph.D. candidate, Biomedical Engineering
Cindy Chen is a second-year Ph.D. candidate in the biomedical engineering department at Duke. She studies high-throughput quantitative phase imaging and aims to build portable, cost-effective cytometry systems. Cindy also has extensive internship experience in ASIC chip design verification. Outside of research, she enjoys playing tennis and travelling.