Alumni Profiles Series: Mark Vignola
Interested in transitioning from science to finance? Learn what it takes from Duke alum Mark Vignola. Mark currently works for Intercept Pharmaceuticals as Director of Investor Relations. At Duke, he received his Ph.D. from the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology and worked under Dr. Raphael Valdivia.
Tell us about yourself. WAS YOUR CURRENT CAREER SOMETHING THAT TOOK PLANNING WHILE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL?
To begin, I had an unconventional background compared to most science Ph.D. candidates. After college, I worked on Wall Street. But I wasn’t done being a scientist so I went back to grad school. However, I didn’t enter a Ph.D. program intending to remain in academia. Towards the end of my graduate career, I started looking for ways to combine an interest in business/finance with a scientific background which led me to take a job in equity research with Needham and Co. I stayed there for about five years during which I made recommendations on what stocks to buy and sell in the biotech sector. Intercept approached me with an opportunity to work in-house as the Director of Investor Relations which was an exciting new role for me so I accepted the offer. I’ve been here for just over a year now.
What is the best career advice you received on making the transition away from academia?
Take an accounting class. But to bring that forward into something more useful, find out what skills are needed for the next step in your career and take steps to obtain that experience. Early on, start talking to people in your desired field and get advice from them. For me, the advice I received was to build skills in accounting and financial modeling to better market myself as an equity research analyst. Sometimes, when transitioning to a new career, there are skills or experiences employers are looking for that are easily gained and it’s amazing what a little work can do to set you apart from the crowd.
What is your favorite thing about what you do currently?
It’s best to answer this question in two parts: 1) my favorite thing about being at Intercept, and 2) my favorite thing about investor relations. My favorite thing about Intercept is that we’re building something, we’re making a drug and helping patients. We’re building a company whose goal is to bring medicines to underserved patients with non-viral, progressive liver diseases, which I find incredibly fulfilling. My favorite thing about investor relations is, believe it or not, interacting with investors - having challenging conversations to convince them that ours is a company worth investing in. I’d say the external part of my job is what I enjoy the most.
Do you have any interesting projects or professional plans in the works?
Intercept is a company that has recently transitioned from a development stage company to a commercial stage company with the approval of our first drug in May. This is a really exciting transition that not a lot of companies get to make. So this transition not only affects Intercept as a company internally, but it also changes the way Intercept is evaluated by investors externally. As a company, we are still interested in research, data and clinical trials, but we now also have to talk about our commercial efforts. So that is one of the key projects that I’ve been working on and continue to work on: How do we effectively communicate about the launch of our drug to Wall Street?
What has been the most surprising thing about making the transition from equity research to investor relations?
Wall Street is a very volatile place. I’d compare it to the ER where problems come in, you triage and then you move on to the next thing. For the most part, I think things here are more “chronic” than “acute,” if that makes sense. Problems here can usually be anticipated. They are part of an expected process or take time to develop and resolve, as opposed to the sudden nature of problems on Wall Street. Both jobs can be high pressure, but the nature of the pressure is different than I expected. That has been the most surprising thing to me.
last question. what is one of your favorite memories of Duke?
Well, I met my wife while I was at Duke. That was pretty great! Really, there’s no specific memory that stands out but, in general, being able to do my bench work and at the end of the day, leave work behind to meet up with friends for a beer. After reminiscing on that, I guess my favorite part about Duke was the community – the ability to meet diverse people with fresh perspectives.
Ph.D. candidate, Biochemistry
Alyson Hoffman, is a Ph.D. candidate in the biochemistry department. She is interested in learning about non-traditional career routes scientists take and how their Ph.D. experience has helped them in that role.