Alumni Profiles Series: Desmond A. Moore

 April 1, 2020

Desmond A. Moore, Ph.D.

Dr. Desmond Antoine Moore received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Duke in 2016. Prior to graduate school, he received a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Public Health from Morehouse College. After graduating from Duke, he began his industry career as an intern with Bayer Crop Science in Research & Development, then progressed to a Graduate Scholar position. He then moved to a full-time position at BASF as Scientist III.

What did you find valuable about your Duke experience?

Duke provided an environment for me to grow personally. When I began my thesis research, I enjoyed the experience of exploring problems and seeking the answers. But I had to learn patience and develop a level of grit to be able to finish strong.

At Duke I was able to associate with top researchers. Duke attracts many great scientists to campus and two Nobel laureates were awarded during my time there who were associated with the biochemistry department. In addition to that, my advisor, Professor Harold Paul Erickson, was an expert in his field. He maintained a good balance between being “hands off” and always having an open door. This allowed me to have the independence and guidance I needed to succeed.

The environment at Duke was very supportive. Graduate students with families receive a lot of assistance from The Graduate School—for example, the child-care subsidy and the GradParents group. This was valuable because my wife and I both finished our Ph.D.s in 2016, and we had four children along the way. The group was a great avenue for me to relate to other graduate students who had similar experiences.

Duke offered a great atmosphere to build my network. I got to rub shoulders with numerous people from a wide range of disciplines. The network was so diverse, especially at the professional-school level with people coming from different parts of the world, which allowed my relationships to broaden. I enjoyed spending time in various places around campus like the Law School and Fuqua Business School which allowed me to foster other interests outside of research.

How did you make the transition from academia to industry?

After graduation, I remained in the lab as a research scholar to wrap up a publication. I knew that I was not interested in pursuing academia, so I began to investigate alternative paths.

The first thing I did was reach out to a previous postdoc from my lab employed in industry for an informational interview. This was the first step to tapping into my network: thinking about who I knew outside academia and getting connected. The purpose of the informational interview was not to convince her to refer me for a position with her employer, Bayer, but to learn about her experience in industry.

Shortly after the interview, I was notified by my department about a summer internship opportunity at Bayer for grad students and recent graduates. I had a telephone interview and was accepted shortly after. This internship was intended to be three months but was extended to six, which gave me a chance to get more familiar with how research was conducted in industry. Advisors might vary on this, and some of them may not be willing to let Ph.D. students go out of the lab and find internships. Thus, having a good relationship with your advisor and engaging in conversations about your interest in doing an internship early on is very important. I did my internship after obtaining my Ph.D. degree, so I did not have conflicts with my lab time, and this made for a smooth transition.

The internship allowed me to exhibit my work ethic, go the extra mile, and show that I can be flexible and pick up skills quickly. After that, a Graduate Scholar position opened up that I applied for, which was like an industry postdoc. This two-year commitment made it possible for me to recognize whether this career was a good fit.

What is a typical day for you? How would you describe your role?

My role is very fluid; each year I have worked on a new project. I came in to the Trait Research Department doing work at the very front end of their product development pipeline. My position allowed me to explore technology and learn skills. This has been my first exposure to the agriculture industry. I spend the majority of my time in the lab identifying/validating novel leads that can become plant traits. Also, I spend time reading papers to inspire innovative ideas. Surprisingly, I did more scientific presentations in my first two years in industry than in all my years at Duke, which stretched me and helped to sharpen my communication skills. Nowadays, I have a lot of meetings with project managers, smaller groups working on the same project, and the whole department. I give updates on my project and get feedback from others with diverse expertise. These meetings are very strategic and allow for constant refinement.

Any advice you’d like to share with current graduate students at Duke?

Develop mental toughness to be an independent thinker. The current world is changing, and so many breakthroughs are leading to fresh areas of exploration. Find a challenge in the world and work to solve it, whether it's in a corporate setting or starting your own company, even if that goes against societal norms. Don’t expect others to agree with your path if they don’t have your vision.

Be more outcome-focused than process-focused. Once you know your destination, choosing a vehicle to get you there is a lot simpler. Think: Is this vehicle sufficient to get me to that outcome? Am I willing to get uncomfortable, go outside the norm, and learn new skills? No matter what, you should not get going without knowing where you’re going.

Build up your network, especially with people outside your field of expertise. Find and leverage open doors. Technical skills can teach us a lot, but soft skills are even more important to effectively connect with others, i.e. communication, time management, leadership, and interpersonal skills. The easiest way to succeed is to find a mentor who is in the position where you want to go and ask for guidance. One thing a mentor has done in my life is give me a comprehensive perspective. Experience is the best teacher, but someone else's experience can save us time, money, and regret.

Editors’ note: Between the interview and the time of publication, Dr. Desmond A. Moore left his position as a biochemist in industry. He is now focused on creating a financial legacy for his wife and six children.


Yue Zhou
Yue Zhou

Ph.D. student, Chemistry

Yue Zhou is a second-year Ph.D. student in Chemistry. She studies the degradation of pigments in cultural heritage objects by using pump-probe microscopy and spectroscopy. Her interests are reading, cooking and hiking