Alumni Profiles Series: Christopher Fitzgibbon
Christopher Fitzgibbon began his current position as senior analyst at Health Advances in September 2018. He entered Duke as a doctoral student in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science with a goal of joining the consulting industry. He participated in multiple student groups and activities at Duke, including DISI (Duke Interdisciplinary Social Innovators), the APDCC (Advanced Professional Degree Consulting Club), and Bass Connections. He graduated in 2016 with a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and began his consulting career at Triangle Insights Group as a strategy analyst.
Tell us about your experience as a graduate student at Duke.
I started my Ph.D. knowing that I wanted to work in industry, especially on the business side. Although I was a doctoral student, my advisor was particularly supportive of my interests beyond the lab. During my time at Duke, I was able to explore a lot of different things other than lab work, which was a very atypical experience for early-stage Ph.D. students. As I explored new methodologies and areas of inquiry, I realized my passions and career interests would be best served by a position beyond benchtop research. After discussing my preferences with my advisor, it was a very natural transition for me to exit graduate school earlier than anticipated and immediately join a consulting firm.
Can you reflect on particular coursework or extracurricular activities at Duke that prepared you for your consulting career?
I found that the most valuable courses for my professional development were the ones I took at the Fuqua School of Business. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take a few full-time M.B.A. classes. David Ridley’s “The Business of Healthcare” focused on the strategies underlying healthcare markets and innovation. I also took Greg Davis’s course “The Business of Medical Device Commercialization,” which was immediately relevant to my consulting work; I have already worked with several medical device manufacturers. It was invaluable for me to be able to enroll in courses beyond my department to expand my intellectual purview.
Several other experiences beyond the classroom were also important for my academic and professional development. I strongly recommend that students, especially those interested in consulting, become involved with project-based groups such as DISI (Duke Interdisciplinary Social Innovators). DISI provided a great chance for me to interact with students with a variety of backgrounds and personalities. Many different graduate programs were represented in this organization, from law and political science to economics and engineering. The project-based experiences provided the opportunity to create client-facing deliverables, including engaging PowerPoint presentations or simply extensively researched pamphlets of information. These hands-on experiences and skills will help you to demonstrate your understanding of team dynamics and your ability to manage client demands. When conducting case interviews with potential new employees, hiring personnel at consulting firms will often look for candidates who can already do the job well.
I was also a member of Duke’s APDCC (Advanced Professional Degree Consulting Club). APDCC exposed me in detail to the practical elements of consulting careers and lifestyles and provided information about firms when they recruited on campus. The Duke alumni I met through this group also became a critical resource for me as I prepared for my own interviews. More advanced students are often willing to provide advice over coffee. They may even give you a practice case or two!
My involvement with Bass Connections in Global Health also laid a great foundation for my work in the healthcare industry. Not only was the team- and project-based work useful in refining professional skills and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, but the specific focus on healthcare was a point of interest in multiple consulting interviews. Bass Connections gave me the chance to apply my own expertise to real-world problems I feel passionate about addressing.
I would recommend taking on a leadership role in relevant groups where possible, since employers will value leadership above membership. If your schedule is already overloaded, or if application deadlines are right around the corner, consider prioritizing a high-impact event, such as a case competition. An impressive performance could potentially lead to interview opportunities, since the judges are often local consultants who may use the event for recruiting purposes.
What skills have you found transferred from your graduate training to your consulting career?
For students in STEM fields, graduate school creates opportunities to explore scientific concepts in depth and to think broadly and creatively about problem-solving. If you end up working in a science or healthcare-based firm, they will certainly leverage your expertise (for example, genetics Ph.D.s would be staffed on a project for a DNA diagnostics company). We rely on the guidance of our internal experts (Ph.D.s, M.D.s, Pharm.D.s) to better understand technical products and markets.
There are also other general practices and skills that are equally valuable. Being able to work with a variety of people to find solutions or create deliverables—as I did both in the lab and through Duke student groups—requires excellent communication, organization, and self-discipline.
