Alumni Profiles Series: Kevin Schoenfelder
What were your career goals when you started graduate school, and did they change over the course of your graduate career?
When I started graduate school I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to pursue as a career. I was leaning toward the traditional academic route, completing a postdoc and becoming a professor with a focus on basic research. I also considered starting a business, as I felt that I had an entrepreneurial spirit.
It wasn’t until my last year that I seriously started re-evaluating my career goals. I was concerned about the job scarcity of professorships in the life sciences. To me it seemed like a risk to spend four or more years as a postdoc without a guarantee of a professorship at the end. Adding to this was consideration for my wife’s career. Even if I was offered a faculty position, I wasn’t confident that it would be in a location where she would be able to get a job for the long term.
For those reasons, I started investigating other careers in the areas of biotech or science policy. Attending a Career Center session with Boston Consulting Group sparked my interest in consulting. Ultimately, this interest led me to the position I currently have at Trinity Partners.
Tell me more about your current job. What exactly is consulting? What are your responsibilities?
I’d say consulting has a pretty broad definition. Basically a firm will engage with clients to solve problems that clients don’t have the experience or the resources to solve themselves. Trinity focuses on clients in the pharma/biotech areas. We help solve problems such as which drugs to develop and which drugs are best suited to treat certain diseases. We also assess the pricing of a pharmaceutical asset, help clients decide whether to acquire new assets, and provide information on why patients have switched to a competitor’s drug.
My role specifically is to conduct research and determine the best way to solve a problem. I gather data mainly through researching primary literature. I also conduct interviews of doctors, patients, and insurers for more information about an asset if needed. After gathering the necessary information, I analyze and synthesize the data into a form that the client can understand. Typically, the result is a PowerPoint presentation along with an Excel-type database in which the client can input different parameters (such as peak market share or number of competitors) to make models and forecasts about a product.
What is your favorite thing about your position? What is the most surprising thing?
My favorite thing about my job is being able to see the results and the impact of my work in the short term. In graduate school, I loved performing research and solving problems that had no answers yet. However, research is a long process that can take years to finish. As a consultant, in the last 6 months, I’ve worked on and completed ten different projects each in unique areas. I enjoy working in these diverse areas and learning about a variety of topics.
The most surprising thing about my job is how much I can get done in a short amount of time. Consulting is definitely a fast-paced environment and you are held accountable for your time in terms of billable hours by clients. That being said, I feel that the hours are better than the time commitment required for graduate school. I am typically out by 6 p.m. instead of later in the evening, which was often required for bench research.
What career advice would you give to current graduate students?
I would say that the Ph.D. is absolutely a versatile degree. Don’t be afraid to pursue careers that are outside your research background. I encourage you to get creative and look for a career in an area you are passionate about, not just one that is in line with your thesis work. The skills you gained during your training--learning how to think critically, solve complex problems, and communicate ideas--make you a valuable candidate for a variety of careers. Don’t let a lack of confidence hold you back. Believe in your degree and believe in yourself.
What is your favorite memory of Duke?
It’s hard for me to pick just one, but I’d have to say Duke Basketball winning the 2015 national championship. It’s not just that I am a fan of Duke Basketball, I was on the Duke Basketball committee, and sharing that moment with my peers who I grew closer with over the years was an amazing experience.
Jonathan Motley, Ph.D.
Research Scholar, Genetics and Genomics
Jonathan Motley is a Research Scholar at Duke University. He studies plant-pathogen interactions in the genetics and genomics department. His dissertation research was focused on understanding the regulation of gene expression in plants during pathogen infection, and he is interested in exploring careers beyond the traditional academic path.