I was very fortunate and am extremely grateful that I had the chance to explore beyond my departmental “bubble” and participate in extracurricular pre-professional opportunities. It can be easy for a Ph.D. student to spend all day in the lab, focused exclusively on the next lab meeting or advisor update, but I would emphasize the value in some of these more atypical Ph.D. experiences. Pushing yourself to explore your passions, learn new skills, and expand your network is critical for your professional development.
Could you provide a bit more detail about the role of a healthcare consultant? What does your job entail?
Healthcare consulting firms focus on a specific market (i.e., healthcare) in contrast to the more general firms (BCG, McKinsey, Bain) who provide services to clients in nearly every major industry. My current company, Health Advances, is a strategy consulting firm based in Boston, MA. We help our clients to optimize the value of their products in order to fuel growth and identify new opportunities. As part of this process, we might conduct a market assessment to help a client decide whether they should enter a particular sector. We may provide recommendations on particular investments or acquisition. Alternatively, we might perform clinical trial benchmarking, so that a client can decide how and when to run trials and better understand the associated risks. Other common services may include sales and marketing plans as well as forecasting and technical evaluations.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
My favorite thing about my job is that it involves the ongoing process of learning. I have the opportunity to encounter and understand new developments in healthcare that aren’t even available in textbooks yet. We routinely review newly published academic papers to generate modern strategies and advise our clients on the newest market developments.
In graduate school I was often frustrated by the delayed impact of academic research. Groundbreaking academic discoveries often take years to impact patients or improve the public quality of life. In contrast, the trends and developments I most commonly research have the ability to affect patients’ wellbeing almost immediately.
You mentioned that networking is an important part of finding jobs in the consulting world. Can you share some of your own strategies for networking?
When I was a student, I attended the information sessions of every consulting firm that recruited from Duke. Networking certainly helped me earn my first position at Triangle Insights Group. I originally didn’t know anyone at the company before their on-campus information session, but I initiated conversations with consultants, collected business cards, and followed up afterwards with requests for informational interviews over coffee. Because I demonstrated my interest, commitment, and collegiality, the company took notice and eventually invited me to coffee with a partner and subsequently a full-time interview. Especially in an industry like consulting, you should never underestimate the power of personal connections, a handshake, and a thank-you note.
What are the main differences between the two consulting companies at which you have worked?
My first firm, Triangle Insights Group, was much smaller in size, with approximately 25 employees. In general, a smaller firm can give you great exposure to a variety of tasks and roles because there is less of a hierarchy. Even at an entry-level role, I regularly worked side-by-side with the founding partners. This gave me the opportunity to ask questions and learn from their 25+ years of experience in the industry. At my current firm, Health Advances, we have about 150 people spread out across three different locations (Boston, San Francisco, and Switzerland, plus a fourth office opening soon in Hong Kong). Our larger firm is more structured and as a result I spend less time working with partners and focus more on strategy development (e.g., more administrative support). Triangle provided fantastic exposure to client interactions and afforded me the chance to present my own analysis to boards of directors, even as a less experienced consultant. Health Advances has significant experience and vast knowledge across these markets that I can leverage to quickly address client needs.
How do you see your career evolving in the future?
I see myself potentially following a variety of paths. Although I do see myself staying in healthcare consulting for the foreseeable future, my academic training and professional experience have given me the flexibility to consider a number of different career trajectories. Long term, I might consider joining a start-up or an established industry player in biotechnology or a medical device company. Alternatively, I’ve considered going back to school for a business degree.
The fact that I don’t have a definitive answer for where I want to be next is a big part of why I appreciate consulting. It has given me extremely valuable experience and exposure while simultaneously opening many new doors professionally.
Hongyuan “Hazel” Zhang
Ph.D. student, Cell Biology
Hazel is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Cell Biology and Orthopaedic Surgery. She studies metabolism in bone development and cartilage tumors in the Alman Lab. She is interested in connecting with people across different industries.